Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What can I find with Mocavo?

There has been a certain amount of hyperbole in the Blogs about the new genealogy search engine, Being known as the critic has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that no one really expects you to show up on the promotional comments for a new product. Another advantage is that product managers are not calling me for endorsements. So what about

Here are the questions:

Does the new search engine find relevant and usable sources?
How does it compare to what is already online?
If I do some searches, can I expect to find more information than I already knew?

Several times in past posts, I have compared with To compare these two, I use one of the Great-grandfathers, Henry Martin Tanner, as a control subject. Why use Henry Martin Tanner? Because I know that he has thousands of descendants and that there are literally thousands of mentions of him on the Internet. Why not try and find someone obscure or solve a long time brick wall? The answer is simple, there is no way to tell that the same search on another search engine would not have produced the same resolution of the problem. What about the number of hits? I don't find the number of hits to be totally persuasive because who is going to look at thousands of returns? If useful information doesn't come up in the first 50 or so entries, I figure it is not worth my time to do what the search engine does not seem to be able to do. So, I try a different search.

The search results have to be productive and have productive results in the first page or so of returns. But let's go back to numbers. What if I know there are thousands of sites with the information and what if the search engine does not find those thousands? Is that a problem? Yes, definitely. If there are 60 diamonds in a room and your "search engine" only finds 20, would you think that would be a problem? Same thing with information, although no one would actually go through thousands of returns, having that much information returned conveys the idea that the search has been more thorough. In addition, if the search engine returns a thousand hits, you can think about refining the search. If the search engine returns 20 hits, no refining is indicated or necessary.

So the idea here is look for something you know is on the Internet, not for an unknown. If one search engine finds the information and another one does not, then there seems to me to be a valid comparison. Finding unknown information is not persuasive to me without a search for the exactly the same terms on other search engines.

OK, here we go.

The initial search is for Henry Martin Tanner. No quotation marks, nothing but the name. I decided to add one more search engine just for control. In this case, Ask. com. Also, I noted the number of blog post hits because I know that members of my family have posted the name many times so blog posts are good.

Google: 516,000 returns and 9 of the 10 on the first page are my Great-grandfather. All are free sites and 3 are blog posts.
Bing: 3,820,000 returns and 6 of the 10 on the first page are my Great-grandfather. All are free sites and 3 are blog posts.
Ask: No information on the total number of returns and 4 of the 10 on the first page are my Great-grandfather, with 3 blog posts, but 2 of the sites are commercial.
Mocavo: 3 returns with a suggestion to put the name in quotes. None of the returns were my Great-grandfather.

Second round, this time with "Henry Martin Tanner" and no more, just the quotes.

Google: Returns drop to 2,150, all of which, 10 out of 10 are my Great-grandfather. All but one are free sites and 2 are blog posts.
Bing: The returns drop to 26 (yes, 26) and 10 out of 10 are my Great-grandfather. None of the sites are commercial and 5 of the sites are blog posts.
Ask: Still no info on the number of returns, but there are 13 hits on the first page of which three are obvious ads and 9 of the 13 are my Great-grandfather. 3 of the sites are commercial and 7 are blog posts.
Mocavo: 61 returns with all 10 on the first page being my Great-grandfather. However, I must note that 9 of the 10 were for the same website. None of the sites were commercial and none were blog posts.

Third round, this time with "Henry Martin Tanner" Arizona and no more (adding the word Arizona to the search):

Google: Returns drop to 1,070 of which all 10 on the first page are my Great-grandfather. None of the sites are commercial and 4 of the sites were blog posts.
Bing: Returns drop to 18 and all 10 on the first page are my Great-grandfather. Two of the sites are commercial and 6 are blog posts.
Ask: No return number again, 7 of the 13 are my Great-grandfather. But 6 of the sites are commercial and 4 have nothing to do with genealogy or my Great-grandfather.
Mocavo: 22 search returns and all 10 on the first page are the same website of my Great-grandfather and his family.

The test suggests that Google still wins out. But what about looking for a specific piece of information that I know is online. How about an obituary for Henry's father, Sidney Tanner? An obituary appeared in The Deseret Weekly, Volume 51 for December 14, 1895. This is in a digitized book free online from Google Books. Did any other search engine find this source with the same exact search terms? I searched on "Sidney Tanner" obituary Beaver.

Bing:  No.
Ask: No, after looking through two pages of returns.
Mocavo: None out of 4

Will I change from doing Google searches? Not likely. Will I keep the others in mind? Yes, along with hundreds of other strategies for finding information about genealogy online. Why do I say this? Because I happen to know that there are over 2000 references to Henry Martin Tanner, my Great-grandfather on the Internet and Google is the only search engine I have used (out of many, many more than the ones mentioned here) that comes close to finding all the information I am looking for. I do not condemn the other sites, they just aren't my tool of choice. Can you find information you didn't know in all of them? Yes. Definitely.


  1. Hi James,

    Thanks for trying Mocavo. As we speak, I'm going through the various Google hits you found that you couldn't find on Mocavo and adding those sites to our index. Try a search for "Henry Martin Tanner" on Mocavo in a week -- and see how we do. We're going to be adding stuff ALL THE TIME.


  2. Oh one other point... we don't cover blogs yet but we're working on it!

  3. I tend to agree about sticking with google.

    Another search engine trying to re-invent the wheel by creating a competing index of the web -- even if it attempts to focus on genealogy -- just seems mis-spent time ("wait, we're adding those sites to our index, check back in a week") and a high high liklihood to always miss some or many of the sites that google is already indexing. Seriously, what's the point? Google has very likely already indexed them.

    The analogy to diamonds in the room is correct. In other words, if we know there are 60 diamonds in the room, google likely knows about all 60 of them already. Why use another web search that is going to always miss some of those 60 no matter how hard it tries to get them all.

    I believe the better use of time is creating smart search strategies to filter through what's already on google.

  4. I also agree that Google is still the best way to go. One person/organization deciding what are the best places to search? You know that a lot of diamonds are going to be missed.

    But, I also realize that Google is difficult to search, which is why I wrote a handy tool a couple of years ago that helps out:

  5. James, Thanks for an honest appraisal. I ran a small test last week and this is what I found