Zanran: Funny Name, Serious Search Tool For Numerical Data

As a competitive intelligence researcher for the past 10 years, I have been testing out search tools that aim to dethrone Google.  These tools try their hardest to do everything that Google does however; users eventually find themselves back  to using the number one internet search tool.  Some search tools specialize in gathering information that Google provide to users with the aid of Google Advanced Search functions.

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to take Zanran for a test spin.   Zanran is a search tool that will aid you in finding table and charts of numeric and statistic data.  The tool (which is still in the beta testing stages) differentiates itself from other specialized data search applications by stating on their own website:

Zanran doesn’t work by spotting wording in the text and looking for images – it’s the other way round. The system examines millions of images and decides for each one whether it’s a graph, chart or table – whether it has numerical content.

Reading a few of the reviews of the tool online, many are rushing to anoint Zanran as “Google for data”. A very bold statement for a tool that is in beta however; here is an overview of the search application.

The tool can be used as a simple keyword search interface or with the following options to filter results:

  • Country location (The beta version has only eight countries listed in the drop down menu.)
  • Doc date (When the document was created i.e., within the last six, twelve or twenty-four months.)
  • Filetype (Specify which file format that the data should be stored in.)
  • Specific site (Indicate the site or domain that you wish to pull data from.)

Figure 1 illustrates the search interface along the options listed above.

Figure 1: Zanran's Search Interface With Options

To test Zanran, let’s conduct a simple search using the keywords: “”foreign direct investment” + “Canada”  with a doc date of the last six months.  The results are presented in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Zanran's Results For "foreign direct investment" + "Canada"

Zanran gives us a total of 56 results for the query with the majority of the hits being .pdf documents which you can have a quick view of them by doing a “mouse-over” of the thumbnail size image left of the results.  The first result “Foreign direct investment in Canada Canadian direct investment abroad Net direct investment abroad” is very useful since it was published in December 2010 (okay, not exactly six months) and the source is very reliable since it is Statistic Canada.

Just for fun, let’s see what Google will give to us using the same search parameters with the advanced search function.  The results are highlighted in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Google Advanced Search Results For "foreign direct investment" + "Canada" within the last six months

The second result on the page, “Foreign Direct Investment Statistics” leads us to a page that was indexed by Google on June 2nd, 2011 from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Canada when we can download recent information in .pdf and .xls.  Scrolling through the Zanran results, we are not able to find the source that Google was able to unearth since Zanran takes a different approach to indexing information.

Zanran may not be everyone’s cup of tea however; it has a bright future in the search engine industry if it is able to stick to their  niche and be able to provide the serious information professional with raw numerical data that can be hard to find online.

Zanran is available at www.zanran.com

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