Getting to Know Search Engines – A Useful Guidebook

Photo Courtesy: fotologic on Flickr Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotologic/268608256/

Photo Courtesy: fotologic on Flickr Creative Commons: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotologic/268608256/

Just like any other journey it is always helpful to have a guidebook to consult. It makes things that little bit more pleasant to have some information from someone who’s been there ahead of you and knows a bit about what it’s like.

So I was pleased to come across this wonderful and concise Guidebook to Internet Searching.Everything is explained in laymans’ terms and in highly readable format.

The Introduction covers the basics of search commands then covers the big search engines before going into specific types of searches including: people, products, images, videos and several others including one I’d never thought of before – real time searches which picks up on ‘buzz’ as it happens online!

Each section has screen shots, explains how the search engines work, advantages, tips and often has links to articles that explain further.

A great guide to dip into when you’d like to try something new.

And as an aside and a word of caution: I read about it on MakeUseOfGuides on  MakeUseOf.com — before you click on the MakeUseOf.com link be prepared to re-surface hours later — it’s one of those fascinating sites!

Getting to Know Search Engines – Ask Kids (aka Ask Jeeves)

askjeeves screen shotI’m back on to acquainting myself with the many search engines available. Funny that once you start looking there are so many more than you’d imagine.

Ask Jeeves was an old favourite of mine. I used to recommend it to the kids in primary school because it coped with them typing  in a whole question. It picks out the keywords and searches for them. But it used to be pretty limited in its relevant results and very American-oriented so we dropped off using it.

It’s now called Ask Kids and has ‘grown up’ some since I used it last.

The home page is really kid friendly and clean (no advertising at all). Once in a search there are sponsored websites but no advertising. I tested both natural language (What endangered animals are there in Australia?) and keyword (volcano causes) searches.

Once you’ve hit the search button, the next screen offers you some broader and narrower search term options in a side bar(the Australian animals search options were not Australian however) and then the search results in the main body of the page.  There was much more success with the volcano search than the Australian animal question – it still appears to be heavily slanted to American audiences. The first 5 hits I did get for Australian endangered species were:

  • kidcyber.com.au
  • Kids’ Planet – to be searched by continent – ‘grey wolves’ were incorrectly listed under the Australian continent! and the fact sheets for most of the animals were general not Australian specific. (Info quality – poor).
  • a dead link to a public library homework page
  • Perth Zoo with some species listed in their conservation program

So overall a disappointing result. But Boolean searching using keywords ‘endangered animals OR species’  brought up different and better results.

I had much better luck with volcanoes. First 5 hits included:

  • learner.org
  • ThinkQuest
  • Cascades Volcano Observatory
  • Volcano Live (website of John Search scientist and volcano adventurer)
  • Staffordshire Learning Net Web Enquiry (webquest)

Ask Kids also offers options to search ‘images’ and ‘video’. Again the first question had poor results, the volcano search results were much better.

One feature I really missed on this site was knowing the total number of hits for a search. It always helps me to gauge if the student is searching too broadly or narrowly.

Ask Kids has other areas including one called ‘The Schoolhouse” which features databases by subject area. I searched here too and found useful information for both topics.

Overall, this search engine performs best  if keyword searching and Boolean search strategies are used. It seems to be well pitched for middle primary to lower secondary or for ESL students. Subjects still need to be fairly general in order to get decent search results.

Getting to know Search Engines – Bing

Continuing with my exploration of and education in search engines.

Bing is Microsoft’s replacement for LiveSearch. It was launched in June 2009 and is still in Beta (which means they’ve released it to the public but are still testing it).

The homepage is nice and clean (no advertising or boxes full of sponsored links). There is a background feature photo (today of rice fields in Bali) containing relevant hot links to video and promotional information. (You can see in the photo above a box that appeared when I scrolled over one of the links).

As I started a  search with my keywords (global warming) their ‘search suggestions’ feature fired up and offered me:

  • global warming
  • global dimming
  • globalization
  • global tv

and many more. This feature can be turned off by clicking a link at the bottom of the box. I find this feature very useful for students who are not good at spelling. They can concentrate on the search and not be embarrassed or sidetracked.

Once I hit enter,  the search offered me 13,900,000 results with sponsored sites (clearly marked) at the top. I know more hits is not better so I was more interested to see that the most relevant sites pulled up did not differ at all from the ones pulled up by Yahoo!7 except in order (but not by much).

One of its best features you won’t see until you scroll you mouse over the text for a result. It’s then that a little orange dot appears on the right-hand side, scroll your mouse to it and a preview of the page pops up. You’ll get the first few sentences on the web page and perhaps some details of what else is on the opening page (if there are portals or links) — you can see the little box below on the right.

Related search terms are listed in the left sidebar and are helpful for students not quite sure of the best search terms.  Like Google, if you click on the little hyperlink “cached page” the page will come up with your search keywords color-coded and highlighted throughout the text – useful for very long documents.

One feature on this search engine that could turn out to be a real time-waster for students is a search option called “xRank” trademarked by Bing.  Here’s Bing’s blurb on what it is:

xRank keeps track of notable people and puts them in order for you. We count Bing web searches for movie stars, musicians, and other famous people. Then, we compile our findings into an insightful ranking formula that tells you who the world is searching for most. The result is a cultural snapshot of who’s hot and who’s not!

This search option will also allow you to create graphs that compare the popularity of two celebrities over the last six months. Hmm, useful? I guess if you were involved in the paparazzi this could help.

Getting to know Search Engines – Yahoo!7

Our ETL501 subject guide suggests:

As the school’s information professional, the TL is often seen as the school’s ‘Internet expert’. (Herring, 2008, p. 14)

and asks us to increase our knowledge of search engines so I thought I’d blog my way through some of them to get to know them better. I am probably as guilty as the next person of being highly dependent on Google to conduct searches because it is familiar and ‘comfortable’.

Our course wants us to evaluate the effectiveness of the search engines and recommends:

An effective search strategy is one that is based on the purpose and the need of the searcher. (Herring, 2004, p.31) (italics are mine)

but I’ll get to serious evaluation later. First I think I need to get to know the features of each search engine and the ‘feel’ of them before I can make judgements.

I’m starting with the single search engines then I’ll move to the meta search engines. First off the mark is Yahoo!7 – the Australian version of Yahoo!

When I first opened it, I felt like I was looking at a cross between a shopping centre and a celeb gossip magazine. That’s why I’d always avoided it in the past and never recommended it to students. But I entered my trial keywords (global warming) and hit enter.

At the top of the results page I’m offered the option of searching: 1/ the Web; 2/Australia; 3/ New Zealand so that’s a plus – students can narrow down the results to obtain relevant information for our area. The result page also offered lots of search suggestions under:

Also try:

  • global warming australia
  • causes of global warming
  • effects of global warming
  • global warming articles
  • al gore global warming

When I hit ‘more’ it also offered concept categories to explore, all relevant to global warming. Eg.

  • Climate Change
  • greenhouse gases
  • the greenhouse effect
  • carbon dioxide
  • fossil fuels
  • emissions
  • atmosphere
  • Methane

Very handy for students as well.

The original search brought up 229,000,000 hits and after this figure at the top of the page I noticed their ‘about this page’ hyperlink so I clicked it. More useful info!

On the ‘About” page I found out there is an ad-free, dedicated Yahoo! search start page. Nothing on it but the search box and logo. I also learned that Yahoo! has lots more web search options than I’d realised (click on “More>>” just above the search box). Many are the same as Google (news, images, maps), others of interest were:

  • directory – which is a subject-based and human-edited website guide (Google also has this feature, you just never hear of it). Using this feature and my keywords, my search resulted in 2,178 sites, all of much higher quality (authority-wise). The results also indicate categories (eg. Category: Global Warming > Opposing Views, Category: Columns and Columnists)
  • local – a guide to local businesses (didn’t bring up any results for ‘global warming’ but could be of use for other searches)
  • Answers – where you can ask real people, real questions (who these people are who answer, of course, is an issue but they may offer new directions for a student). Answers submitted can be rated according to usefulness by users.

Lastly, I discovered Yahoo! has a service they call ShortCuts (both Service Shortcuts and Open Shortcuts). If there is a relevant Service shortcut to your search, a small note will appear up at the top of your results page (eg. calculator, time zone, weather, etc). Open shortcuts will search favourite sites or start an Internet application. There are already many default shortcuts (eg. !movies, !mysp = myspace.com, !wiki = wikipedia) or you can create and set your own by following the instructions at the hyperlink involved.

I’m really glad I took the time to explore this search engine. I’m now going to include the Yahoo! directory search into my repertoire of assistance and onto the school’s Project Hotspots page.