Search engines

Or more accurately a search engine (although it’s really a discovery engine). It’s powered using a Google Custom Search and works by allowing users to add a random word to their search term based on a topic of their choice. Simply:

1. Enter your search term in the window
2. Select a category for your random word
3. That’s it!

The categories are somewhat random (as you’d hope from such a site I expect) including Shakespearean themes, first and last names, great ideas and the major arcana and suits of the Tarot (?!). From these you’ll be given a random search term which you have no control over.

I had a go with the gentleman of the day Barack Obama and tried a few categories:

  • “Barack Obama” and Great Ideas gave me “Education” as my random term and gave me SERPs about the President’s education, his policies on education and the like.
  • “Barack Obama” and Tarot Arcana and Suits gave me “Chariots” as my random term and gave me a whole host of Obama related horseless chariot metaphors.

It’s a great idea and a good way of discovering some of the weird and wonderful things on the web that you just wouldn’t find using conventional search engines.


Mabel's a bit of a super lady

Another day, another niche search engine. This time, from our very shores it would seem. The market: over 50s. The search engine AskMabel (presumably AskJeeves grandma? Or maybe mother, his age is somewhat ambiguous)

This search engine deliberately filters results to cater for the more silvery surfer.Presumably it ranks results with  keywords associated with the more mature user higher than others.

Having a quick go by searching for ‘London transport’ it does appear to work quite well. Transport for London appears top as one would expect but then it presents results on disabled access and travel costs for older travellers. It also offers search facets such as ‘health’, ‘finance’, ‘retirement’ and leisure.

The ultimate test of course is whether I could see my mum using this and the answer is ‘yes’! I could!

Nice work Mabel!

via New Search Engine Launches This Month Designed For Older Internet Users – Yahoo! News.

Google revolutionised search over a decade ago by letting site popularity determine where a site appeared in rankings. The wisdom behind this was ‘the wisdom of crowds’ in that the most popular sites would by virtue be the best – not infallible logic but certainly a strong argument.

Liverpool FC crowd

Would you trust this crowd?

But who is to say that sites that are popular are necessarily the best? I mean an average Saturday night on ITV surely exposes debunks that idea.

And now a search engine has emerged called Million Short which removes the top million (or however many you decide) search results from your search and gives you very different search results. Why not give it a go and see what you find? There may be some gems on page 100,000…

The latest crazy technology from Google towers are the augmented reality glasses which will allow users to define what they are looking at using image recognition technology and Google’s own extensive image base (well they don’t own it but they use it anyway…different story).

Xray glasses

What next? X-ray glasses...that actually work?! Now that I'd like to see...

This seems like a great idea, if you’ll get past the absurdity of people wearing computers on their heads to identify things, rather than say looking it up or asking someone (god forbid!). I don’t think I’ll bother with a pair myself however because I rather like finding things out in the said tried and tested ways of asking and researching. Also for anyone that hasn’t tried to identify an image using the drag and drop technique on Google Image Search – expect to be disappointed.

It has been suggested that Google is making people dumb, or at least search engines in general. Whilst I disagree that the medium itself is literally eating up the braincells of those who use it I do think that the quick-fix world of Google and its ilk are eroding basic and important and nuanced skills such as researching, communicating and exploring the world – and that just ain’t right in my book.

One of Google’s greatest achievements is to make itself indispensable to its users. As the graph from Statcounter below shows Google is utterly dominant in world search engine use. If you look at the chart for mobile search engine use it’s even more ubiquitous.

Such is this dominance that other search engines, however good, will face the immediate problem of legitimacy. If you actually compare Google, Bing and Yahoo results there isn’t an enormous amount of difference but most users will probably be inclined, even if using another search engine, to check Google as well to be safe.

As a librarian I see it as my duty to try out other search engines and as a result I’ve managed to ween myself off sticking everything in Google. My current search engine of choice is DuckDuckGo but I’ve also tried many of the search engines from this list to see how my results change.

Google is a very powerful search engine which gains relevance every time it is used however it is worth remembering that that which is popular isn’t necessarily that which is best.

Global search engine use in 2011

Image representing Duck Duck Go as depicted in...

Image via CrunchBase

Fed up of Google constantly adding things, trying to sell you things based on your private data or being evil in general?

Don’t want to try Bing because let’s be honest Microsoft aren’t exactly angels themselves.

Don’t want to try Yahoo because it’s Bing with a different dress on…

Try DuckDuckGo then! It’s very simple (a bit like Google was 10 years ago), produces relevant search results, has little to no advertising, doesn’t collect private data, provides instant answers and is easy to plug-in to Firefox.

The latest in the war of words and apps between Google and the Rebel Alliance (FB, Myspace and Twitter as they’re commonly known) has seen the latter release an browser add-on powered by the ‘don’t be evil‘ code which shows how much Google+ alters results. The app is available from a site called Focus on the user.I'm with stupid

This in response to Google’s use of its new social arm, Google+, to increasingly personalise results based people’s Google product use. It improves search results by doing the following according to Google’s blog:

  1. Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;
  2. Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you’re close to or might be interested in following; and,
  3. People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.

The Rebel Alliance say, and prove with their new bookmark app, that this disproportionately favours Google+ results thus skewing the user’s choice in a way that is a far cry from Google’s PageRank principles which show above all else that which is popular first. Instead users are getting that which is Google first.

This is the latest in a divergence in Google’s principles which I also commented on in a former post in which Google has gone from a site which wanted to keep users there for as little time as possible to a site that wants to keep users full stop. Whether it’s evil or not I’m not sure but I think it’s very stupid to mess with something that has worked so very, very well up to now.

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