Google, meet your match!

Dec 1, 2005 by

Using Google to search the Internet is a lot like trying to find a book without a card catalogue. A what?! That’s right, one of those old, wooden, set of drawers containing all you need to know about every book in the library. The same hulking repository of index cards that is no longer found in most libraries was a much better search tool than Google because its database was linked to keyword and subject, unlike Google’s page ranking system and keyword system. Google, while the dominant search engine of the current Internet age, is in danger of becoming as obsolete as those flimsy three by five inch cards if it maintains its current system of popularity influenced site rankings.

Why do I believe this? Richard has shared a new search engine that he discovered elsewhere in the blogosphere that takes the hulking mass of the Internet and organizes it into neat categorized results; Clusty. Despite it’s whimsical name (much like Google’s) Clusty has many advantages over Google. You don’t have to come up with your own categories or subjects in order to tighten, or refine, the search. You also don’t have to rely on Google’s theory of “the most popular web site is the best.” You don’t have to guess what might be written on that perfect page you need, just navigate the categories and subcategories in much the same way you would use Ebay to find that one specific treasure you’ve been hunting for.

Need proof? I did a search last night for a web site that had information for ecosystems, energy pyramids, and had an engaging activity for my students. Using Clusty I typed in “energy pyramids.” I was presented with over 240,000 results and categorized results on the sidebar. I clicked on the “Food Chains” category, and then the “How Food Chains Work” subcategory. The result was a less than one minute search which produced a high quality web site from the BBC challenging users to explore a coral reef, figure out what organisms are living there, place them in the right animal group, create a food chain, construct an energy pyramid, and then build a food web with all of the information. In an effort to give Google an equal chance I typed in “energy pyramids” and was presented with over 1.5 million sites, with the first few pages of results being nowhere as engaging or informative as the BBC site. To make a long story short, 5 minutes later and several search strings I finally found the same BBC site with Google by typing in “”energy pyramids” +”food webs” +games.” Perhaps my searching knowledge isn’t up to par, but I do know that even a few minutes saved in finding resources can mean the world to teachers.

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5 Comments

  1. Tom

    This presentation by van Ess has some interesting tips on searching the “hidden” web.

    I used to use Copernic back when I was on a PC and had some really good results with that. It was nice to set it and have reports still coming back to you a couple days later, sort of like a clippings service.

    I tried out Clusty and thought it was interesting. Nice to have another tool in the shed. Always good to think about things in different ways. I don’t want google brainwashing me.

  2. Ben

    I’ve heard the hidden web used before during a seminar a couple years back while attending MACUL. I even was introduced to the Wayback Machine for locating old cached web pages that were no longer posted. I think after break I may talk with my students about what Google and other search engines really do; that is just showing you what they’ve found in their database of the web, not actually searching the real web when you hit “search.”

    That presentation was well done and eye opening. I was going to start working with the students on Access after the break, so I think I’ll give them a few weeks to fully understand what a database is and how useful it can be. Then I’ll drop the bombshell on them of Google creating it’s own database and how to search for others. Thanks Tom.

  3. I just experimented a little with Clusty.. always looking for newer and better… However, don’t think I’d recommend it for school students. Only the Web tab can be “restricted” for adult content.. The images tab is not and suddenly a Hard Core Porn site popped up. Quite educational!
    Think I’ll use Clusty for teacher reference only.

  4. Ben

    I agree that the Clusty still has a few bugs to work out. By default the safesearch filtering is on for the images (you have to click on the advanced option to see that it’s on), but it was still possible to find explicit images by trying hard enough. Then again, Google was once there as well; there were plenty of sexually explicit images that could be found using Google’s original “safe search” and some images can still be found if you know the right terms to search for. I believe that Clusty is still worth using with students, especially for the nice clustering of common topics and searches that many students (at least those in my 6th grade class) struggle to come up with on their own.

    I like to think of search engines as magazine racks at the bookstore. Sure, all of the highly offensive and questionable magazines are covered up with black wrappers. But when it comes down to it, if the kids are desparate enough, they’ll tear the wrapper off, or find some other way to view the pornographic and explicit material in much the same way they’ll find a way around search engine filters.

  5. Discovered an interesting mega-search engine that includes Clusty in its results. http://www.whonu.com/
    It allows you to really catagorize your search in a number of different manners and then presents you with first page results from a lot of search engines as if you had used all the various tricks for narrowing your search. Give it a try. It helps to reinforce the fact that what comes up first on Google is not always the same on any other (nor necessarily the best result). It may be a but heavy for elementary level but for serious research it can greatly narrow things down.

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