GTV 10 minute talk from Greenbelt 2013. Discusses briefly why one might not default to Google as a search engine, provides three alternative search sites and some general librarianly advice along the way
How to ...search without Google. I could run a whole day workshop on search and filtering information, so ten minutes is only going to be very edited highlights of a few key ideas. And the core idea is to share some ways of negotiating the web without Google. So the key questions are: Why not use Google? Why does it matter what search engine I use? Why should I listen to this particular talk?
Well, principally, Google doesn’t always tell it to you straight. Now this is not a Google-bashing talk. And I would be a hypocrite if I pretended I never used their services – I use search all the time, plus gmail, Google docs and YouTube. But I know what some of the limitations are. Relying on Google alone means missing out on some of the deeper web; and it means your search results are never quite as objective as you think. I am going to give you three different search engines to try; three useful search terms you can use and throw in some good old fashioned librarianly advice along the way. here goes.
It’s really easy just to jump straight to Google to look for an answer. And I do it all the time. Sometimes, a moment’s thought about what we want to find is a better strategy. Look before you leap, perhaps. What would good results look like? Would a presentation or a graph or numbers answer my question more effectively?
Pausing for just a moment will help save time because you can come up with a search that means you go to the best source first, for the thing you want, and don’t spend ages reading or wading through a lot of irrelevant, possibly wrong and misleading results. Research says people rarely go past the first two pages of results and there’s an entire industry dedicated to making sure sites appear in the top few hits. Let’s try to circumvent that to find what you need, not what the advertisers want you to read.
Using a search engine that supports AND, OR and NOT logic can be really good. But there’s no time to talk about Boolean operators today. So instead let me tell you about three simple ways to reduce results – these work on Bing and Yahoo and a range of others So. Three search limiters to try out. You might use these to reduce the number of results you have to sift through AND make the results you do get more relevant. If you know you want a specific kind of file, then use filetype – this example would return results that include the phrase “greenbelt festival” that are PDFs. But it could also be spreadsheets or word documents or music files. If you know you only want information from a particular site, use the site: command. And Intitle: searches for your term in the title of the web page. I use site a lot when trying to find Government or EU information, I know it’s there somewhere but can’t always track down what I want from the gov.uk site. Have a look at the ‘advanced search’ pages on your preferred search engine for examples. If you don’t know that putting quotes around your words means it’s treated as a phrase, that can also be revolutionary.
So, a pause for some general librarianly advice. Google will personalise what you see based on your activity across the web. Remember, they are trying to get you to click on links that will generate income for Google; they’re not being completely altruistic in their business model. So this can skew the results you see and all the ads you get later elsewhere. If you use an in-private window then this doesn’t happen, and your results will be unfiltered.
Here are three different search engines and reasons why I like them. I’ve just searched on the phrase ‘greenbelt festival’ across them so I can show you what the results look like.
Carrot clustering engine – gives graphical options for results, helps determine topics and see where results are coming from
so here are the results for “greenbelt festival” – lots refer to ‘faith & justice’ & a few refer to the weather forecast. You can see all the results in a list in a different tab. As you move around the wheel the specific results clustered under each colour are shown on the right hand side. I like this because it helps break down a search into related topics very quickly.
The benefit of using duck duck go is that it doesn’t track or personalise. I’m not promoting anonymity because you – which of course you aren’t – might be doing something you shouldn’t – but because it helps you get clearer search results AND it maintains your privacy
So these are the results from duckduckgo; we’ve got the Wikipedia entry at the top, the official website listed and alternative searches suggested. I’d recommend having a look a the ‘more’ menu – there’s lots of useful hints and ‘goodies’ about the site.
The third search site is Million short. Million short removes results from the top million, or hundred thousand, or ten thousand sites from your search. So it’ll take out Facebook, Wikipedia, about.com and such like. What’s the benefit for you? It helps you get deeper into the results faster and takes out all the nonsense.
Here’s the same results – the sites not included are listed on the right hand side, so you can add them back in again if you want.
OK, we’ve had the search engines and the syntax, it must be time for another piece of advice and if you know how passionately I believe in library access for all, you won’t be surprised at this one. It’s not quite ‘just use your local library’ (although you should go in, borrow some books, music or DVDs; sign up your kids, neighbours friends and enemies )... but it’s ‘make sure you know the hidden depths they can take you do.’ And know that they will curate content for us.
My local county library service has access online, or via library PCs, to top-of-the-range business databases, for example. You would not get access to this kind of quality information, for free, from general internet searches – well, not legally, anyway. And it’s just there, alongside a huge range of other reference works that you can read for free, or a nominal fee from your computer.
The British Library, the library of libraries, has free, online information guides to particular topics. You can use this is as a getting started guide if you’re interested in a new topic. The British Library isn’t just for serious academics, living in the reading rooms – it holds, manages and makes available a huge collection of STUFF for us all.
And just a reminder of the questions I suggested you could ask yourself before starting a search. Is it words you need?
What about audio, video, slidedecks? The answer you want might not just live in text on a webpage. So with a couple of minutes left, what else do I have to say?
Well, here’s one final bonus site. The wayback machine at the internet archive can be brilliant if you need older information. Some sites have been kept for fairly long periods of time, well, in internet terms anyway.
It’s possible, for example, to find out what the Greenbelt website looked like in July 1997. That might be a good way to settle an argument perhaps about which festival you were at when you saw a particular act, or just to marvel at developments in web design over the last sixteen years. You can track developments on a topic through time or find older versions of sites that have been oh-so-helpfully updated. There’s not complete coverage, unfortunately, so it can be hit and miss.
So on that note, I am done. Thank you for listening; I hope you’ve heard something that will make your web search simpler, more accurate and faster in the future. If you want to know more then I recommend two people’s blogs, Phil Bradley and Karen Blakeman; they are invaluable. Phil keeps a long list of interesting Google alternative search engines, Karen teaches workshops on search techniques.
How to search without Google
The web is
more than Google.
There are other
starting points for
Diving into Google is
a reflex. Do we forget
to think before we
may take a few
moments before but
save time by