Search Engines: A Foreign Object to Teachers?

Educators

What's All the Hype?

The "phone book," we all take it for granted! Do you realize that each phone book lists 95% of all of the phone numbers available in your area? If the book doesn't work, just call directory assistance and they can find just about any listed phone number. This dynamic tool has been available for years.

Enter the "Internet"

By 2001, the web will consist of nearly a billion individual web sites. Imagine a phone book with a billion numbers? I would think that it would be overwhelming at the least and quite cumbersome to tackle. In the world of cyberspace, "search engines and web indices" create a mechanism that provide efficient and timely access to information that otherwise would be gridlocked. However, unlike the phone company which controls the access and flow of information, search engines and indices do not own the communication channels through which information flows. In fact, when a new web page is posted through the Internet, search engines have no way of knowing that it even exists.

Evaluating Search Engines

In developing this tutorial, it was evident that there were a great number of existing search engines available. It became apparent that people tend to favor search engines that are efficient and effective in helping them access the information of interest. Thus, a search engine is only effective if it can find a variety of web sites you need and want.

Effective Search Engines For Teachers

Seven (7) qualities have been identified that characterize effective search engines:

1. More sites mean more variety. This is true of most search engines that have a history.

2. A good search engine lets you filter any content that may be offensive and inappropriate. This is a new feature that seems to be catching on and is proving to be effective.

3. A search engine should return only web sites that are relevant to what you are searching for.

4. A good search engine finds high quality sites. Although it is an overwhelming task to evaluate each individual site, certain search engines evaluate sites by popularity. Google is the leader in this area.

5. Good search engines let you narrow your searches. For example, if you type in "teaching," you can get over 50,000 sites to choose from.

6. Good search engines save time and energy.

7. Good search engines allow searching for specific media, i.e., sounds, pictures, or movies. The leaders in this category are Bing and Google.

Questionable Search Engines

1. Some search engines are using monetary-driven tactics to return web pages. These sites require payment to become listed on their service. Companies bid on keywords, such as the word "teaching." For example, if I bid 50 cents for my web site to be listed every time the word "teaching" is entered and I out bid everyone else on that word, every time "teaching" is entered into the search engine, my site will be the first listed. A lot of web sites are not listed with these services because of the associated costs. Using these types of engines only returns corporate web sites or people who are only interested in monetary gain. That monetary gain is from you.

2. Some search engines and indices totally overwhelm you with information. Recently, we took a look at a top-rated search engine. The home page alone consisted of over 300 words and 20 pictures. To newcomers it is comparable to a first trip to Las Vegas. This type of content can distract you. In most cases, the best search engines are also the simplest.

3. Speed- some search engines use slow servers and some servers are slowed down due to too much traffic. Most engines have addressed this and it's no longer an issue.

4. Some search engines list web pages that have been taken off the net years ago. We call these sites dead links. How many times have you seen 404 error, or server could not locate page(s)? Some search engines are notorious for this.

5. Major search engines have been accused of monitoring their users habits and reporting that information to internet markets for a hefty price. And you were wondering how you get all of this junk e-mail (a.k.a. spam)!

What They Don't Tell You About Search Engines

1. Most publishers that review search engines, either on the net or in print, have a financial interest or partnership with the search engines they review. So much for an unbiased opinion!

2. For a fee, some search engines allow certain web pages to come up more often when searching.

3. We find most people to have more successful searches with meta-searches. Meta-searches search multiple databases from multiple search engines. We really like goggle.com and c4.com.

4. Most web designers make sure to list their site with the 'big 3,' (Yahoo, Bing, and Google), because these sites have the most extensive collection. Yahoo results are now delievered by Bing, so in a way Yahoo is not a thought any more.

TeAch-nology.com Recommended Search Engines

1.Goggle (goggle.com)- Originally a graduate project from Stanford University, this site, unlike most search engines, sends back the most relevant site for you. It's our favorite! Google has been rated the top search engine many times over. If you only use one, this should be it! They are always improving! They are the leaders, even one follows.

2. Bing (bing.com) - Microsoft finally decided to take search serious. Bing is an outstanding product. They really deliver really good results and it is very visual.

3. Yahoo (yahoo.com)- Old Faithful of the Internet! Unlike any other site, each web link from Yahoo! is reviewed by an actual human being. In fact, they list useful sites that we consider to be premier sites.

4. Teoma- Seen as a close rival to google, teoma offers and comprehensive and quality search service.

5.Open Directory (dmoz.org)- This is a volunteer project to list every site on the net; an impossible task, but a wonderfully useful site. This is a directory, just like Yahoo started as.

Regulating Information

What is lacking in our new "information highway" is a central regulating agency that would organize all "web addresses" and make them accessible to the public similar to how a phone book is used. Although, search engines are very useful tools, close to 40% of all web pages available on the Internet are not registered with search engines. As a result, unless you know the exact web site you want to visit, a mechanism is not yet available to help you to locate the address.

As time goes on, you will see more specialized search engines and indices emerge to meet this growing need to have access to web sites organized within a central file, or directory system. In the near future, we think that there will be growing number of professions and services that will create their own search engines that will focus specifically on their given fields. Teach-nology.com, for example, is a web index designed specifically for educators.

The Bottom Line

The day will come when you will type in "lesson plans" and you will only get quality sites. Until that day, we have the aforementioned search engines to help us in our task. Don't use a search engine because of the pretty colors or because a friend encouraged you. Use those that return consistently good web sites and lots of them. Some of the best search engines are those that no one has heard of. While there are those search engines making funny commercials, there are those creating quality as a standard.