The Web has an overwhelming amount of information in it, good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate, profound and profane, text and multimedia. Google is the latest in a series of tools that the public has come to rely on (gopher, anyone?) to make sense of or provide a filter for this nearly unending mass of bits. Undergraduate business students at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business use Google almost exclusively when looking for information on the Web; in fact, most barely know that other tools exist. Even if they do know, they assume that Google’s results would be superior anyway, thus justifying their continued usage of Google.
Goal of this book
The goal of this book are not to make the reader a search guru who knows every esoteric search tool out there and can opine endlessly on the ins-and-outs of search algorithms. No, that’s not it at all. The goal of this book is to enable the reader to get better information of all types in a more timely manner with the least amount of work.
One of the points of the class that produced this book was to open students’ eyes to the tools that are out there, and to get them to understand the various ways that these search tools can compete with each other, from the quality of the results to the query construction process to the presentation of results (and more). The sites and tools included in this book are not a collection of random sites; they are sites that, over the years, I have found to be the best-of-breed or otherwise have some useful distinguishing characteristic that I think it is worthy that students know about. Students were tasked not to tell you that each of these tools is a good alternative to Google but to determine if it is a worthy alternative and, if so, in what circumstances this would be the case.
Organization of the book
This book is organized much like the class was organized. We start with an introduction to the search process, using Google as the standard example throughout. We then examine Google-specific features and spend significant time on this tools in recognition of its market power and importance. Next up is an examination of other general purpose Web search tools that provide different value propositions than Google. The next set of tools that students discuss relate to more academically-focused search tools, including those offered by Google to those offered by more focused competitors. The Wolfram|Alpha search engine is also included here because of the extraordinary knowledge and fact-base that it draws upon; it is so rich and so wide-ranging that students almost cannot fail to find some use for this tool.
Timely search is the next, and largest, section of this book. In this section students examine blog search tools, news search tools, and two tools (page monitors and email alerts) that deliver information to a user’s email inbox. The blog search tools include more familiar sites such as Google Blog search and Technorati and less familiar sites such as Regator and Ice Rocket. The news search tools include the usual suspects (Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Ask) but also one, SiloBreaker, that has some very intriguing tools included to augment and focus the search process. The final two tools are search tools that deliver their results through email — page monitors and email alerts. The purpose of the first is to watch a page on the Web and notify the user if the page changes. The purpose of the second is to run a Web (or news, video, etc.) search periodically and send a report in an email message if new sites would be included in the results compared to the previous time that the search was run.
Social search is examined in the next section. The focus here is on Twitter messages, but other socially constructed information and activity is also examined. The first two chapters look at Twitter search, both through twitter.com and other sites. The next three chapters investigate a selection of social analytic and search sites. The last two chapters in this section take an in-depth look at two social news sites, reddit and digg.
In the image search section, in the usual fashion a student first examines the effectiveness of the major search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Ask) in image search. In the next two chapters students examine the usefulness of flickr and picsearch when searching for images. The conclusion of this section is a chapter containing a look at tools that help a user find re-usable images (i.e., those with lessened copyright issues).
The next section on video search is structured quite similarly as the previous one. In this case the first chapter reviews YouTube (owned by Google), the elephant in the room who cannot be ignored when considering video. The next chapter looks at the efforts of the major search engines related to video search. The last two chapters in this section look at two specialized video sites, Blinkx and Griddeo, and their abilities to deliver videos when the user wants them.
The final section comes at the end of this book because metasearch sites are structured in such a way as to provide search tools for many types of information (everything discussed above plus more). Two types of metasearch sites are investigated. Integrated metasearch sites retrieve results from multiple different search engines and merge the results into one integrated liste. Unified metasearch sites provide a single interface that allows the user to get results from multiple search engines, one at a time, without the need to re-enter the query.
How to read this book
I recommend that the reader works his/her way through the first three chapters of the “Web search” section before doing anything else. After that, though I believe it would be most beneficial for the reader to start at the beginning and work through the book, the user should be able to jump to any section in the book and read it independently of the others.