Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Create Your Own Search Engine

Google has launched a new service where websites can host custom created search engines based on Google. The Google Custom Search Engine (http://www.google.com/coop/cse/) is described as, "Harness the power of Google search to create a free Custom Search Engine that reflects your knowledge and interests. Specify the websites that you want searched - and integrate the search box and results into your own website."

That is right. You pick the web sites you want included. This service allows you to set-up a search that spam sites have no chance of intruding upon. Further, you can exclude sites which actually disagree with you! Your search engine of choice can now be just like your new service of choice. In the USA, liberals tend to watch CNN News and conservatives watch FOX News. Hey, now your search engine can be just the same! It is so annoying when opposing views get in the way of being informed...

One example of this is Real Climate (http://www.realclimate.org). The description of the site participation in the project notes, "RealClimate.org provides expert opinions on the science of climate change. Since this subject has become rather politicized, the quality of information available on the web varies. Using Google Custom Search Engine, they have created a searchable subset of the web that they believe provides the most reliable information. " By "most reliable information" the site owners mean those sites which agree with them. Since any scientist or intelligent person like Michael Crichton must be "politicized" for disagreeing with mainstream science it is best just to omit them from search results all together! I am sure the scientists of the early 17th century would have excluded any Galileo created sites from their search results too.

Just watch as junk science sites, historical revisionists, alternative medicine sites, etc. set up their own custom search engines. I can just see a site titled Holocaust Search Engine which only indexes sites which postulate that the Holocaust never happened. Or perhaps a Texas History Search which only includes sites which argue that Texas is illegally occupied by the USA. (These sites exist, I kid you not.) People like search results which agree with them. This is going to be popular with fringe groups as well as more mainstream society.

Not that I am entirely against this idea. It has real potential for areas which are not controversial. I may go out and create an Information Literacy Search Engine which only indexes good info lit sites. Or maybe an American Presidents Search Engine which indexes tons of good presidential history sites. Custom search engines can be good for K-12 schools as well for setting up safe sites to search for students. Spam sites are going to have trouble if this becomes a widely adopted technology.

It will be interesting to see how popular these custom Google search engines are and how different people are using them. Is search about to be divided up by special interests? Will people actually choose to use search engines that only provide results they agree with? Will censorship take on an acceptable face with this technology? Teaching students about using the Web and using critical thinking skills is getting harder and harder...

3 comments:

dave said...

I've created a couple of these customized search engines for use for Intergovernmental Organization (UN, World Bank, etc...) info. You can take a look at my experiment here: http://www.libraries.iub.edu/index.php?pageId=4173

-David Oldenkamp

Miranda said...

I just came across a book that appears to make a related point about our increasing ability to filter the information we receive through our existing beliefs and prejudices. In "Republic.com," Cass Sunstein argues that "there are serious dangers in a system in which individuals bypass general interest intermediaries and restrict themselves to opinions and topics of their own choosing." He notes in particular "the risks posed by any situation in which thousands or perhaps millions or even tens of millions of people are mainly listening to louder echoes of their own voices" (p. 16). I just started reading the book, so I'm not sure how persuasive his case is, but this new Google option might be another example of the phenomenon he describes.

Miranda Bennett
Instruction Librarian, University of Houston

Michael said...

David,

Your search engine looks good. Thanks for sharing. I think this is what Google had in mind when they created this service. As I noted, I will be setting up a search engine or two as well in the very near future and give this a try.

Michael