Going beyond Google

Marydee Ojala shares some search tips from the session she prepared for the (postponed) Computers in Libraries conference.

One of the many conference casualties of Covid-19 was Computers in Libraries (cis.infotoday.com), scheduled from 31 March through 2 April 2020 in Arlington, Virginia. It's been postponed but the new dates have not yet been determined. Because of the postponement, I won't be giving my Cybertour on Finding Information by Going Beyond Google. Thus, I will share some of what I was going to say here.

I'll start with the obvious: in most people's minds, search is synonymous with Google. However, information professionals aren't "most people"—we know we need to go beyond Google, even when that means other Google databases and services. It's good to remember that you can search images, videos, maps, and news on Google's platform. Students probably already know about Google Scholar. It's worth reminding them that Scholar does not actually contain every scholarly article ever written. Many remain behind paywalls and the Unpaywall Chrome extension (unpaywall.org) can help find free versions.

Some less well-known Google offerings are its Finance database (google.com/finance), which is aimed at individual investors, and Books, which you can query via its AI-powered Talk to Books (books.google.com/talktobooks). Google Trends (trends.google.com) is always fun to play with and it can give you insights into many research projects. Arts & Culture (google.com/artsandculture) lets you browse through the collections of over 1,200 worldwide museums and archives. It’s a perfect distraction for those working from home and those whose children are home from school. If data is the new oil, then Google can help you get all greased up. Experiment with it by searching the Data Sets (datasetsearch.research.google.com) or its Public Data Explorer (google.com/publicdata).

Search engines that aren't Google

Moving to other search engines, Microsoft's Bing leads the pack. But it's not the only other search engine that info pros can use. There's Yandex, a very strong contender, which like Google and Bing, have multiple databases. Its map database is particularly strong. Gigablast was somewhat moribund for a while, but its developer has rejuvenated it within the past few months.

Privacy is on many searchers' minds. DuckDuckGo's claim to fame is privacy. Its usage has skyrocketed as more searchers divert their activities from Google and Bing to DuckDuckGo. The increasing popularity of DuckDuckGo may be why other search engines stressing privacy have gained ground. Ekoru's raison d'etre (ekoru.org) is to clean up the oceans, but it also says that it doesn't save your searches or sell your information. Verizon—the owner of both Yahoo and AOL, among other properties—has introduced OneSearch (onesearch.com), another engine promoting privacy. Privado (privado.com) is yet one more engine that says it doesn't track you, doesn't use cookies, and doesn't save your searches. Interestingly, most of the non-DuckDuckGo privacy search engines have Bing at their core. I also wonder about the trademark implications of Verizon naming its search engine OneSearch.

Tired of seeing ads on websites you visit? Try switching browsers. Brave (brave.com) is an alternative browser that strips out the ads from the pages you view. It's an eye-opener to see how many blank spaces can show up on a webpage when the ads are removed.

Niche search engines

A few search engines designed not for general web searches for specific topic areas are often overlooked. If you do business searches, take a look at Biznar (biznar.com). Created by Deep Web Technologies, Biznar has existed for decades. It is an interesting contrast not only to Google but also to subscription databases such as ABI/INFORM. Its federated search technology also powers the medical literature with Mednar (mednar.com) and science with Science.gov. Deep Web Technologies was acquired by the Welsh company AMPLYFI in February 2020.

Google Scholar isn't the only entry into scholarly literature. Microsoft Academic Search (academic.research.microsoft.com) can surface information not in Google Scholar. Relying on semantic search technology, it goes beyond keyword searches to understanding the meaning of words. Semantic Scholar (semanticscholar.org) but it covers only the scientific literature. Million Short (millionshort.com) lets you run a search minus the most popular sites, which surfaces the long-tail, more esoteric results that info pros are frequently in need of. You can remove from 100 to 1 million sites from your search.

Cybertours at Computers in Libraries are short presentations, so this is only the tip of the searching iceberg. I’ll be expanding this talk and including many more resources by the time October and Internet Librarian International roll around.
Marydee Ojala (Marydee@xmission.com) is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher and co-chair of the Internet Librarian International conference.