Special Interest Custom Search Engines

A recent post by Downes (PubMed Now Indexes Videos of Experiments and Protocols in Life Sciences) reminded me of a Google custom search engine I started to put together almost a year or ago to provide a meta-search over science experiment protocols.

At the time, I managed to track three likely sites down, although despite my best intentions when I created the initial CSE, I haven’t managed even cursory maintenance of the site.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s a link to my Science Experimental Protocols Video Search (a search for DNA will show you what sorts of results are typical). If you know of any other sites that publish scientific experimental protocols, please fee free to post a link in the comments to the post.

Another custom search engine I started looking at at the start of this year, inspired by a conversation with a solicitor friend over New Year, was a search of UK (English and Scottish) legislation. The intention here was to come up with a CSE that could provide a value adding vertical search site to a legal website. If i remember correctly (?!;-) the CSE only took an hour or so pull together, so even though we never pursued embedding it on live website, it wasn’t really that much time to take out…

If you want to check it out, you can find it here: LegalDemo.

One CSE I do maintain is “How Do I?”, a metasearch engine over instructional video websites. There are almost as many aggregating websites of this ilk as there are sites publishing original instructional content, but again, it didn’t take long to pull together, and it’s easy enough to maintain. You can find the search engine here: “How Do I?” instructional video metasearch engine, and a brief description of its origins here: “How Do I…” – Instructional Video Search.

Another 10 minute CSE I created, this time following a comment over a pint about the “official” OpenLearn search engine, was an OpenLearn Demo CSE (as described here: OpenLearn Custom Search).

And finally (and ignoring other the other half-baked CSEs I occasionally dabble with), there’s the CSE I’ve been doodling with most recently: the OUseful search engine (I need to get that sorted on a better URL..). This CSE searches over the various blogs I’ve written in the past, and write on at the moment. If you want to search over posts from the original incarnation of OUseful.info, this is one place to do it…

Just looking back over the above CSEs, I wonder again about who’s job it is (if anyone’s), to pull together and maintain vertical search engines in an academic environment, or show students how they can crate their own custom search engines? (And one level down from that, who’s role is it to lead the teaching of the “search query formulation” information skill?)

In the OU at least, the Library info skills unit have been instrumental in engaging with course teams to develop information literacy skills, as well as leading the roll out of Beyond Google… but I have to admit, I do wonder just how well equipped they are to helping users create linked data queries, SPARQL queries, or SQL database queries containing a handful of joins? (I also wonder where we’re teaching people how to create pivot tables, and the benefits of them…?!)

Thinking about advanced queries, and the sighs that go up when we talk about how difficult it is to persuade searchers to use more than two or three keyword search terms, I’ve also been wondering what the next step in query complexity is likely to be after the advanced search query. And it strikes me that the linked data query is possibly that next step?

Having introduced the Parallax Freebase interface to several people over the last week, it struck me that actually getting the most out of that sort of interface (even were Freebase populated enough for more than a tiny minority of linked queries to actually work together) is not likely to be the easiest of jobs, particularly when you bear in mind that it’s only a minority of people who know how to even conceptualise advanced search queries, let alone know how to construct them at a syntactic level, or even via a web form.

The flip side to helping users create queries is of course helping make information amenable to discovery by search, as Lorcan Dempsey picks up on in SEO is part of our business. Here again we have maybe another emerging role for …. I don’t know…? The library? And if not the library, then whom?

(See also: The Library Flip, where I idly wondered whether the academic library of the future-now should act “so as to raise the profile of information it would traditionally have served, within the search engine listings and at locations where the users actually are. In an academic setting, this might even take the form of helping to enhance the reputation of the IP produced by the institution and make it discoverable by third parties using public web search engines, which in turn would make it easy for our students to discover OU Library sponsored resources using those very same tools.”)

PS Just a quick reminder that there are several OU Library job vacancies open at the moment. You can check them out here: OU Library Jobs Round-Up (August 2008).

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...