Browser Based “Custom Search Engines”

Back in the days when search was my first love of web tech, and blogging was a daily habit, I’d have been all over this… But for the last year or two, work has sucked blogging all but dry, and by not writing post(card)s I don’t pay as much attention to my digital flâneury now as I used to and as I’d like.

There are still folk out there who do keep turning up interesting stuff on a (very) regular basis, though, and who do manage to stick to the regular posting which I track, as ever, via a filter I curate: RSS feed subscriptions.

So for example, via @cogdog (Alan Levine’s) CogDogBlog post A Tiny Tool for Google Image Searches set to Creative Commons, I learn (?…) about something I really should immediately just be able to recall off the top of my head, and yet also seems somehow familiar…:

 In Chrome, create a saved search engine under Preferences -> Search Engine -> Manage Search Engines or directly chrome://settings/searchEngines.

Alan Levine

So what’s there?

Chrome browser preferences: search engine settings

First up, we notice that this is yet another place where Google appears to have essentially tracked a large part of my web behaviour, creating Other search engine links for sites I have visited. I guess this is how it triggers behaviours such as “within site search” in the location bar:

Within-site search in Chrome location bar

…which I now recall is (was?) called the omnibar, from this post from just over 10 years ago in February 2011: Coming Soon, A Command Line to the Web in Google Chrome?.

That post also refers to Firefox’s smart keywords which were exactly what I was trying to recall, and which I’d played with back in 2008: Time for a TinyNS? (a post which also features guess who in the first line…).

Firefox: smart kewords, circa 2008

So with that idea brought to mind again, I’ll be mindful of opportunities to roll my own again…

Alan’s recent post also refers to the magic that is (are) bookmarklets. I still use a variety of these all the time, but I haven’t been minded to create any in months and months… in fact, probably not in years…

My top three bookmarklets:

  • pinboard bookmarklet: social bookmarking; many times a day;
  • nbviewer bookmarklet: reliably preview Jupyter notebooks from Github repos and gists, with js output cells rendered; several times a day;
  • OU Library ezproxy: open subscription academic content (online journals, ebooks etc.) via OU redirect (access to full text, where OU subscription available).

What this all makes me think is that the personal DIY productivity tools that gave some of us, at least, some sort of hope, back in the day, have largely not become common parlance. These tools are likely still alien to the majority, not least in terms of the very idea of them, let alone how to write incantations of your own to make the most of them.

Which reminds me. At one point I did start to explore bookmarklet generator tools (I don’t recall pitching an equivalent for smart keyword scripts), in a series of posts I did whilst on the Arcadia Project:

An Introduction to Bookmarklets
The ‘Get Current URL’ Bookmarklet Pattern
The ‘Get Selection’ Bookmarklet Pattern

Happy days… Now I’m just counting down the 5000 or so days to retirement from the point I wake up to the point I go to sleep.

Thanks, Alan, for the reminders; your daily practise is keeping this stuff real…

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...

3 thoughts on “Browser Based “Custom Search Engines””

  1. This feels like old times when a blog post could generate a post as a reply, and on such, a rich discussion rather than chirps, or mostly what people can muster these days… a like button.

    Look for a response soon ;-) but know that any blogging done, regardless of rate, is valued, even if you never know it directly. Keep that clock moving forward.

    I find it odd how searches are added to this set. I see some really ancient ones in mine, so I am thinking they are not expunged when doing a browser history clean.

    1. @cogdog Luddites forever, keeping the old skillls and old ways going ;-)

      I need to do a proper poke through my added search engine history. I also wonder if they’re another of the things that chrome synchs across browser instances.

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