Advice on Search Tools

The Web has matured greatly as it's emerged from toddlerhood. In the bad old days of gray backgrounds, search engines were less sophisticated and few people had yet had a chance to leave their mark on the Web. The reason for this prologue is that finding good Web sites isn't the struggle it once was. This isn't to say that it's always easy to find something good, but it does mean our strategy can be different.

In the early days you had no choice but to belly-up to a search engine and begin Booleaning. You'd be hoping to find the single sites you could use in your activity.

No Longer! You first goal should be to find work someone else has done. People have been busy collecting sites on topics you're interested in. Once you find someone else's Hotlist, or even Sampler or WebQuest, you can play in that sand box all day. That's why we've placed the Filamentality database and Web-and-Flow Search on the top row. These are collections of Web-based activities educators have already spent time creating. Start here. The Fil database is unscrutinized, but the Web-and-Flow collection has been checked for reasonable quality.

Next, we suggest looking to folks who spend their time collecting and categorizing sites into directories. Among the ones we like the best are Blue Web'n and The Mining Company. If your topic is fairly common or popular, it's likely someone's already gathered links for you.

The third suggestion is to use one of the meta search engines. These query several popular search engines, compile the data and bring you back the most likely right hits. You can save yourself time in your early searches casting like this, broadly on the Net. MetaCrawler, Ask Jeeves and the like are good meta engines. Note: Be careful using Ask Jeeves and Ask Jeeves for Kids as they present what they've found in a frame, so the URL / location at the top frame is part of the search string. Click the "no frames" button to get to the real URL for pasting into Web-and-Flow.

If you're working with younger students, you might find more appropriate sites using the databases built just for children. Sites like Yahooligans and Ask Jeeves for Kids filter their sites and are pretty vigilant in seeking out the more graphical, less texty pages.

Search when you must because finding gems on the Web is a lot of fun. It's especially good to comb the Web for the contextually quirky side of things. These days we think Google is best with the old standby of Altavista. Of course you may want to choose other search engines to find specific things, so feel free to pop another URL into an available browser and head out.

© 1999 - 2008 Web-and-Flow and Tom March