This post is an only mildly coherent hodgepodge of things related to how we search for information. I like looking stuff up. I’m curious about the world, and I want to know more, so I spend a lot of time searching. Reading other people’s blog posts often sends me over to Google or Wikipedia to find out more about something that was mentioned.
By the way, I like how old-school the above image is. I remember Lycos (which still exists) and Altavista (which still exists as part of yahoo) were around when I was in high school. I also remember that the Yahoo directory was the first tool I used for searching back in the day.
I always use Google as my search engine, including Google Images and Google Scholar (which is for research papers). This post is Google-focused since that’s what I’m familiar with. And just out of curiosity, does anyone use Bing? And if so, why?
If you want to search for something on someone’s blog but they don’t have a search widget set up, you can use Google. If I enter “site:mentalhealthathome.org mashed potato,” the list of results will be posts on which I’ve talked about mashed potato brains.
If you’re looking for something specific, putting your search query in quotations will show results that are an exact match. You can use the Boolean operators AND and OR; they must be in all caps. The equivalent of the Boolean NOT is to put a “-” in front of a term, e.g. rodent -rabbit.
Are you curious what other people are curious about? Google Trends will tell you.
Want to get fancy with your image searching? Advanced Image Search lets you get a lot more specific with what you’re searching for.
Google cached pages
Some sites won’t let you view an article without signing up for the site. There may be a way around that. Unless a website specifically tells it not to, Google will cache a version of pages it looks at and make that publicly visible. When you’re looking at search results, there’s a little upside down triangle to the right of the URLs it displays. If Google has a cached version, when you click on the triangle, a box will pop up so you can click “cached.” You can sometimes view the full article that way.
You can also find the cached version by searching for cache:URL, e.g. cache:https://mentalheatlhtathome.org
Google getting fancy
For some search queries, Google will try harder to be helpful by showing additional information above and beyond the basic search results.
Featured snippets are shown above the the search results. The type of information it shows depends on the search. If you search for purple people eaters, it will prominently display information about the song. If you search for a sports team, the rich results might include game dates and scores.
Sometimes, when Google likes me, it will show a featured snippet for my Psych Meds Made Simple book page, as shown in the image below. In this case, it’s not displaying the “meta description” for the page I entered using my SEO plugin; instead, it’s pulled text from one of the review snippets I have on the page, which presumably Google thinks would be relevant to searchers.
Another fancy way of displaying information is in “knowledge graphs,” which appear in the top right corner of the first page of search results. These pull together bits and pieces from different sources about authors, books, public figures, artistic works, etc.
Featured snippets and knowledge graphs aren’t ads, and while websites can make their site Google-friendly, only Google decides when and if to display a site in these ways.
Anybody can edit a Wikipedia page, unless it’s a page specifically restricted to approved users. There’s a small army of of volunteer editors that help keep everything on the up and up. It’s possible that you’ll come across stuff on Wikipedia that’s a complete load of crap, but I find it’s not that hard to evaluate quality.
Wikipedia articles are always supposed to have a neutral, encyclopedic tone. If you’re reading an article that sounds biased, that should be a red flag.
The images below come from the Black Lives Matter page, chosen because I thought it was pretty likely to have some dispute going on. Banners like the one below are a way for Wikipedia editors let readers know that there are issues with a page or section that haven’t been resolved yet. It’s basically a read with caution sign that stays put until someone gets around to fixing it.
Information on Wikipedia pages is supposed to reference the original source of the information. At the bottom of every Wikipedia page is a reference list, but most of the time, if you hover over the hyperlinked reference number, a box will pop up with the information, as shown below. You can then evaluate whether or not it seems like a credible reference. If there’s more than one reference cited for a given statement, that can make the information more credible.
If there are no references at all for something that’s stated as a fact or opinion, that should send up red flags. Other people’s opinions can be included in a Wikipedia article, but there need to be a reference and the person must have some level of significance. If someone’s referencing Uncle Bob, that’s probably not so useful.
Every Wikipedia page has a corresponding talk page. This is the table of contents from the Black Lives Matter talk page. This is where discussions happen about what to include and what not to include, and how the page should be written. This can also be useful information in evaluating a page’s content.
Especially right now, with so much misinformation flying around, it’s important to use some critical thinking and verify information before assuming that it’s true. If two different sources are saying different things about the same topic, that warrants further investigation. If one source is expressing their vehement belief and the other source is expressing independently verifiable facts, that should send a pretty clear message. Not that I’m talking about anyone in particular…
Okay, so that’s my thoughts on how I search for information. Do you have any go to sources that you rely on?