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Searching for substance, or is it CRAP?

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Part 1: Which search engine?

It only took 0.23 seconds for Google to provide me with just over 40 million hits to  my search on “graphic novels.” I was going to say that’s less time than a blink of an eye, but then I wasn’t really sure just how long that is, so that was my next search. Despite some variance in how long a blink is, it would seem that Google did in fact produce results in less than the 0.33 second blink-time that I found on one site. I think we take it for granted these days, but when you think 40 million results were found in less time than it takes to blink it’s pretty amazing! What puzzles me though is that when I did this same search about three weeks ago (yes, I started this PLN task some time ago) I got over 55 million hits on exactly the same search term. Why is that? I can’t believe that 15 million sites on graphic novels have been sucked into cyberspace since then.

I also wondered if using the speech facility in Google to do a search would yield different results. After some previous experience with voice-to-text software that obviously didn’t think I could speak English, I suspected the results would be different. Well, the top ten hits at least were the same, but there was no indication of how many results there were or how long it took to get them. I can only say it  seemed as quick as the written search, and I’m not really interested in how many million results there are as I probably wouldn’t look beyond the first 50 or so results.

In terms of the actual results that came up, as is the norm when searching through Google, Wikipedia came in at the top of the list, followed by a mish-mash of commercial, educational, and organisational sites. Since I’m particularly interested in information about graphic novels in education, I added a domain search (by adding Site:.edu) to “graphic novels.” That certainly narrowed things down to just 120 000 results (yes, that’s still a lot). So now a trip over to change the “Any” option just above the “hit list” to Reading Level and then Advanced, and I’m really cooking with gas in terms of finding some quality academic articles about graphic novels. Again, there is no indication of how many hits there are, other than saying it’s 37% of the original 120 000 hits. Using the Google search bar as a calculator, I soon found out that equates to around 44 thousand hits. Time to start looking at what other search engines can do.

Bing brought up just over 2 million results with Wikipedia again topping the list and the remainder of the first page looking similar to what Google had to offer. Adding “site:.edu” brought up 68 thousand results, a lot less than the Google offering and no option to further reduce it by reading level. Onward to try something else…

I guess I’ve been put off in the past using DuckDuckGo because of its rather silly name. However, I gave it a go and, apart from it yielding useful results, there are some features that I found really appealing: the options to change the privacy of my search history; the clean, ad-free interface, the absence of page breaks (so none of that annoying “next”), and the provision on the sidebar of tips and tricks such as search syntax options, keyboard shortcuts etc. I just think I might be returning to dive into DuckDuckGo a little more often!

Last but not least, it was time to try a visual search engine. I’ve tried instaGrok before and wasn’t a fan, but in the name of Vicpln13 I made a return visit. I knew it was a mistake. All those floating balls made me woozy. Whats more, a look at the glossary section to see their definition of “comics” as “Comics is short for \”comic strips\”, usually a section in a newspaper” and I knew this was no place for me to source material for academic study. Sorry Instagrok, but get your facts right if you want my vote.

One place I will have a bit more of a look around is the PLN course recommendation for the College of DuPage Library website. There’s a good list of search engines (including specialised ones for music, audio, video etc) here that is worth exploring.

Part 2: How do I trust what I  find?

I’ve seen the way students select information–if it’s at the top of the list of search hits, it’s the best source. So how do we move them beyond that mindset? How do we help them learn to be discerning researchers?

In a school that is all-boys until Year 10, the notion of using a CRAP test (Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose/Point of View) to evaluate websites has a certain appeal for boys, as does using some hoax websites to demonstrate application of the test. A good starting point are the websites that even the novice researcher has to be skeptical about (I hope); sites such as the Aluminium Foil Deflector Beanie and Buy Dehydrated Water.    But what happens when we go to something far more realistic looking (and far more dangerous) such as this website on Martin Luther King Jnr?It looks authentic, the URL seems legitimate, and for all intents and purposes it offers students some historical information about the life of Martin Luther King Jnr. But when the boys apply the CRAP test they soon see otherwise; that this is a site hosted by a group whose racial and religious tolerance is beyond belief. It’s a great lesson about not believing everything they find on the Internet.

So let’s visit a site that we know passes the CRAP test. How easy is it to find all the CRAP information? I’ve toddled over to the website of National Geographic; a site that I often refer to teachers and students. And whilst most people of heard of Nat Geo, it’s still important to establish that this is in fact the “official” National Geographic site. In terms of Currency, the Homepage of the site clearly indicates the site has operated between 2006-2013.  The Daily News section indicates today’s date. As for the site’s Reliability, National Geographic has a world-wide reputation for the presentation of matters pertaining to the physical and human environment. Its statement that it is one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world further encourages one to feel that the the site will offer a balanced perspective on issues of a science, geographical and anthropological nature. Re the site’s  Authority, the site carries the Nat Geo logo, has a URL that looks genuine, and has a clearly labelled and accessible ‘About’ section that provides us with the purpose of the National Geographic Society. Regarding the site’s Purpose,or Point of View, the reader can clearly see in the ‘About” section that one purpose of the Nat Geo Society is the “promotion of environmental and historical conservation.” A perusal of the site and the reader can see that this purpose translates to articles and resources that focus on issues such endangered environments and species, urbanisation, etc. One has faith that these issues are provided in a balanced fashion, given the reputation of the Society, and its involvement with education and research. So well done National Geographic–you pass the CRAP Test!

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Author: diannelaycock

Teacher Librarian. Doctoral student, University of Sydney.

2 thoughts on “Searching for substance, or is it CRAP?

  1. Fascinating results Di- particularly your analysis of your search results and the comparison between different sites (It was like a Fredrick Forsyth novel!). Those features you mention in DuckDuckGo are interesting, and in some ways are the exact opposite of what Google is doing by hiding search tools and introducing voice search. I fear that with the changes to Google’s interface people are going to be even less thoughtful in their searching, so hopefully other search engines step up and show the search process more transparently. This is still evident in library catalogues (eg the SLV site is very similar to what Google used to look like, with modifier options on the left hand side).

  2. Apparently Google changes it’s logarithm quite frequently (every Tuesday), so this is why the results are different, but it’s an interesting observation!
    Best wishes
    Yen
    PLN team

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