Thursday, August 14, 2008

Knowing where to search

The second key competency of information fluency is the ability to choose an appropriate database.* Even with a myriad of choices available, the majority of us choose Google more often than not. When I surveyed students a couple years ago, I discovered that about 90% use Google more than half the time.

Searching Google has become almost habitual. I even have Google as my browser home page. But there is information for which Google is a poor choice. To start with, Google does not index all types of information. A common example is historical weather records similar to those found in the Farmer's Almanac. That's a Deep Web issue: the information is beyond the reach of Google's crawlers. In other cases, Google does index the information, but because of the query used, the information is buried so far down the list of returns you'll never find it unless you hit on an optimal combination of search terms.

Knowing about other databases, including specialty databases, is essential to finding some types of information. contains several database challenges. If you search Google you will never (or very likely not) find the information. The Rollercoaster Challenge and Air Race Challenge both require searching a database other than Google. In the John Williams Challenge, the answer can be found in Google, but it takes longer than some of the specialty database alternatives.

If you're in the mood for a different challenge, try this:

Find the ISBN number of a book authored by Bill Gates entitled Future. This is not the Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. There are a number of ways to find this, but it could also be very frustrating. A Google search for "Bill Gates" +future +isbn (the +'s are unnecessary, they just define the sample query) isn't very useful (try it to see why). When you see results like those, the challenge is to think of a different database where the information could be stored and search there instead.

If you find the number, post how you did it! Otherwise, look for an answer in the next blog.


Here's the answer to the Search Challenge in the last blog: The author's name is K. C. Tan. One of the pages linked to is According to, the owner of that page is Tan Kok Chuan. Now that you have a complete name, subsequent searching is easy. He lives in Singapore and is an SEO consultant. He graduated from the Serangoon Garden Technical School in 1997. You may have also discovered he has published a book. There are other interesting things to be discovered, but I won't go into them here.

*The first competence is the ability to define what information you are seeking.

No comments: