Monday, July 19, 2010

Keyword Progression

Image searches, like the Perennial Challenge posted earlier this month, are difficult because you have to start with the words you know and progress to using words you don't yet know.

This isn't just hard for adults. Imagine what it would be like if your vocabulary was half or less its current size. Optimal search engine experience (to recall my dissertation days researching flow with Csikszentmihalyi) depends on above average skills and challenges that match the level of skill. Presumably the more words you know will enable you to take on more difficult challenges and result in more optimal experiences. Kids don't have much of a chance. The words they start with will rarely be the words they need to use.

You can never know enough words it seems to satisfy the Internet.

A challenge I've used a lot in face-to-face workshops is the "Bird of Prey Challenge." The photo is similar to one I took, although this came from It was summer. The bird was large, I'd guess 18 inches tall. The ground squirrels did not hang around to admire the visitor.

This was my first image search experience. I figured the term "bird" would be too weak. But the trouble with getting too specific too soon is: what if I'm wrong? If I think it's a falcon, and it's not, I'm searching up the wrong tree.

I encourage adults in the workshops to describe what they see. Features that describe the tail feathers, for instance. Those are the initial keywords. Some of the keywords will fall by the wayside, some will last and new ones will be discovered.

Discovering the new keywords is really the challenge. When you do, it's kind of exciting. The source of new keywords is the snippets (abbreviated search results) and the text on the pages that are returned by an initial keyword search. It doesn't take long to find the word "raptor" in the results. That's a better term than "bird" and yet not too specific to eliminate the results you still need to home in on the answer. Children and teens will likely overlook the word "raptor," not understanding it's meaning or significance.  Encouraging them to treat words they don't yet understand as clues may help, but stopping to look up the meaning of unknown words is perceived clearly a delay in the search process. And no one likes a delay. If a dictionary could be integrated with the search engine to define the meaning of words in context, that would be a big help to kids.

Knowing where to search is also important. Some databases specialize in bird identification. They can actually assist in the "homing in" process.  (I was hoping to find a database for perennials that did the same thing, but haven't found it yet.)

My experience with the workshops has made it clear that a single photo isn't sufficient to make a determination. Plus not all birds of the same species look alike. I've had bird experts in class disagree on the name of the bird. Another photo showing the front side would have really helped.

Let's see how you do with this one. There are typically two answers. Can you home in on one of them?

1 comment:

Carl Heine said...

Try using Google Image Search. They've updated this tool in the last few days and made it a lot more user friendly.