Thursday, 9 August 2012

TRAWLING THE INTERNET

Dredge deep with Bananaslug

Bananaslug is a long-tailed search engine. You can use it as a game, a way to while away a few spare minutes in front of the computer, or you can use it for serious purpose. Whichever, it has the capacity to surprise.

What lies beneath

If you are using a 'proper' search engine, with its canny but top-secret algorithms for prioritising its results, you will be presented with hits in their strict order of importance as defined in the way that the given search engine thinks is best.

It seems certain that Google's secret system, for example, pays enormous attention to the number of links that sites receive from other sites. In the real world, this may indeed rank sites in an order of importance or even veracity. In this respect, however, as in a few others, the world of Conductive Education does not work like the real world around it.

Why not? One has to suspect that in the world of Conductive Education many of those who put up lists of 'Useful links' have very little idea of what might be useful, for what purposes – or, perish the thought – the simply construct their new list by copying from one already put up somewhere else. One does sometimes wonder whether they have themselves consulted/read some items on their lists.

The effect within a small sector is to distort the accessible knowledge base, even the hierarchy of knowledge. It could be one reason why the world of Conductive Education is persistinglynso uninformed.

Below the surface layer


Enter “conductive education” into the search engine of your choice – and Click! You will receive a very large number of hits. Tale a few minutes to skim down the first, say, five pages and what do you see? Sites that are long past their sell-by dates, centres and services that no longer exist, and a lot of 'usual suspects'. Open some of these. What do you learn? What will the potential newcomer to the field learn, or the serious journalist, or the researcher, or the decision-maker?  

To raise this question is not to deny that there may be 'good stuff' mixed in there, or answer the further question of how people are to learn to sort wheat from chaff in order to find it. Both this is a second-stage question. First you get through the great mound of the flotsam floating on top of the results of your web search. How do you to dig down and fish around in the enormous depths that lie beneath the top five, or ten, or even fifty results pages. What hidden treasures lie hidden beneath? Reach down and there are some remarkable things buried there.

Pull some of these up and you will still have the problem of sorting through them, but you will at least have a less corny handful to select from.

Bananaslug's random-search paradigm

Bananaslug makes no pretence to present information in order of importance. On the contrary.

Instead, it pairs the subject of your search with a word chosen at random, and then finds web pages in which the two terms both appear.

The result will likely include a load of debris and dreadful things from the dark depths of the data pool some of which you might not like to examine too closely, but it will likely also include web pages that you would never have thought of looking for.

Very simple to use...

All you do is enter what you are searching for, let us say for example “conductive education” (I put in the inverted commas to restrict the search to the whole phrase, not its component words). Then you can leave it to Bananaslug to chose a random word to pair with it, or you can chose for a word to be selected for you, randomly, from a list of pretty unlikely-looking categories.

It costs nothing.

There is of course no reason to use Bananaslug to do this. Pick a random word out of your head for your pairing. As far as Google and the others are concerned it is all the same to them. But the vestigial psychologist within tells me that this would not prove to be a really random search and you would end up with a rather more predictable and rather less random selection of information as a result – and that's no fun.

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