I think it must have been seeing Phil Bradley the other night that made me think of revisiting BananaSlug.com (http://bananaslug.com/). I don’t mean that Phil reminds me of a banana slug but he did introduce me to the search tool via his blog way back in 2005. I have been looking at ways of getting out of what I call “search ruts”. You keep seeing the same results again and again but suspect that there may be something more relevant if only you could get to it. Million Short, which I mentioned in a previous blog post (http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2012/10/04/million-short-unearthing-stuff-hidden-in-the-dungeons-of-googles-results/), is one way to tackle the problem. BananaSlug takes a different approach to what is known as long tail search. It adds a random term to your search and pulls up pages buried way down in the results list that you would probably never see. Just type in your search and then select a category, for example Animals, Great Ideas, Random Number, Themes from Shakespeare. BananaSlug then adds a random word from that category to your terms.
At first glance this approach to search may seem appropriate for frivolous, fun stuff only but I find that it works really well with serious research topics. Running one of my test searches
zeolites "environmental remediation" through the categories pulled up information that could have taken me hours or even days to find otherwise. Bear in mind that BananaSlug uses Google so synonyms and variations of the random word will be included in the search. When I selected Colors as my category red was added to my search and Google included reddish and reds.
Most of the categories came up with something useful although Random Number, inevitably for this type of search, came up with page numbers of journal articles. I didn’t think Themes from Shakespeare would work but the random word it suggested was storm and there were several interesting papers on storm water management and treatment.
This may seem a bizarre way to explore search alternatives but if you are stuck for ideas give it a go.
Note: for more information on the banana slug Ariolimax see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_slug. The Pacific banana slug is the second-largest species of terrestrial slug in the world, growing up to 25 centimetres (9.8 in) long.
Fed up with seeing the same results from Google again and again? Wondering if that elusive document is buried somewhere at the bottom of Google’s 2,000,000 hits? Then get thee hence to Million Short (http://millionshort.com/). Million Short runs your search and then removes the most popular web sites from the results. Originally it removed the top 1 million, as its name suggests, but the default has changed to the top 10,000. The principle remains the same, though: exclude the more popular sites and you could uncover a real gem. The page that best answers your question might not be well optimised for search engines or might cover a topic that is so “niche” that it never makes it into the top results. Million Short does not say what it uses for search results or how it determines what are the most popular web sites. According to Webmonkey “Sanjay Arora, founder of Exponential Labs, tells Webmonkey that Million Short is using “the Bing API… augmented with some of our own data” for search results. What constitutes a “top site” in Million Short is determined by Alexa and Million Short’s own crawl data.” (http://www.webmonkey.com/2012/05/million-short-a-search-engine-for-the-very-long-tail/).
Using Million Short is straightforward. Type in your search and select how many sites you want to exclude (top 10K, top million, top 100). The results page includes a list of the sites that have been removed and you can opt to add one or more back in. You can also block a site using a link next to it in the results or click on “Boost!” so that pages from the site go to the top.
Million Short automatically tries to detect which country you are in but you can change it under “Manage Settings and Country”. I didn’t notice much difference when I changed countries but then most of the queries I pass through Million Short tend to be scientific or technical. On the same page you can manage sites that you have blocked, added or boosted.
Does it work? I would not use it instead of the existing major search engines such as Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo but as an additional tool to surface material that is not easily found in the likes of Google. As well as web search there are image and news searches, but I’m not convinced that I’d find those all that useful.
If you are interested in comparing Million Short with Google try Million Short It On at http://www.millionshortiton.com/index.html. I had several goes at this and most of the results were a draw. That is no surprise as the searches I ran were very specific and I wanted to see if Million Short would pull up additional information, which it did. Million Short won outright on a couple and Google on one. The Google win was by default because Million Short did not come up with anything for comparison (the search in question was biofuels public transport carbon emissions).
There are a number of techniques that you can use to improve Google results for example changing the order of the words in your search, Verbatim, filetype or Reading Level but I would also recommend trying Million Short. The results should at least be different and may reveal vital information for your research.