Bridging the DiGital Divide: Custom Search Engines Put You in Control

Is information overload giving you “search engine anxiety”? Do you sit down to Google or Yahoo! or your favorite search site knowing that the search you are about to run is going to provide you with more results than you have time to truly evaluate. If the dread of using the standard search engines is getting you down, I have just the prescription for you - customized search engines. Not “customized” in the sense of choosing your favorite layout or color-scheme. I am talking true customization down to the very sites you search.

Finely-crafted search strings aside, there is a lot of information clogging cyberspace these days. It seems like just yesterday that we were evaluating search engines on the number of hits returned. The Internet and its titanic offspring, the Web, have gotten so big and search engines now return so much that we now worry less about how much information we get, but rather how good it is. We know we can get quantity. So what we really want is quality. Often this means spending a great deal of time reading through long lists of search results, separating the good stuff from the garbage. The time this requires is a luxury that many of us seldom have.

Now what if you could tell your search engine not just what to look for, but also where to look? What if you could tell it to only search the best sites for for a certain type of information? Imagine being able to specify exactly what sites it should search. Better yet, don’t just imagine it, give it a try! Custom search engines are already available and power searchers are already learning how to harness the power of their focused-searching capabilities for themselves. Google CSE and Rollyo are two fine examples of what is possible. Google, the gorilla of the search world, actually offers a custom search engine or CSE to compliment its uber-popular service. Still in beta, the Google Custom Search is easy to configure. You can search it on the fly from Google’s site or you can actually place it directly on your site or blog. It is, however, not the easiest tool to find, as it is buried within Google’s network of sites and services. To get to it, you have to go to the main Google page and follow the links for “more” until you see “Custom Search” listed. Once you are there, you can create new CSEs or manage the ones you may have already created. Creating a new Google CSE is as simple as giving it a name, describing it, and then specifying the sites you want it to search. Google will save your CSEs for you and you can edit them, share them, and, as I noted earlier, put them on your own sites or blogs.

Rollyo is a new custom search engine site with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek name. The idea is that you can roll your own...search engine, that is. Custom search engines on Rollyo are called “searchrolls”. Just like Google’s CSEs, they are easy to make and manage. You have to register to use Rollyo, but it is free to do so. Another thing that this site has in common with Google is that you can store your search rolls on the site or add them to your own site or blog. That is, however, where the similarities end. Rollyo is an interactive community where you can create a profile, explore rolles created by and interact with other searchrollers. Rollyo also has its own bookmarklet and is designed to work with the FireFox browser’s built-in search. Some other neat things about include the ability to add Rollyo’s own prefab rolls to your favorites and to check out some created by celebrity “High Rollers” such as PBS, Debra Messing, Arianna Huffington, and others.

While Google CSE and Rollyo are not the only players in the custom search engine game, they are certainly two of the best and most popular. There are sites such as CSE Links dedicated to growing to the growing CSE market and bringing you the best it has to offer. There are also software companies vying for the attention of the true DIY search engine crowd, who want to build their own from the very ground up. The possibilities are growing as more users discover the utility of custom search engines.

If you have been reading the tech news, then you know that the search engine wars are about to heat up again. Resources such as Rollyo and Google CSE are just the latest salvo in a new battle to garner not just your search loyalty, but also to even further focus the power of the Web into the hands of those who use it for research. If the push for search engine customization is any indicator of where search technology is heading, this author says “bring it on”!