Where librarians and the internet meet: internet searching, Web 2.0 resources, search engines and their development. These are my personal views and not those of CILIP or any other organisation I may be associated with.
Safer Internet Day is taking place on February 5th this year, and the details are all on their website. I thought that I'd take a look at a few children's search engines as a result, just to see if there are that are worth using. I did a few searches designed to trip them up, and came up with some startling conclusions - mainly that most of them either return no results or incorrect ones - one or two disasterously so. I really wasn't taken with any of them to be honest - my conclusion is that I think the best way to search the internet with a child is to do it with them, assess the value of their search and the sites that they find, and reassure them if they find material that's not very nice. I particularly think that it's worth getting librarians, and in particular school librarians involved if you possibly can.
This is a nice collection of search resources designed for children. From the site itself: "Here you will find search forms for the major Internet search engines for kids.Below these are Internet search engine links, links to web guides for kids, some specialized search engine forms and specialized search engine links of interest to kids.At the bottom there are links to family friendly or general WWW filtered search engines and links to more pages like this."
It's a nice resource, although I'm not sure how up to date it is. I checked out the links and all the ones that I tried were fine except for the Encarta site, which has been gone for a long time now. Otherwise, good stuff - thanks to Hazel for finding it and alerting me to it.
After a safe search engine for children? Try KidRex if you like. It's based on a Google custom search engine running in safe mode, with additional website data. I'm not sure of exactly what age range it's good for, but I'm guessing that it's not focussed on a specific age range, it just keeps out the 'naughty' stuff. Unfortunately, it keeps it out too well. So, no searching for blue tits I'm afraid. Or 'breasts' although you can do searches for chicken breast recipes and breast cancer.
I did manage to catch it out on a couple of terms, and I've emailed them about those - so it's not perfect, but nothing like this ever will be. It also just returns webpages rather than image, video or news search for example.
Nice cheerful interface:
I first mentioned this one back in March 2009, but it's recently got a revival of interest via Twitter, so thought I'd mention it again.
[Edited to add: I got a response to my email detailing the inappropriate material about 4 hours after sending it with a confirmation that one racist website has been removed and they're working on a filter for another ambigious term. Full points for that.]
I've mentioned SortFix before, but I had an email suggesting that I take another look at it. It's a really simple engine, and one that will appeal to children. Basically it's a multisearch engine that takes content from Google, Bing and Twitter. However, the way in which it works is what is interesting. Simply type in a search (I started with civil war statistics) and SortFix then pulls results from each search engine which it makes available in a tabbed window. It also pops up boxes under the search area called 'Power words', 'Add to search', 'Remove' and 'Dictionary'. These are then populated for you, and you simply click and drag to the appropriate box as needed. This is what it looks like:
Dragging and dropping then changes the search that's being run for you. It's a very simple, but effective concept. Perfect to get children to think about how to construct better searches.
I've seen a few people mentioning the Boolify Project recently so I thought that I'd take a quick peek. It describes itself thus: "Boolify makes it easier
for students to understand their web search by illustrating the logic
of their search, and by showing them how each change to their search
instantly changes their results."
It does this by providing some basic Boolean operators in a jigsaw format, like this:
Results can be seen at the bottom of the screen. If you try and do something that you're not allowed, up pops an error message:
It's fairly basic in that it doesn't allow the use of (..) and there's no NEAR operator, but to be fair, it's designed as a basic tool, primarily for teaching children the absolute basics I think. You can scroll down to the bottom of the screen at any point to see how your search is progressing real time, though I do have some concerns at this point - my librarians -archivist search returns 2,200,000 results on Boolify, but at Google I end up with some 23,300,000 results. Even taking into account my search is run without any filtering, and Boolify uses safe filtering, that's a really big difference. The six results in Google before the first in Boolify are all perfectly innocent, so I'm not sure exactly how Boolify is filtering their content.
However, it's a nice basic tool, which will do the job that's intended of it. I would like to see a few more advanced features to broaden it's value out to older children, but as it stands, it hits its mark.
There's another useful function on the site however, and one that's easy to miss - 'All sides'. This allows users to type in a specific term and provide comparison results between extremes, such as "good" and "bad"
or "postive" and "negative", or categories of your own choosing. An image helps explain what I mean:
Having chosen your 'good/bad' or 'positive/negative' options, the two columns below will give appropriate results - a really nice way to introduce children to the different types of data you can find on Google.
All told Boolify is one of those excellent products that sets out to do something and does so very well indeed. If you're a school librarian or a teacher, or even a parent trying to teach search to your children, this will greatly assist you.
KidRex - Kid Safe Search. This is based on a Google Custom search option which also uses the Google SafeSearch option, with features for both children and parents. It's got a crayon font typeface which is fine as far as it goes, though I do wonder if children older than about 8 are going to be keen on using it as a result.
It's pretty good, but the, the Google SafeSearch isn't bad, so I'm complimenting Google as much as the KidRex people. I was slightly disturbed at finding the Martin Luther King racist website in the listings though, so Google/KidRex might want to take a look at that, though to be fair I did need to do a very specific search (Martin Luther King examination) to get there.
The site also takes the very easy way out of simply blocking words. Woe betide the child that wishes to find information on blue tits as a result since it's just not going to happen with this resource! However, this engine passed all my usual 'naughty' word searches, so it's perfectly fine from that aspect, but in all honesty it wouldn't make my top childrens search engine list.