Baby Steps Beyond Google

Opinion: A couple of newcomers challenge Google's standing as top Web research resource.

In a recent column, I wrote about my experiences using a series of different Web tools to find the most important advances in brain-machine interfaces. I concluded that the single best resource was not electronic at all, but rather a phone call to a flesh-and-blood expert.

In response, a few people e-mailed me with tips and new resources. One person in particular was full of tips, which are worth passing on.

First, I should note that I neglected to mention Wikipedia, a collaboratively written encyclopedia with thousands of entries. When Im researching a completely new topic, this makes for quick and accessible background reading, with plenty of ideas to go deeper. Though Id check with primary sources first (of course), I have found it to be quite accurate and thorough.

Now back to the tips. Id noted that Google Scholar was not as helpful as Id hoped, an opinion shared by the more knowledgeable and thorough Peter Jacso. I found that Google Scholar could identify promising articles that link you with pay-to-download libraries. Youd need alternate access or the funds to pay $30 per article to use them.

Gary Price, a DC librarian, wrote me almost immediately saying alternative access was available simply with a library card.

Many public libraries around the United States offer free, remote access to databases that provide full-text articles. It takes a little bit of sleuthing to figure out what databases to search in, but they are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which makes procrastination that much easier. My own San Francisco Public Library offers this service.

I e-mailed Gary back, asking him to recommend other search engines. It turns out that he edits a newsletter on search engines.

Here are two of his favorites:

  • Clusters search results by topic. I found it a very fast way to find recent news on a company or research area. You can also cluster searches by sources and URLs.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Clusty and another search engine that uses clustering technology.

  • Instead of looking at general popularity, Teoma looks at how a site is linked into same-subject pages. Highly linked pages are deemed more relevant. Teoma also identifies relevant organizations based on the keywords users enter.

If you want more, check out Search Engine Watch, which also has articles on effective searching.

For now, Ill stick to Google and slowly venture over to Clusty and Teoma. And of course, I wont forget my phone.

M. L. Baker writes about biotechnology and health IT for She can be reached at

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