Custom Search Engines: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By JEgererJEgerer (1261516468|%a, %b %e at %I:%M%p)

How about some belated love (and hate) for custom search engines. Below is my take on the Google Custom Search Engine and its uses.

The Good

Below is a bare bones framework for a custom search engine related my term project, Internet Gaming Banking Regulations.

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So I think first impression from this image is that the GCSE is somewhat complicated. Creating and using it on its basic level is as simple as using e-mail, and the user interface is very user friendly. Even if you aren't sure of how to use all the features, it is still easy navigable. What appears to be complications along the sidebar are really just more advanced features for, well power users.

Features like indexing and refinements help you improve your engine by connecting different queries to more closely related data via categories or index expansion. Basically, these features allow you to work your own knowledge of the subject into the engine to really ramp up the relevance of the results…. The GOOD!

In addition, you can use the engine to generate ad revenue through Google's Adsense program. Although its not useful for the purposes this project this is certainly a valuable feature overall. It allows anyone with topical expertise to harness that knowledge for profit. In my opinion any financial incentives to create valuable web space and search tools has got to be a good thing for all of us…. The GOOD!

The Bad

The GSCE is somewhat unattractive to the users perspective. The first issue is ease of use, I save next to no time by using someone's custom engine on their site. Second and related, the website user has no access to the search engine's parameters. If I can't look to see what sites this engine is searching, or how it's organized, how can I be sure I'm getting a good search. At least when I use google I know I am searching the full breadth of the information available on my topic. Call me a skeptic, but I just don't trust everything I read on the web.

In this way I think Google, and custom engines in general need to find a way to create value that a standard search does not produce — this will be difficult because any useful functionality developed is likely to be integrated into Google.com as well right? Some custom engine specific benefit needs to be realized or most users will just see fit to rely on their own Google prowess…. The BAD!

The Ugly

One of these powerful advanced features is in fact probably the biggest problem with GCSE.

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The picture above is of the promotions feature. This allows you to attach specific results to queries. In addition, I can use the 'exclude site' feature located on the sites tab to cut out pages from the engine altogether. While these features are nice on the surface they can be abused.

Let's assume I am authoring a site in support of online gaming and poker (as opposed to a less biased consultancy view). Well now I can set up my GSCE to return articles and pages championing my cause whenever certain queries are made. Or suppose I had an unaffiliated site in my CSE from which their were two columnists — one supporter of online gaming and one opponent —- Using exclusions I could make sure my CSE returns only the supporter's articles.

The examples go on and present a real problem for the reliability of these engines as they can be twisted to provide subversive support for really any cause or opinion.


Overall Impression

I think the GSCE is a well built tool, easy to use, and pretty cool just in
general. However, I have concerns about how much value is really added by its use. I'd also suggest that from a reliability standpoint, one should only feel comfortable using someone else's custom search engine when they are clearly in a position of indifference with the subject matter. Even then you aren't searching the full breadth of relative data, but I guess this is supposed to be the trade-off: limited data set = more relevant results

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