Just think about it…

Just think about it……….

1o years ago, if I wanted to find out about Biston Betularia and Industrial Melanism I would have had to venture to my local library, search the  catalogue and hope that a book they had contained some information about what it is. My best bet may have been the hard copy of World Book or Encyclopedia Brittanica.  

Last night, after seeing a tweet from factlets about the Peppered Moth in England, I had cause to consider the speed at which you can acquire information these days. Jo Hart, from Perth, replied to my tweet with this;

Biston betularia and industrial melanism – thnq Jenny you just took me back to my younger self at uni   

Now I’d never heard of Biston Betularia and Industrial Melanism, but a quick Google search led me to a page of results  (with 3,100 results) for me to peruse.  Quite quickly I’d ascertained it’s origins and how the Peppered Moth was the best-studied example of this. If I had have visited Mahalo, I would have discovered a page listing images, video and results from Twitter. Right now if you visit this page you’ll see Jo’s reply to me listed in the Twitter results. Now that is cool!

I recounted this story to a work colleague today and we both marvelled at the rapidity of information retrieval today. Even though this is commonplace now, it still holds me in awe of the power of internet based search.  It makes me look at our non-fiction collection and question why we invest considerable dollars purchasing slim tomes for $40.00 a pop that may languish there untouched for years. It’s particularly relevant to question this when you work in a 1:1 environment (that means all of your students have laptops). I’ve said it before, the students at my school look to the internet first for information before they would think of venturing to the shelves. When I think of my practice now, I’m the same. It has certainly evolved from when I first started teaching  at Toorak College nearly 4 yrs ago.

Now, to think about what search might be like 10 years from now?……..

Mahalo Answers – new feature with a twist.

Jason Calacanis has been active on Twitter promoting Mahalo Answers, the newest string to the Mahalo bow.  It’s a question and answer service with an added twist. You can earn some virtual dollars that can be converted into real dollars with Mahalo taking a 25% cut. Techcrunch have written about this:

Mahalo Answers throws in a twist. If someone really wants to encourage the best answers, they can offer a tip in “Mahalo Dollars,” which can be funded through PayPal and are convertible into real dollars once a member has earned at least 40 of them. For those of you who remember Google Answers, it paired questioners with vetted researchers who found answers for a fee. This is slightly different in that questions are not assigned to a specific researcher. As many people can answer it as they want and all compete for the tip. Furthermore, the tip can be rescinded by the questioner if he or she is not satisfied with any of the answers.   

Their thinking is if questioners rescind on too many tips no-one will answer their questions in future. They also offer points to people who ask and answer questions. If you provide the best answers,  add links or find friends who can better the service you get more points and can earn yourself a coloured belt, much like the system used in Karate. The higher you go the more of an ‘expert’ you are considered. The thinking is that people who accrue points and attain ‘expert’ status will be able to charge higher fees for their services. Techcrunch quotes Calacanis as saying;

If you can make knowledge into a game and help people make living, it is very powerful.

I’m sure appealing to people’s egos won’t hurt all that much either.

The clever thing about all this for Mahalo will be that they will be watching this closely and using the information accrued here to bolster the information they provide on their search pages. (Mahalo is a human powered search engine- people construct the pages you get when you search for a topic.) This can only help them to grow stronger in the search engine market. I know that I am always happy when a topic I’m searching has a page on Mahalo. I can guarantee the results are going to be worth my while.

It’s just gone live and some of the questions are a bit feeble, but others are interesting. Take a look. Maybe you can provide some answers and start earning yourself some Mahalo dollars. If I was a stay at home Mum instead of a full time employee, I know what I’d be doing. I’d give daytime TV the flick (not that that would be hard!) and I’d be extending my mind and income by contributing to this idea.  

 

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RefSeek – what is the future for subscription databases?

I was finally doing a bit of reading via my Google Reader, when I came across RefSeek, written up by Jane Hart on her very handy blog.

 Ref Seek is a website for students and researchers that accesses articles from web pages, books, encyclopedias, journals, and newspapers. The idea behind the site is to make academic information easily accessible to everyone. I did a couple of searches on topics for Australian audiences (Ned Kelly and Kevin Rudd) and it didn’t come up with really brilliant results, but it did source a couple of more specialised sites that were useful. Below is a screenshot of what you see when you click on directory at the top right hand side of the screen.

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Click on the links to the available sources of information and you will get an idea of the types of resources they are searching.  Below is a screenshot of some of the encylopedias used in the searches conducted.

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RefSeek is an interesting alternative for our students and makes me think about what the future may hold. I’m wondering how long subscription databases will continue as resources that schools pay for. Will they eventually become free resources and rely on advertising to generate income? At my school we subscribe to databases like eLibrary, World Book and Newsbank. We’ve made decisions in the last year to cut some of our subscriptions because we didn’t feel usage warranted the outlay of money required to sustain them. As we see the net evolve and semantic search engines like Mahalo generate pages of rich relevant results, we may see subscription database services feel the pinch. Already Brittanica offers bloggers access to widgets that can be embedded allowing your readers full access to articles on topics you write about. I have a feeling that we will see scholarly articles become more accessible as knowledge becomes more widely available.

Maybe I’m wrong. I’d be interested in hearing what others think.    

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Searchme a winner with students.

(I added the arrows in the above screenshot!)

Today I was teaching our Yr 7 students about researching effectively. We were exploring keywords for search and I showed them Searchme. I wanted them to see how they could use Searchme’s stacks to collect webpages and keep a record of the websites they find useful for their investigative research.

These students had seen Searchme and Viewzi when I introduced them to these new search engines a couple of weeks ago.  As I was moving around the room one of them told me she uses Searchme as her default search engine now. The real magic happened when I demonstrated how you save the pages to a stack that you have created. They were won over in that instant. They spent the rest of the lesson dragging relevant pages to stacks they had created. They all were drawn in by the fact that you have the page loaded and can see your search results as a page view. You can start to make assessment as to whether or not the resource might be relevant. They got the idea really quickly that stacks were a means of collating your research so that you could go back and peruse in depth when you were ready to tackle questions that needed addressing. A couple of them made mention that this would help in making sure that the bibliographic data you needed was accessible -they did note that they should be collecting this along the way and should not leave the construction of a bibliography until the last minute! All of them thought it was very cool that you could save videos and images to your stacks as well as standard webpages.

I was using Google last night to collate links for a wiki page I was putting together for our study of ‘Little Women’. I wanted my students to get some grasp of the period and was searching for Amercian Civil War links. Google wasn’t returning what I was looking for so I turned to Mahalo. Surprisingly the page for American Civil War has not been fully fleshed out -I was surprised anyway. I went to Searchme thinking the returns would be so so but was pleasantly surprised. I found myself loving the full page view and being able to flick through results so easily. Within minutes I’d found what I was looking for at appropriate levels of understanding for my students and my wiki links were completed.   

Have to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the results from Searchme. I keep expecting mediocre results but am finding relevant pages appearing. The speed at which I can assess a resource is a real winner for me and I’m guessing it’s going to be for my students as well. I’ll be very interested to watch their adoption of these new alternatives to traditional search.

Searchme – visual search engine suits me!

A comment on my blog from Charles Knight led me to this visual search engine that I hadn’t seen before. Searchme has huge appeal for all those visual learners out there. It has huge appeal for me and I don’t necessarily think I fall into the visual learner category (but I could be wrong about that!). 

I love it because of the way it represents search results. It’s like the iTouch – your search returns are represented with the actual page on the screen – behind it are the other pages that you can view by clicking on them or using the scroll tab at the bottom of the page. Here’s what it looks like. I searched for one of my all time fave bands, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. 

You get the idea, right? I’m loving it. I can see the appeal for students today. Most of mine default to Google because they don’t know what else is out there. They get a page of results and click through text after endless text trying to find something suitable. With Searchme they get a eyeball on the page straight up and can start assessing its suitability from the get go. When you start typing your search request categories pop up to allow you to filter your search or you can choose the search all option. It’s still in Beta so you can’t expect brilliant returns every time, but Charles at AltSearchEngines has posted about it saying that it has just received another billion or so in funding so things can only get better.

Don’t you just love what’s happening with Search engines today? Semantic search engines like Mahalo and visual options like Searchme are helping to make search more meaningful for our students. If Google don’t watch out they might have some competition on their hands. Better get Knol out there soon I’d say! 

Thanks Charles for the comment and for your great site. AltSearchEngines – check it out!  

Mahalo delivers – would you get this kind of service from Google?

WOW.

Woke up this morning, looked at the blog, saw lots of traffic overnight and an amazing comment from Mike at Mahalo;

Hello Jenny

Michael from the Mahalo news team here.

Thanks for your encouraging words about Mahalo’s reference pages. I’m thrilled you find them useful. We think they’re a great resource for students too.

We’ve expanded the pages you mention:

http://www.mahalo.com/Rwandan_Genocide
http://www.mahalo.com/Aung_San_Suu_Kyi

We also have a page on the Hutu and Tutsi:

http://www.mahalo.com/Hutu_and_Tutsi

Also, we’ll make Romeo Dallaire, Juvenal Habyarimana and Paul Kagame tomorrow.

I’d love to correspond in more detail about Mahalo’s catalog of search terms and how they can help teachers.

In fact, if you want Mahalo to start building resources on famous Australians, (or groups etc) just contact me with a list.

Mahalo!

Michael Lodge
Mahalo.com

PS. We’re building ANZAC Day…right now

How impressive is that!

Never one to shy away from an invitation, I got to work and talked with my staff about Australian topics that would be likely search terms for Mahalo to create pages for. Sent a thank you email off with the extensive list of topics and received a reply not long after. Mahalo are onto it and will be putting pages together soon. I’ll be checking to see the progress. Just looked up Anzac Day and a page exists – it’s called a stub as it needs further fleshing out, but I’m suitably impressed. Keep this up and I’ll be forming my own Mahalo cult!

Never knew service like this could be available in today’s world. Brilliant effort.

Mahalo -now here’s a search engine worth talkin’ about!

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! (Those of you who live in Australia will remember this catchcry from Marcia Hines on replay constantly from Hey, Hey it’s Saturday – really showing my age now – it’s 42 for those of you interested!)

Mahalo is a search engine worth looking at. I mentioned it recently when I wrote a post entitled ‘Big Think – Web 3.0 in action’. That post talked about the notion of Web 3.0, the semantic web, characterised by human intervention and thought processes. Part of that post read;

 a new phase of the internet – internet 3.0, where the wisdom of crowds (web 2.0) is being supplemented by another layer “of truly talented, compensated people to make the product more trusted and refined.” (Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis)  

The quote derived from Newsweek writer Tony Dokoupil and his article, ‘Revenge of the experts’.  This was where I first discovered Mahalo and was impressed with what I saw. I was even more impressed today when I was working with a group of students completing research for their International Studies project. The task was to find information on a major political figure. I remembered Mahalo and directed them to this new search engine. We now have an interactive whiteboard in our library which is just fantastic and so incredibly helpful to demonstrate new apps. They were impressed with the results we were getting and so was I. You know someting is hitting the mark when students are asking ‘what’s that’ and tuning in when you are showing it to someone else.

I really like the way results are arranged but you have to make sure your students scroll through all of the results to see the vast array of differing media returned in a search. We did a search for Aung San Suu Kyi – the Burmese political activist. It began with the Mahalo top 7, and then we had to put up with some ads by Google – I suppose this is a small price to pay for search results that have been cast over by human eyes and are appropriate.  What followed was news, background and profiles, blogs and support sites, photos, videos, a timeline, related searches and user recommended links (there were none of these yet, but as it gains popularity no doubt this will grow). It was an excellent array of results – far more useful than a page of links from Google. Another teacher joined us and wanted to do a search for the Rwandan genocide. When we got the results she was amazed to see links to many sites she had found after trawling the web for hours – quite the revelation was Mahalo for her.    

The sidebar offers many more delights. A guide note providing you with fast facts, the ability to email the page and provide a personalised message with your email, you can share the page with your social networking sites and an explanation of icons they use. Some interesting information is shared in their ‘about this page’ text box;

  • Mahalo’s goal is to hand-write and maintain the top 50,000 search terms
  • Each Mahalo page is quality controlled through a strict editorial process
  • You can contribute and earn money by writing great search result pages in the Mahalo Greenhouse

You can also subscribe to the rss feed from the page so any updates will be delivered to your reader. 

I think it looks like a fantastic resource for students in secondary schools and I’m going to start plugging it with my colleagues. If they don’t have a search results page for a topic you are searching for you can enter a request to have them get one made – they’ll email you when the page has been completed. Alternatively, you could make the page yourself and submit it to their Mahalo Greenhouse and earn yourself some cash! Today we requested a page for Anzac Day. A couple of weeks ago I requested a page for the Bayeux Tapestry but haven’t yet received an email.  

Founder Jason Calacanis is onto a good thing here -you’ve got my vote! Keep on creating those pages!