04/30/2012 03:21 pm ET Updated Jun 30, 2012

We Don't Know What We Don't Know

As a former newspaper reporter, occasionally I was assigned to report on a subject I didn't know well.

I learned that if I don't know what questions to ask. Otherwise I was at a huge disadvantage and at risk for being misled.

When these assignments came my way, I wasn't about to be taken advantage of due to my ignorance on the topic. How would I know what to question? I was vulnerable to all kinds of misinformation.

I didn't know what I didn't know.

Now I'm going to date myself: I am old enough to remember going to the public library and using the card catalog to do my research.

I know, I must be a dinosaur.

I never trusted just one book for my reference. I couldn't trust one book as a source just the same as I would never use one interview as the sole source for a story. I had to find out what else was available to me.

The same is true for today only in a different context: We have the Internet. Think of the Web as a virtual library. The analogy I'm using is not to go only one search engine such as Google to do our research.

Google is huge in its compilation of data. I love Google. I use it every day and find fabulous information. Google opens up the world in amazing ways. No question.

Yet, Google is like using one book for all of your investigation. There are more "books" available to us to find the information we are looking for besides Google.

The difference in these virtual books ranges from marginal to quite significant in what is available on any topic.

Search engines, such as Google, rate the information based on mathematical algorithms. Basically, it is a popularity contest. The websites that get the most hits get the highest rating. In addition, the companies that pay the most money also get great placement.

Below is a short list of current and defunct search engines:

  • Google
  • AOL
  • Yahoo
  • Bing
  • Alta Vista
  • Excite
  • Galaxy
  • AlltheWeb


Directories are compiled by real people. Directory panels evaluate a website and then categorize it based on content only.

• -- A wiki-based web directory
• Ansearch -- Web search and directories focusing on the United States, UK, Australia and New Zealand
• Best of the Web Directory -- Lists content-rich, well-designed websites categorized both by topic and by region; this is a paid-for service.
• JoeAnt -- A community of editors from the now-defunct volunteer-edited directory
• Open Directory Project (aka ODP or dmoz) -- The largest directory of the web; its open content is mirrored at many sites, including the Google Directory until July 20, 2011
• Starting Point Directory -- A human-edited general directory organizing sites by category
• World Wide Web Virtual Library (VLIB) -- the oldest directory of the web.
• Yahoo! Directory -- The first service that Yahoo! offered

Meta search engines

Meta search engines are search engine sites that may include from 10 to 90 search engines on one site.

  • Infospace
  • Dogpile
  • Excite
  • WebCrawler
  • Ixquick
  • Mamma
  • Metacrawler

Try an experiment. Pick a simple topic, such as "publishing" and look it up in several of these various "books." I'll bet you will be surprised at the wider amount of information you retrieve from each of them.

Remember: We don't know what we don't know.

Geri Spieler is an author, book reviewer and conducts Internet research workshops. You can find her at