Getting the Most from Google

When I first came across the Google Literacy Project I was pretty darn excited. It describes itself as a "resource for teachers, literacy organizations and anyone interested in reading and education, created in collaboration with LitCam, Google, and UNESCO's Institute for Lifelong Learning." Imagine harnessing the power of Google and UNESCO for literacy!

But the Literacy Project isn't everything it could be and - more to the point - is considerably less useful than standard Google products.

A good way to show you what I mean is to look at the heart of Google services - searching the internet. The Literacy Project offers specialized search engines/pages that allow you to search for literacy-related books, blog, studies and so on.

Here's what happened with the custom Literacy Search (that's the name of one of the options) when I entered the terms high interest low level, deliberately not using quotation marks.

The search took 0.37 seconds (which is a silly thing to track), and claimed to provide 4 pages of ten returns each. (I say "claimed" because the last page or two sometimes disappears when you try to access it; see an earlier post.) In the top ten returns - that is, the first ten results - two provided links to articles on interest rates and investment, not literacy. The others weren't poor matches. However, the top match sent me to a webpage I recognized. It is an index of web-resources that may once have been useful, but now contains several dead links, and seems not to have been updated for some years.

A standard Google search ( of the same words in the same order took 0.22 seconds, and offered 6,900,000 returns. Again, as I noted elsewhere, that's a fictitious number. More notable, all of the top ten (first ten) results were about high interest low level reading materials. The top return took me to an actual booklist (from a library). It hadn't been updated for about three years, but it was still a useful return. The second return was an undated index of sites with booklists; not as helpful. But after that the returns were reasonable. Clearly, the standard search was a more useful tool.

Another thing the Literacy Project offers is the ability to search Books and Literacy Blogs (another option) for a term or terms. I plugged community literacy into that search tool, again without quotation marks.

The first return (sorted by relevance, according to Google) was a news story from an online newspaper. The article was about a community foundation funding literacy, which is good news, of course! But this was not a literacy blog.

The next was a library blog featuring one recent post about literacy, followed by another librarian's blog on "information literacy" (close, but no cigar - it's community literacy I want).

Result number four was the Reading Rockets website, a sort of online journal with lots of articles about kids and schools and reading. (The actual return sent me to a page with this ominous message: You have no permission to view this item [Status: Rejected]. But, at least it was something literacy related - though not yet a blog.)

Return number five was a blog. Unfortunately, it was a political events blog with no literacy discussion (though the words literacy and community appeared there).

Return six was a blog that described itself as a "location to share, digest, talk about, and access information learned at the Christian Brother's Conference Huether Conference 2007." One conference presentation was on community literacy. This blog post offered a review of that presentation, but no discussion of literacy.

Return seven was a... well... I don't know... a survey, networking, charity advertising thingy called that had nothing much to do with blogs or literacy.

Return eight offered a video-blog of "a community forum sponsored in part by the Peralta Colleges." It offered a video stream from a "Community Literacy Forum" parts one & two, wherein "Dr. Salma Rashid and David Merritt talked about the message of their new book 20th Century American Struggle/21st Century Hope." I don't know anything about Peralta Colleges, but descriptions of this book suggest it is about social and political racism, not literacy. (Maybe it's about the "literacy of being a community"?) Anyway, I had still not found a literacy blog.

Return number nine was an honest to goodness blog that talked about community literacy. Yay! Titled Notes on an Exam it introduced itself by saying "This blog is a collection of notes on various texts pertaining to African American Rhetorics and Literacies, Black Women's Intellectual Traditions, and Themes in Contemporary Rhetoric."

My curbside blog showed up as result number 10, offering the relevant post-title "Missing the 'Community' in Community Lit." Return 11 took us back to a library blog with no literacy discussion pre se. Return 12 was a "Health-E-newsletter" with the inevitable reference to "health literacy".

The next real literacy blog showed up as return number 13. Ironically, this website, the Community Literacy Journal was offered, mysteriously, at the top of page one, not as a return, but with the introduction "related blogs". Well, yes, I think something called Community Literacy Journal probably is related to the search community literacy blogs.

And so it went. The Alphaplus (literacy) blog was number 26. This blog didn't make the top 40, despite having 29 posts tagged "community literacy" as well as using that phrase in my blog's subtitle.

A standard Google search for community literacy yielded the Community Literacy Journal as return number one. After that, there was a mixture of site types, all literacy related.

When I did a standard search for community literacy blogs, I received a decent list of blogs and online newsletters from individuals and organizations. The first six returns listed four solid literacy blogsites (plus two repeats). The Alphaplus blog, a Canadian blog I read and recommend, turned up three times in the top ten, which seemed a bit much. Still, it was an impressive display of result relevance. (This blog was return number 57 - and even then, the result was a post that doesn't actually mention community lit. *sigh*)

So, what have I learned? What I always knew - general purpose tools often do better than custom-made tools when it comes to literacy or education.

I don't know why the Literacy Project tools performed so badly. But I do know that Google - ordinary, standard, everyday Google - is a wonderful boon to literacy workers. In addition to an excellent search engine, it provides free email, blogging tools for ourselves and our learners, online word processing and document storage, and a place to create discussion forums. Google already is a literacy project.

Let's just pretend that other literacy project thing doesn't exist. K?


P.s. When I signed up for the closest thing Yahoo had to offer, Yahoo! for Teachers, I was denied entry because I wasn't a real teacher (i.e., not registered with a state-funded public school). Hmmm... not official enough to use Yahoo, eh. Once again, Yahoo misses the whole point of having a marketplace of accessible, democratic online tools and resources.

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