Learning Search

Don’t Be a Snob About Searching the Web – A Cautionary Tale

Sometimes when I try to teach someone about search, I can’t quite get them to see the point. Why should they learn to use search engines well? Why not go straight to Wikipedia, or IMDB, or some other reference compilation? The large reference sites would surely have the answers they seek. And if they don’t – then the information’s probably not online, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. SO wrong. In fact, I recently had an experience that wonderfully illustrates how wrong this idea is.

If you’re a longtime ResearchBuzz reader you know I’m a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. There are, in fact, a lot of folks out there doing the “riffing” thing, for example Incognito Cinema Warriors, Josh Way, and my personal favorite, Toast and Rice.

I was watching one of Toast and Rice’s shorts, a 1951 number called The Outsider, when I realized I was seeing the actress who played Susan Jane in a lot of shorts. There she was in The Snob. There she was in The Gossip. And she’s actually a decent actress, unlike some of the kids in the shorts (there’s a kid in The Outsider named Junior, and every time he says his line “Is everybody ready for the big feed?” I just cringe.) So, I wondered, who is this actress, anyway?

I did start with IMDB – it lists shorts as well as TV shows and feature length movies. When I looked up The Outsider, I found a little information, including the name of the actress – Vera Stough.

Unfortunately Vera Stough’s page on IMDB didn’t have a lot. A list of credits spanning 1951 (The Outsider) to 1978 (an episode of Eight is Enough).

But it had enough that I called bullspit. 27 years doing movies and television, and no biographical information? If there were just the shorts credits I would assume she left acting after high school/college. But even according to the IMDB she was working steadily between 1951 and 1978. I was missing something, and so was IMDB.

At this point my random curiosity about an actress in 1950s shorts was now a search problem. And to paraphrase Vanilla Ice, when it’s a search problem, yo I must solve it. So I started digging.

For my first search I used the actress’ name, and the name of two of her shorts, hoping the Principle of Mass Similar would find me useful stuff.

“vera stough” “the snob” “the outsider”

Paydirt on the very first page! And what a source – the Franklin Hills Residents Association newsletter, The Overview. The Summer 2004 issue (that link is to a PDF) of this newsletter has a substantial article on the actress, who now goes by Brady Rubin.

Brady Rubin does have a more substantial IMDB page, including a picture, and one credit – The Snob – that’s shared with the Vera Stough page.

Once you have both her names, then getting an even fuller picture of the actress’ life (by searching for both names) is easy. A newspaper article from 1986 reflects on her theater work. Searching just for the name Brady Rubin finds a review of an Ibsen play she apparently directed this past March.

Now of course you want to cross-check, and of course you want to get as many sources for your information as possible, and if I was pursuing this diligently I’d follow up to make sure that there aren’t, for example, two Brady Rubins, one of whom used to be Vera Stough and one who directs Ibsen plays. But the information I got to crack this search open was not on IMDB (both Vera Stough and Brady Rubin are denoted as being in The Snob, but I can find no indication that they’re denoted as being the same person). It was on a general Web search that I was lucky enough to get right the first time.

Wikipedia does not have it all. IMDB does not have it all. Do not assume that these big sites are pulling information from every corner of the Web, especially as you can get substantial information from very unlikely sources (like a newsletter for the residents of Franklin Hills!) Take the time and do a general Web search. You will often find surprising information that the larger sites either haven’t found or haven’t integrated into their own sites.

If you’d like to see Ms. Rubin’s acting chops without the riffing, The Eclectic Screening Room has a thoughtful overview of both The Outsider and The Snob with both shorts embedded in the blog post. She really is quite a good actress!

Categories: Learning Search

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1 reply »

  1. Your ideas and thought process for researching items on the web are well written.

    As a contributor/creator of items for Wikipedia, You of all people know that Wikipedia exists because of our collective input. It is not wisdom, but content provided by You and I. If someone does not take the time to write about Ms. Rubin or Outer Mongolia or whatever, it will not appear on the Wikipedia site.

    ps: I thoroughly enjoy your informative newsletter, especially genealogy links.


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