I did not start writing about search engines in 1998. It was actually in 1995 or 1996, when I was writing Official Netscape Guide to Internet Research. A couple of years later, when I was writing the 2nd edition, I wanted a way to keep my readers informed about new resources, changes to search engines, etc. I had been calling it ONGIR (Official Netscape Guide to Internet Research) but I wanted something that was a little more memorable and easy to spell.
So after creating ONGIR updates for a while, I started calling it ResearchBuzz. The ONGIR blog started on April 20, 1998.
(If you are a certain kind of person you are going tee-hee over the fact that my site is called ResearchBuzz and it was started on 4/20. I called it ResearchBuzz because of the slang term “buzz” as gossip, and as a nod to Emily Dickinson because I did want to be a buccaneer of this particular buzz. I did not know at the time what 4/20 meant, though of course I do now. It is just a coincidence, a funny one.)
During the early days of ResearchBuzz there were lots and lots and LOTS of search engines to talk about. Off the top of my head: HotBot, AltaVista, InfoSeek, Northern Lights, Yahoo, Excite, WWWorm, Lycos, Ask Jeeves, early natural language engines like Electric Monk — it goes on and on and on. Nowadays, of course, there are far fewer search engines. But there’s social media, which wasn’t even a blip on many radars in 1998. I do not spend as much time on general search engines nowadays because there are far fewer of them to talk about. Instead I talk more about social media, about online information collections, specialty search, services and offerings from local and state governments, and so on.
Digital archives, crowdsourcing, citizen science and engagement, data journalism — the particulars have changed as they always will over the course of two decades, but my focus is the same — online information collections and the people who make them, use them, and love them. But lately, especially in the last few years, I feel that something else has changed.
My alarm goes off every weekday morning at 4:45am. I get up, use the bathroom, say hi to the cats, grab a glass of tea, and get going on ResearchBuzz. After about 90 minutes I shut down the computer, clean up and get dressed, and head to work. During my lunch break I check my Nuzzel feeds. When I get home at night it’s usually ResearchBuzz interspersed with the normal human, house, and family stuff one must do.
It sounds boring. It sounds like a grind. But it isn’t. I start ResearchBuzz every morning knowing I will find something interesting or get an idea or learn something new. (ResearchBuzz is the perfect job for reminding me every day that I don’t know anything about anything.) Perched on my kneeling chair with my ratty sweatpants and my sleeping shirt and my hair going in about five thousand different directions, I try to find resources that will in turn be found by others who need them, or can use them, or can build off them.
In other words, I want to be a light for you. A light that guides you to useful things. A light that helps you find your way better. A steady, consistent, low-key, useful light.
Unfortunately our current Internet culture isn’t really built for low-key, useful lights. It’s more designed for fireworks – bright, loud, attention-grabbing spectacles. It started with clickbait (“So and so did such and such and YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT”) and has progressed to the point where the stories and attention grabbers don’t even have to be real. People make good money lying on Facebook. There are articles teaching you how to make money with fake news. A town in Macedonia was raking it in in 2016 by writing junk political stories.
It makes an aspiring light feel a bit dingy and dull. And though it’ll be a cold day in Hell when I start a fake news empire, I admit sometimes I wonder: should I try a little popup on the Web site inviting people to subscribe to the newsletter? Should I put up a video header? Should I try to jazz things up?
But it wouldn’t work, because I’m not flashy and I’m not spectacular. I’m just me.
It may be that the Internet is going to be more firework-friendly from now on. It may be that I continue to feel dim and out of place. That’s okay. I still believe in what I’m doing enough that I will get out of bed at 4:45. I will keep working to help and make connections and bring some good.
I hope I do. I hope I do, so much.
I know there are some ResearchBuzz readers who have been here almost from day 1. Thank you for sticking with me. Thank you to all the folks who support me on Patreon. Thank you to the late Herbie and Cinder, my two feline supervisors for over fifteen years, and the current supervisors Eggo and Bojangles. Thank you to my husband, who is surprisingly tolerant of the fact that I think about search engines and databases and archives constantly.
And thank you for reading. Whether you started a week ago or back in 1998, you’re the reason ResearchBuzz exists. Here’s to another 20.
I love you a lot.
Kudos to you, Tara! And congrats for 20 years of great reporting on Internet research tools.
Thank you, Bob! As I recall you’ve been around longer than I have!
Tara, you rock! Keeping me informed of all the latest info. I’ve been following for a few years now and I am a diehard fan. Keep up the great work!
Thank you! I hope we can get together for lunch again when next you’re in town.
Thank you for your tireless work, energy, and discipline. It’s inspiring and helpful.
Thank you! And I’m pretty sure that’s the first time anyone has used the word “discipline” when referring to me. 🙂
Tara: You do an incredible amount of good because you are, day in and day out, providing reliable, trustworthy links and information. You look at items carefully and assess them with common sense and sound tech know-how. I am very grateful for your work.
Thank you so much, Pam! I appreciate your longtime support.
Tara, thank you so much for all of your writing. I’m at the point that I have to read your twice daily blog every day no matter what. I have sent links to ResearchBuzz, and more often, direct links which I’ve gotten from you; but I always try to credit you, even when it is my brother. Bless you and keep up the great work, and the light, which is much brighter than you might think.
Thank you, Carl. I hope the bee mascot has grown on you over the last few years. Probably, not, huh. 🙂
“I’m not flashy and I’m not spectacular. I’m just me.”
And that right there is why you’ve got so many loyal readers; you’d be so much less in somebody else’s self!
Aww. Thanks JES.
1. Congratulations! 2. Thank you! 3. Repeat points 1 and 2
Anyone reading this: Patreon is waiting for you to contribute to RB!
Thank you Glenn! I really appreciate your support.
Tara, I have been a fan of yours since I was a brand new assistant professor and discovered Google Hacks in its first edition — since then I always point to you and your blog in every searching course I teach. I’m glad there’s a Patreon mechanism now so I can express my gratitude more tangibly. Keep up the good work!
Hang on, let me look at a calendar — that’s been FIFTEEN YEARS! Thank you so much for your support!
Love your dedication to the Buzz.
Almost always at least one item of interest in each day’s take – and often more than one golden nugget. You’ve opened doors to lots of otherwise unconsidered aspects of my own research work and also diverted my attention to new topics. Keep up the good works.
Knowing that there’s one person out there that finds at least one item of interest in every issue – ya made my day. Thank you!
Happy birthday/anniversary and a huge thanks for your dedication to the sharing. I’m not quite sure I was reading from the beginning but remember this site from way way back, when web sites were hand crafted. Keep in keeping on!
Thanks Mr. Cogdog. You’re pretty cool yourself. I can’t wait to see what you do with Flickr when it finishes moving over to SmugMug.
I’ve been around since your Copper Sky days and watched your passion for research grow into an amazing service for us all. You’ve hung in there along with Pair Networks and Amazon (I still have the mouse pad Amazon sent it’s customers that first year). Quite a feat in these days of instant star status numbered in seconds. But then I still have my Web Search Garage….
Thank you! Do you know I registered my first domain names with Pair, and it was a huge headache? As I recall they were about the only game in town at the time…
Congratulations, keep up the good work, you must have the patience of a saint to wade through all that STUFF
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Thank you! I’m not patient, but I have more than my share of stubborn. 🙂
Tara, thanks so much for all you do. I’ve been following you since late 1999. You’ve provided so much, from interesting tidbits to tools and resources I feel like a can’t do without. I wish you had a dollar for every time I found something you’ve shared useful (we’d apparently both be rich, because I could afford it, and you’d have a whole lot of dollars!). Anyway, thanks again. – John Warren
Thanks John. Frankly I wouldn’t mind a dollar for every time I found something useful either – lol! But we’ll struggle along somehow. 🙂
Very appreciative of your hard work. Regularly borrowing from you to pass on tips to investigative journalists. Toby – Global Investigative Journalism Network.
Thanks very much, Toby – and hey, thanks for the shouts you’ve been giving RB on Twitter. Appreciate it a lot.
Congratulations! I can’t remember when I first discovered your newsletter but it was a LONG time ago now, I think fairly close to the beginning. Ever since then, I’ve looked forward to your newsletters and posts as I know they’ll always be interesting and informative, even if they don’t happen to contain something I can make use of right now, though they often do.
Now more than ever, it’s good to know that there are steady lights we can all steer by.
Here’s to the next 20!
Thank you! I know nobody’s going to be interested in everything I post (except me) but I always hope that every issue has at least one thing you’ll want to follow up on.