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.