Many years ago — 15 sounds about right — there were a lot of resources for making your own custom search engines. Finding a group of sites you want to search (or sometimes only one site) and making a tool that could search only that group. PicoSearch, FreeFind, Atomz Search — there were a bunch of them. And then there was Google Custom Search (also known as Google CSE).
PicoSearch and Atomz Search are gone (I think FreeFind is still around) but Google Custom Search is still here. Thing is, Google doesn’t talk a lot about it. You won’t find it on Google’s products list — instead it’s the last thing included on the C list of developer products.
But you don’t need to be a developer to use the CSE. In fact, I’ve made a bunch of them over the years. And I realized this week that I didn’t have them linked anywhere. Gotta fix that. So here is a list of the Google CSEs I’ve put together. Got a request? Want to know how they’re made? Let me know.
Click on the name of the search engine to get to the CSE site. All these sites are completely free to access, of course.
I wrote a whole article about this back in 2012. Google had closed down its Uncle Sam government search the year before, and I had gotten a message from a reader who wanted to search just government sites and didn’t know how to formulate a query for it. I made this for him. Thanks to the way the patterns of municipal Web sites work, I was able to make a search engine that searched government sites, and then allowed you to narrow your results to city sites or county sites. The downside to this (and other Google CSEs) is that they have a bunch of ads.
I have had variations of the Cookin’ With Google search going for a long time. The premise is simple: enter in your ingredients and it’ll find you something to cook. There are lots and lots and lots of variations of this on the Web, and in fact I’m pretty sure I got the original idea from either Meg Hourihan or her mother. Anyway, my search lets you limit results by a number of categories, including vegan, diabetic-friendly, low-fat, international, Atkins, etc. (You know I made this a while ago because there’s an Atkins category and not a Paleo category.)
This is my “Dang it I really need to update this” custom search engine. It’s got 100 sites that are either Q&A or “Ask the Expert” type sites. I don’t remember too much about putting this site together — I believe it was done in 2007 — but looking at the site list it looks like I took every “Ask an Expert” site I could find and just dumped it it on place. This includes big sites like Google Answers (which still has archived answers on the Web) but also smaller sites like AskANewYorker (which is still going) and Ask a Topologist (which apparently isn’t.) I can’t guarantee you will find the answers to your questions with this search engine, but I’m 99.9% sure the results will be interesting.
Okay, this one makes me feel old. It was my attempt to gather up official sites of companies, celebrities, institutions, etc and have them in one searchable place. Nowadays of course you’d just head to Facebook or Twitter.
Of all the search engines I’ve put here this is the one that will probably get you no results. When you do get results they tend to be deep dives. I’m tempted to redo this one and break it out by state, and do something like “Official sites of Texas” — all the universities, companies, institutions, etc headquartered in Texas for example. It might at least be usable. This CSE has not aged well.
You would think that since the Web has just gotten bigger and bigger and bigger over time that there would be more interest in aggregating groups of resources into special search engines. I think that idea has been overcome by social media; I suspect Internet users think less about the Web in general.
Going through these CSEs leads me to believe they have a future, though. In fact I believe there will always be a place for well-delineated, aggregated data sets. I just gotta figure out how I want to split them up.