Learning Search

RB Search Gizmos: The Anti-Bullseye Name Search

I’m one of those people who can’t learn well by reading or lecture. You can give me some information that way, but then you have to leave me alone for a while so I can take it and mess around with it and play and get it wrong and understand it better. If I don’t get that time and you just keep going and try to pile more information on top then I won’t retain anything.

This learning strategy does not work well for high school, but in the real world I can actually get that space to muse and goof around. As I’ve been learning JavaScript, I’ve been spending time with a pad and pen and thinking about search patterns and what I can do with the JavaScript I know now while I patiently work on getting my API-handling chops.

This doodlebugging has lead to a new search tool I knocked together Friday: The Anti-Bullseye Name Search. It’s a Google Search front end available at
https://the-anti-bullseye-name-search.glitch.me/ .


TABNS asks you to enter a name and then searches Google for the reverse formatting of that name, while excluding the traditional formatting. For example, if you enter “John Smith,” TABNS will set up a Google Search for you that partially looks like this:

-“John Smith” “Smith John”

This seems like a small search hack but it completely transforms your search results. It wipes out a lot of news articles, social media, and general fluff in favor of more information-dense search results. In addition to the search change, TABNS removes a lot of sites that tend to clutter up search results with information, including Facebook, Amazon, Pinterest, and eBay. You can add additional keywords to steer your search if the person you’re searching has a more common name. You even eliminate a more famous name from your search if they’re overwhelming your results.

TABNS works best for people who have had some kind of public life, though they don’t have to be famous. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a bipartisan political example but Marilyn Monroe works pretty well. Here’s what a basic Google Search for her looks like:

Don’t get me wrong – this is basic biographical information and it’s important to have. Just by running this search and looking at the front page you can get all the basics about Marilyn Monroe (assuming nobody’s hacked Wikipedia or goofed with her knowledge card.) But want if you want to go past that? What if you want to dig a little?

Here’s a TABNS search for Marilyn Monroe:

Yes, there’s still some reference stuff there, but you’re also being dropped into things like auction catalogs and book indexes. Finding aids also end up toward the top in these searches.

For politicians you’ll get an immediate list of disclosure and transparency sites:

Obviously TABNS is not meant as a substitute for a regular Google search, but if you’ve been trying to winkle information out of Google and you’ve gotten everything you can out a standard search, this is a useful tool for attacking people search from a different angle.

Up next: an interface for searching government sites, with an emphasis on state sites. I need to practice making lookup tables…

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