It always pleasing when a blog post achieves its aim, and even more so when this happens so quickly. So it was good to read AJ Cann’s post in which he describes how he spent 3 minutes using the Google Custom Search Engine (GCSE) to provide an alternative to his institutional search engine. As he titled his post “It was all Brian Kelly’s fault“!

Revisiting my original post it would seem that there are a number of ways in which GCSE is being used:

In this latter case, AJ is clearly unhappy with the local search engine service (ht://Dig): “I can’t stand the inadequate institutional search tools I’ve been forced to use for a decade” – and decided it was worth spending “less than 30 seconds” to set up an alternative! And this approach reflects AJ’s interests in Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). He now has a Personal Search Engine.

Now if setting up GSCE across a range of Web sites is so easy and can be done by individuals without the need for institutional commitment. in what other ways could the software be used?

As we’ve recently discussed institutional repositories and various people have aired their concerns on the approaches being taken, it seems to me that the GCSE could have a role to play in providing an alternative way of searching repositories.

And this approach has already been taken on the OpenDOAR Search Repository Contents service and the Search ROAR Content With Google service.

This approach fits in nicely with Rachel Heery’s comment that “I don’t really see that there is conflict between encouraging more content going into institutional repositories and ambitions to provide more Web 2.0 type services on top of aggregated IR content. Surely these things go together?“. We have the managed content in the repository and are providing users with a choice in the selection of a search interface.

It’s good to see that happening. But can’t we do even more. We could, for example, use the two ways of searching for gaining evidence of the preferences users may have for searching. And perhaps rather than exposing new users of repositories to the rich functionality of the repository’s search interface, shouldn’t we acknowledge that many users will prefer the simplicity of a Google search, and provide the GCSE interface as better focussed alternative to the global Google search tool, with the option of pointing the users in the direction of the richer service if they find that this search interface is not good enough.

This approach would have the added advantage of not requiring the expenses associated with in-house software development. Indeed could it not be argued public-sector organisations should have a responsibility to make use of relevant freely-available services, at least in prototyping or providing a service for making comparisons even if it isn’t envisaged that the service will be used in a final production role?

Of course the danger may be that the users decide that they are happy with Google. And we wouldn’t want that to happen, would we?