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Research Commentary on the Spire Project

This article first appeared in print in the Portland Observer, the local paper for Portland Victoria, in 2005.
Please note, minor changes have been made to this article.

Internet Skills Come to Portland
By David Novak

Every person who seeks information on the internet but comes away frustrated, misses an opportunity. We can learn to search better. Internet searching as a skill continues far beyond tossing words at a search engine.

The Portland DiscoverIT Centre is bringing an internet expert to Portland to deliver several public lectures and workshops on June 14th and 17th. This an excellent opportunity for the Portland community to enrich their lives with better information.

My name is David Novak and I am an expert in the use of internet information. I wrote the Spire Project and the Information Research FAQ and innovated a fair portion of modern internet search theory.

I've taught specialist internet users for years: government, defence scientists, lots of librarians. Yet less devoted internet users can only now move beyond the travelogue of destinations and lists of favourite search tools that usually defines better searching.

Finally, search skills are for everyone. And thank goodness, for the internet is getting rather clumsy these days, in my opinion. Good quality, comprehensive answers do not come easily.

I am excited about coming to Portland. And whilst here, I am volunteering my time to teach a lesson in information warfare to the year 11 class of Portland Secondary College. Two years ago the World Health Organization and the US Sugar Industries fought a war over the recommended percentage of sugar in a healthy diet. We shall re-enact this war in deeds and published documents. And I secretly hope the class will decide to eat less sugar ... for all of a week or two.

I have a serious objective too. Information has grown to be more than lists of interesting items. More than pages of fascinating facts. Often we treat the internet like an encyclopedia or a cookbook. We find a fact then leave. And incidentally, search engines excel at this.

But we can do more. And unlike youths, adults often have more challenging needs. We ask more penetrating question. Or at least we like to. In my Portland lectures I will describe how wind farms are good or bad depending on who stands at the pulpit. Finding the quality and balanced information can be complicated.

But we like simple. Simple is sweet. And little is more simple than tossing words at a search engine. Unfortunately, the internet through a search engine rarely touches notions of truth, quality, trust and value. It fails to mention perspective and bias. It's never comprehensive.

And so we turn to other means to gather great information. Next time you find a webpage that delights you, consider using Google's hidden inURL field search to find other pages nearby. This is how. If we like, type into Google's normal search box to generate a list of neighboring pages. Give it a try. This handy technique often reveals further delightful documents. We also use this technique in judging quality. Its just one example of a more valuable way to gather internet information.

We need better search skills because we want better information. And those who want better information may wish to join me at the Portland DiscoverIT Centre.

Be Inspired - 1hour lecture
Dates: June 14th, 4-5pm, 7-8pm
Friday June 17th, 7-8pm (if interest permits)
Cost: $15

Be Productive - 3 hour workshop
Friday June 17th, 9:30 am - 1pm
and again Friday June 17th , 2.00pm - 5.30pm
Cost $175

For further information : Call DiscoverIT Centre on 55231497 or 0408 528 011 - A.H.

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