Google has dominated the world of Internet searching for a while now. It has become so ubiquitous that it is no longer just the name of a search engine, but a full-fledged verb in its own right; when was the last time someone asked you to “Yahoo” a term, or, better yet, to “Rushmore Drive” it?
Though most of us are probably unfamiliar with web sites such as Rushmore Drive – a black-centric search engine started in April of 2008 – such identity-specific searching is slowly carving its own niche in the wide world of the world wide web, and looking to challenge Google’s hegemony.
According to Kevin McFall, representative for Rushmore Drive and Vice President of products for its parent company, Black Web Enterprises, Rushmore Drive provides search results that are more relevant to the black community by blending mainstream searching with a heavier weighting on historically black-selected URLs. The web site also includes a black-centric job-search engine, as well as a social networking application.
Dr. Vivek Venkatesh, assistant professor of educational technology at Concordia University, whose work focuses on the shift from algorithm-based searches to more humanized forms of information gathering on the web, sees the development of identity-specific web searching as a natural course for Internet searching to take.
“I think it’s a natural progression or an evolutionary progression of how people are reacting to the growth of the Internet,” Venkatesh said.
According to Venkatesh, the impetus for more personalized search engines – whether geared toward a specific racial, ethnic, or personal-interest group – comes from a need to aggregate the information most pertinent to a group with particular searching preferences in the ever-growing field of information that is the Internet.
“Regardless of why people are searching…I think that [they] are looking to find more efficient results as quickly as possible,” Venkatesh noted.
One criticism levied against race- or identity-specific search engines is that they have the potential to be divisive, undermining the idea of the Internet as a difference-eliminating, unifying force – one that allows users to remain anonymous from their racial, ethnic, or group affiliations.
McFall rebutted this divisive take on identity-specific search engines.He noted that the Internet may be unifying in its basic nature, but that it is also quite fragmented – it does not necessarily fulfill the promise of immediate access to information for all groups. Rushmore Drive fills the needs of a niche audience who may be looking for different results than the average search engine, like Google, might provide.
“What [Rushmore Drive] does, is that it helps people who are specifically looking for a black perspective understand what the black experience is about,” McFall said. “You don’t have to be black to use Rushmore Drive; you can be any nationality [and use it] if you want to gain that additional perspective.”
While Rushmore Drive allows a specific cultural community to sift through the burgeoning landscape of the Internet more efficiently, McFall contended that it does not bias its results in a way which excludes other important information. Instead, Rushmore Drive looks to unify a black perspective with a mainstream one.
“It provides a bit of a laser focus. We provide a very vertical experience for people trying to access information, [just like any interest or identity-based search option]. The example I like to use is that if you’re a fan of baseball, you’re probably going to go to mlb.com to get your information about baseball,” McFall said, implying that if you’re looking for a black perspective, you’ll go to Rushmore Drive.
Though Rushmore Drive seems to be the most prominent example, many other niche-market search engines are available to address the needs of diverse groups – whether they are defined by race, nationality, interest, or any other unifying traits.
Ask.com, partner company to Rushmore Drive, has recently launched Nascar.com, a new – you guessed it – Nascar-based search engine geared toward those interested specifically in all things Nascar. Closer to home, there’s Canuckster.com, a Canadian-centric search site.
For Vinkatesh, the key issue of more personalized searching is self-identification. The goal is to make finding information relevant to each individual’s identity as efficient as possible.
“I identify a lot more with my hobbies; they define me more than my race [does]. So, hobby-specific searches are more necessary for me. But this isn’t the case for everyone,” Vinkatesh said. “[Where you search] really depends on the individual – how they self-identify and what they need from their searches.”