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Savvy Searching by Anne Collier

Whether your child is five or fifteen, chances are he or she will eventually turn to the Internet for information. After all, it's a gold mine-- a bottomless treasure chest of facts, figures, news, games, trivia, homework help and more. But just as your kids develop "book smarts" and "street smarts", they'll need to acquire "search smarts"-- the tricks of safe, constructive and efficient searching. Here are some tips, along with recommendations on top-notch kids' search-engines.

The Nitty-Gritty on Search-Engines
To be Search-Savvy, you need to know which search-engines are best. Here's a comparison of seven kid-focused search-engines. Our research was conducted using real kids' queries, for instance, several of our testers were researching reports, one on Native Americans, another on black-footed ferrets. We also searched on kids' areas of interest, like Britney Spears and Pokemon. To explore each site's "safety", we searched on words like "sex". On a sad note: In years past, one of our favorite kids' search engines was Searchopolis. As of August, 2001, N2H2, the parent company behind Searchopolis, no longer offers this engine.

Ask Jeeves Kids (CSR All Star Award Winner)
Ads: None that we ran into.
Safe? Our "sex" search led to 18 web site links, several of which gave some information on reproduction and HIV/Aids. Like Yahooligans, fairly innocuous material.
Delivery: Only a handful of results each time, but relevancy was fairly amazing and just right for elementary and middle school kids.
Speed: Great
Strengths: Relevancy and focus. Jeeves never turns up too much to absorb.
Weaknesses: Not great on obscure questions such as, "Who does the voice of Spongebob Squarepants?" or "Why do Dalmatians have spots?" (It didn't turn up any results for these.)
Noteworthy: Jeeves is "natural language" searching. That's great when you have "why" questions, but when you just want to find "Britney Spears" or "black-footed ferrets," Jeeves still delivers. Just the first result listed for "Native American tribes" listed more than 50 tribes!

Yahooligans! (CSR All Star Award Winner)
Ads: Yes. Kid-friendly banner ads linking to external sites (e.g., Luigi's Mansion game for GameCube), "house ads," and sponsored games (Disney, Gigex), etc.
Safe? Our search on "sex" brought up 2 category matches dealing with anatomy and 8 sites on cell division, etc. Pretty innocent stuff.
Delivery: Results are not comprehensive, but plentiful, and almost always what we were looking for (high relevancy). In a "Native American tribes" search, a "category match" of "Native American tribes, nations, and bands" yielded more than 70 names of such, leading to at least several pages for each of these - generally at elementary-school reading level. For a "black-footed ferret" search, we got four results, but they were just right - all that this site's audience would need for a school report.
Speed: Good
Strengths: "Category Matches" at the top of each results page helped us zero in on what we wanted. The site is age-specific, so you know results are appropriate to kids ages 7-12.
Weaknesses: Not quite as good for research/homework as the noncommercial (dot-org) search sites.
Noteworthy: Yahooligans! delivered just about every time. It was one of our top choices, neck and neck for No. 1 with Ask Jeeves Kids.

Ads: Yes. Clearly marked, but prominent and targeting parents more than kids.
Safe? Our "sex" search brought up 11 links, several of which gave frank discussions about sexual issues and activity. Lycos does place a "you are visiting a site outside of LycosZone" in between the search page and the site.
Delivery: Fair. Results were neither comprehensive nor always relevant, and some results linked to defunct pages or sites. "Black-footed ferret" turned up a page on pets (the black-footed ferret is an endangered species!) and a Shakespeare page. Use the site for its directory, not its search engine!
Speed: Slow
Strengths: Good internal content from partners such as Learning Network's Fact Monster, Marshall Brain's "HowStuffWorks," etc.
Weaknesses: The search engine, sharing the bottom spot of our list with AOL's Kids Only Search.
Noteworthy: In a search for "Britney Spears," its "Multimedia Encyclopedia" links all led to no-longer-existing pages.

AOL's Kids Only Search
Ads: Yes. Kid-friendly; AOL Time Warner properties (e.g., and other kid-targeting sponsors
Safe? Very. Our "sex" search brought up zero matches.
Delivery: Neither plentiful nor particularly relevant. "Black-footed ferret" turned up one result on prairie dogs. "Native American tribes" got 41 results, but the first page was all about individuals - Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Pocahontas.
Speed: Good
Strengths: Some searches turned up "Search Suggestions" as well as Web site links, which helped narrow the searches a bit, but they weren't nearly as relevant as Yahooligans!' "Category Matches." As with LycosZone, the site's directory is better than its search engine.
Weaknesses: Numerous, outweighing its strengths.
Noteworthy: Safe, but shares our "least favorite" search-engine slot with LycosZone.

Zeeks' Search
Ads: Yes. "House ads" that don't take you off the page.
Safe?: Nope. Three mouse clicks into our search on "sex," and we were on a porn page.
Delivery: Relevancy depends on which reference you pick under the search box (after typing in the word). So kids have to know the best place (e.g., InfoPlease, CNN, or National Geographic) to find info on a particular product.
Speed: Not great - because it takes search-box typing plus at least one click to a source.
Strengths: The only one we could see is the fact that all sources are displayed at a glance.
Weaknesses: Some of the reference links are no longer available (e.g., StudyWeb) others link to 404 Page Not Found error messages.
Noteworthy: This is clunky searching at best. Nice for Zeeks to include this service in its lineup, but it can't compete with Jeeves, Yahooligans! or Awesome Library.

Ads: None.
Safe?: Our search on "sex" gave us four matches, two of which gave straight talk on sexual issues and orientation.
Delivery: The 4 results we got for "Native American tribes" and the 2 for "black-footed ferret" weren't as immediately useful as what we got at Jeeves and Yahooligans!.
Speed: Fine.
Strengths: Clearly a nonprofit service - you can count on results being educational (including those from a search for "games").
Weaknesses: The database is about half the size as Awesome Library's, search results present an awful lot of text for kids to wade through, and a search for "Spongebob" yielded no results!
Noteworthy: Lack of ads is nice, but search results are disappointing.

Awesome Library
Ads: None.
Safe? Yes. Our search on "sex" brought 15 matches, all of which were squeaky clean, dealing with cell division, basic biology, etc.
Delivery: Results of educational searches were great - plentiful and relevant. Our search for Native American tribes yielded 26 results, with the most useful one starred for us!
Speed: Fine
Strengths: The database includes 17,000 sites-- all hand-picked by senior-level educators and updated daily.
Weaknesses: Search results for current pop-culture topics (Britney Spears, Pokemon, SpongeBob, etc.,) are weak or non-existent.
Noteworthy: The directory is in Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese, as well as English.



Anne Collier is editor of the SafeKids/NetFamilyNewsletter and president of, a nonprofit news service for parents and teachers of online kids.

Search Smarts 101

  1. Bookmark the top search-engine picks for your kids to use. Use a combination of kids' search-engines and filtered grown-up ones for best results. Make sure filtering options are turned on in all browsers kids use.
  2. Establish rules. The rules should state that a) these are the only search-engines kids may use, b) kids notify grownups when they're going to do research on the Web; and c) filtering may not be turned off in any search-engine a child uses.
  3. Monitor kids' search-engine use, both to assure safe exploring and to determine that children are finding reading-level appropriate material. Search with the child occasionally, check his or her progress during research, and periodically try out the browser and its filtering software yourself.
  4. Teach your kids how to use single and combined keywords to search. When combining words, many search engines simply let you write the words as you normally would, for instance, black squirrel. Some engines require quotation marks around the terms or the use of connector words or symbols. Information on advanced searches is typically found on all search engine homepages. 

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