The end of a month, year and decade seems like an opportune time to take stock of where Dulcinea Media fits into the ever-changing landscape of Web content.
Since I founded Dulcinea Media three years ago, the marketplace has gradually warmed to my view that uncurated, general search engines are a less-than-perfect tool for finding information online. One study, showed that user satisfaction with search results declined from 78% in 2005, according to Pew Internet, to 62% in 2006, and again to 51% in 2008, according to the University of Southern California’s Center for Digital Technology. And a study from the UK exposed as a myth the notion of a “Google Generation” of young people with native ability to find information online.
Next, Nicholas Carr, who famously asked “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, and a number of other columnists bemoaned the reality that most users today read an Internet that is a mile-wide and an inch-deep. The center of their media world is a technology driven algorithm and “the wisdom of crowds” that simply uncover the same recycled headlines and updates from a slew of news sources. And Roger Schank, an artificial intelligence expert from Yale University, reversed his 30-year-old prediction that we would create machines as smart as humans in his lifetime. Schank came to recognize that “[h]umans are constantly learning … [e]very new experience changes what we know and how we see the world.” Schank attributed this to “an unconscious indexing method that all people learn to do without quite realizing they are learning it.”
And now a growing chorus of observers is acknowledging that search engines often fail the user. The impetus is the rise of “content farms,” which all but assure that search engines are only going to get worse at delivering quality results on the first search results page. Demand Media, Associated Content, Mahalo, Bukisa, eHow, HubPages and a voracious pack of others are paying freelance writers a modest per-article fee to create tens of thousands of articles each day. And these companies excel at getting their content to rank high in search engines, regardless of quality.
What I see is that this avalanche of mediocre content will drive Internet users to the “new portals” - trusted sources that consistently deliver important, relevant, reliable and comprehensive information, from a wide variety of resources across the Internet, utilizing a human touch.
Naturally, Dulcinea Media is planning to be one of those trusted sources. findingDulcinea now offers Web Guides to only the best information about more than 700 broad topics, and we’ve created thousands of Beyond the Headlines and Features articles that provide a full context view of news stories. Our sister site, encontrandoDulcinea, replicates much of this content in Spanish. To make all this content easier to access, we’ve introduced SweetSearch, a custom search engine that harnesses Google’s technology and the 100,000+ hours of Web site evaluation that is the bedrock of findingDulcinea. SweetSearch returns results only from a “whitelist” of 35,000 sites that we’ve evaluated and approved. And we are constantly tweaking SweetSearch to ensure that it remains the best search engine for students, and indeed, the only one they can use effectively. Lastly, we introduced findingEducation, a free, easy-to-use blogging platform that enables educators to leverage our tools to find and share great links with their students and colleagues.
As our audience continues to grow, we’ve found that our “best customers” are college, high school and middle school students. And thus we’ve begun to focus our content on subjects that would be of interest to teachers, librarians, and students. Through our conversations at the AASL conference for school librarians, and the NCSS conference for social studies teachers we learned there is a critical need in the marketplace for free products that promote effective, efficient, safe and responsible use of the Internet, and that ours fit the bill magnificently.
We remain steadfast in one guiding principle: we will not use technology to aggregate links for Web Guides or articles; everything will pass through the prism of human judgment.
To address scaling issues while holding form to this principle we plan to introduce a program early next year in which we invite librarians and educators to submit content. Practitioners of these professions are trained to find, evaluate and recommend outstanding information resources, and library Web sites have always been the closest comparable to our Web Guides. We envision findingDulcinea and SweetSearch becoming a repository of the knowledge and insight of tens of thousands of librarians and teachers.
And we’ll stick with that vision, for as long as it takes to make it a reality.
~Mark Moran, Founder & CEO Dulcinea Media