By Anders Bylund | Published: October 24, 2006 – 02:25PM CT
The Google Custom Search Engine lets you customize Google searches in many ways, but the biggest draw is the ability to restrict searches to a specific list of sites, overriding the usual PageRank system. While it’s true that you could already do that to some degree simply by adding a “site:www.arstechnica.com” keyword to your search, Custom Search is more flexible than that. You can choose to set a hard limit on what sites to allow, or just give your list extra weight in the rankings. The keyword method also exposes the tuning information in an ugly manner, and you can only search one domain at a time that way.
Apart from that functionality, the new tool lets you set up an AdSense (aka Google’s big money maker) account to make some money from the results, and you can customize the look and feel of the search box and results. If you’re setting it up on behalf of a nonprofit, government, or educational institution, you can choose not to display any ads at all, but the rest of us have to live with them to make it worth Google’s while.
Google calls this “one of the biggest announcements it will make this quarter.” The announcement provided RealClimate as an example of how to use the tool, in this case searching for scientific data on climate change (a topic near and dear to many of our readers and writers) from sites prescreened for high-quality objective information. You could also try the quick-and-dirty search page I set up to try the service out—it really is easy to the point of being foolproof—or give it a spin on your own.
Like Yahoo before it, and entirely in keeping with its own tradition of handing out toolkits with no specific plan for how to use them, Google has given us one more level of personalization to play with. I’m already doing most of the specialized searches I need with quick-search Firefox keywords tied to very specific Google searches, but your expertise in Google-Fu may vary. Many of Google’s experiments end up sinking with nary a trace, but this one looks real-world useful.