Use Search Engines Early and Often

by katydee 2 min read5th May 201313 comments


The Internet contains vast amounts of useful content. Unfortunately, it also contains vast amounts of garbage, superstimulus hazards, and false, meaningless, or outright harmful information. One skill that is hence quite useful in the modern day is using search engines correctly, allowing you to separate the wheat from the chaff. When doing so, one can often uncover preexisting work that solves your problem for you, the answers to relevant factual questions, and so on. It is rare to find a situation where search engines are outright useless-- at the very least they tend to point you in the direction of useful information.

Further, the time cost of setting up and refining a search is extremely low, meaning that most of the time "just Google it" should in fact be your default response to a situation where you don't have very much information.[1] Overall, I consider one's ability to use search engines-- and, just as importantly, one's ability to recognize what types of situations can benefit from using them-- a basic but fairly significant instrumental rationality skill.

Much of the above sounds extremely obvious, and in point of fact it should be-- but the fact remains that people don't use search engines anywhere near as often as they seemingly should. I've frequently found myself in situations where someone in the same room as me asks me a trivially searchable factual question while we are both using computers. Worse still, I've been in situations where people do the same over IRC! The existence of lmgtfy indicates that others have noticed this issue before, and yet it remains a problem.

So, how can we do better?

One easy trick that I've found very helpful is to use Goodsearch instead of Google. Goodsearch is a service that automatically donates a cent to a charity of your choice whenever you search.[2] Further, it can be installed into your search toolbar in Firefox, making the activation cost of using Goodsearch rather than Google essentially zero if, like me, you tend to search in the search bar instead of the URL field. Goodsearch has had profound effects on my tendency to perform searches because it gives me a little hit of "doing good" every time I perform a search, thus encouraging me to do so in more situations, thus causing me to accrue more money via Goodsearch, etc.

This has not only made me more productive by causing me to search more but added positive externalities to every search I conduct. Earlier, I would say that I frequently used search engines to find out information about a new topic or project-- now I would say that I nearly automatically do this as the first step in most situations where I need some information before proceeding. The potential information gained from a search is very high, the costs of performing a search are very low, and with Goodsearch you can donate a little bit to charity while you do so.

If you're reading this in Firefox and haven't already spent large amounts of time getting used to advanced search methods in other engines (and maybe even if you have), I strongly suggest navigating over to Goodsearch, signing up for an account, and installing the Goodsearch App to make it your default toolbar search. For me, this proved to be a big win-- opportunities to increase instrumental rationality for only a minimal time expenditure while also earning free money for charity are not exactly common!


[1] Note that there are some things you might not want to Google. I would, for instance, be very careful about what terms I used if I were looking into the history of political assassinations.

[2] Before anyone gets too clever, there are restrictions.