In the early days of the web, going online was heralded as a great way to connect with other people who have had experiences similar to your own. The web was a place to get answers, advice and community no longer limited by the geographic location of the individuals you connected with.
While all of that remains true today, the ubiquity of the internet, the ease of publishing and the rise of online advertising has lead to the emergence of new kinds of websites: productivity, how-to and advice/Q&A sites that broadcast, scale and monetize that kind of information.
Then there's people who make lists of those types of sites. Many readers love those lists, but how useful are they really? They could be a whole lot more useful than they are. One way for that to happen is to turn such lists into Custom Search Engines.
This post was inspired by a list I found on the very top of Del.icio.us Popular last week, titled The Top 100 Productivity and LIfehack Blogs. Posted to a site called CollegeDegree.com, it clearly took some work by someone to put together and will probably bring in a steady flow of traffic for some time.
Making Productivity Productive
Ironically, the list isn't very conducive to productive use once you've found it. Imagine all the time you could waste exploring all those sites! None the less, hundreds of people bookmarked the list and probably intended to come back to it later. It served the publisher well, but how well do such lists really serve readers?
The first thing I think of when I see a list like this is: how much more useful would this be in a Custom Search Engine? A whole lot more useful.
It's in that spirit that we offer you the first of three CSE in this post: the Productivity and Lifehack Multi-site Search. (Note that if you are reading this post in a feed reader, you won't be able to see the embedded search boxes below. You can click through to see the full post.)
I've bookmarked that engine's page and will refer back to it whenever I find myself struggling with a productivity problem that I think someone else has probably solved before.
Curious about how Google Custom Search Engines work? See our previous coverage, Google Custom Search: Setting The Bar For Vertical Search Engines.
Sometimes we make lists of our own here at RWW. The most successful (and fun) so far has been Josh Catone's Big List of Sites to That Teach You How to do Stuff, a collection of the best How-to and Tutorial sites around the web. Readers loved that list and many contributed more high-quality suggestions in comments. Many of the sites are filled with video tutorials, including on some really obscure topics.
Shortly after we published that list, I threw the URLs in the post and comments into a Google Custom Search Engine. It's proven really useful to me, so here it is for you to use as well.
How-to Site Search.
The How-to of the How-to
Making custom search engines is pretty easy once you've got a list of good sites on a topic. If you've got a list that someone else has already posted somewhere, just run that page through a service like the link extractor from Webmaster-toolkit.com. Then you can copy and paste the relevant links into the very easy-to-use Google Custom Search Engine creation service.
I make these all the time, the hardest part is to compile the list in the first place. The easiest way to make use of this tool is to keep your eyes peeled for lists that other people have already created. That's what I did for the Semantic Web search engine in the RWW toolkit for top issues of 2008, for example. If you're a link-baiting blogger, though, why not offer your readers the added value of putting your lists into a CSE?
When I make one of these CSEs for publication, I try to give it a title and a description that refers back to our brand and URL too.
Once you've got work (productivity) and weekends (how-to) taken care of, what's left? Love, of course! What better place online to answer your questions about live, love and other non-technical matters than advice and Q&A sites?
If you're looking for a linkbaity list on almost anything, you'll probably find one at Mashable. You'll probably find it through Google, on Mashable, actually. Link list posts have served that site very well, they're undoubtedly one of the biggest contributing factors to Mashable's position as the 8th most linked-to blog on the web and recipipient of millions and millions of monthly pageviews.
Take out the internal links, check out the comments to see which links there are good and paste that list into a Google CSE. What have you got? An Advice and Q&A Site Search Engine.
Some lists of sites will make for a better search engine that others. Blogs are particularly good because there's lots of content and Google indexes almost all of it. Company sites aren't as good and application sites aren't much good at all to query. I ask myself whether I can see myself or others querying whatever collection I'm thinking about assembling; it's easy enough to set up that you may as well give it a try, I've set up some search engines that I use regularly, others that I never use anymore.
Obviously this is just one of many ways to add value to a list. Other things we've done here include filtering the feeds in a list through AideRSS to create a "greatest hits" feed for top sources on a topic, we've displayed recent items from or search results regarding the resources in a list using FeedDigest and we've put together Google Presentation slideshows describing how we assembled collections of resources so that other people can repeat the same process.
The point is that linkbait style lists are often not as useful as they might seem. Readers are growing increasingly cynical. They are much better served if you can put just a little extra time into offering them tangible value and demonstrating meaningful investment of energy on your part.
For more on this subject, check out Del.icio.us Popular for the tag Linkbait and ask how you might be able to raise the bar on resource aggregation in the blogosphere.