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Developing students' Web searching skills : Exercise 6

Exercise 6: Search on your own name

The last exercise in which students were asked to search on their own names was partly included for entertainment value but also to reveal that there may be information about them that they may not be aware of.  Many people have now left a trail on the Web in Websites published either by themselves or by somebody else or in open mailing lists   If they have published Web pages, they may be unaware that they are linked to from other places. This comes as quite a surprise to some even when they published that information themselves.

The students of course encountered individuals with the same name often with amusing or… exotic occupations.  The student names have mostly been replaced by FirstName LastName.

‘A simple search via Google against my own name revealed that I live a secondary life as country and western singer recording in Nashville with a wife called Amanda who lives with me in Worcestershire. I think I will not be sharing this information with Jane, who thinks she is my wife and would doubtless demand her share of the record royalties!’

‘This was a good laugh.  I found a sexy picture by a photographer called). FirstName LastName’

‘By using speech marks I was able to cut out all sites to do with the Christian Church involving people called Nigel.  Doing this came up with:

More fashion photographs, again by a Nigel Christian, at the Guardian:

And, a “waste management officer” called Nigel Christian.

Also, I found that I am dating the celebrity Gail Porter!:’

This student used quotation marks to narrow the search substantially but then resorted to manual sifting.  With a bit of planning, it may have been possible to narrow the results further.

‘I searched for my name using both Yahoo and Google.  Each produced over 100,000 results, so I narrowed down the search by putting my complete name in question marks.  This reduced the number of results to 102 with Yahoo and 172 with Google.  I did skim through these and managed to find references to myself.’

And some surprises:

‘ I searched ‘FirstName LastName l’ and found 2 websites that actually included me!!’

‘I must admit that I was childishly excited by this exercise since I had never posted anything on a website and assumed that one usually had knowledge of information about oneself in the public domain. Resorting to ‘Google’ once again, I input “FirstName LastName” as the keywords, making sure that my name appeared in quotation marks so that the words would occur together and avoid references to either ‘FirstName’ or ‘LastName’ within a text. I scrolled through results for ‘a website’- a homage to a country musician! - to find three pages that explicitly referred to me:

'These were completely unexpected and roused my curiosity, especially the first since it was written in German and I hardly have basic conversational ability in the language! The first two pages concerned an exchange programme I was involved in and the second gave details of students at my former university whom had been elected for scholarships.’

‘This was both fun and disappointing: I seem to be variously a mountain bike, a county, a government journal, a racing track, a market, and a microelectronic company!  But where’s the cool stuff? I want to be some historically, tragic heroine, who was unsuccessfully wooed by the aristocracy and who died for a humane and just cause! ‘

‘ I am pleased to say that a profound review that I posted on ensured that I come out top with the search on my own name. I was also interested to find an Australian cricket player namesake, born in 1895, who played 8 games for Victoria.’

This student could have used a language filter to restrict the results to Web pages in English.

‘Produces mainly foreign language web pages. Plus a page from my last employer who hasn’t deleted me from the company web site.’