When you’re developing something new, one of my favorite media professors once told me, whether it’s a theory, a curriculum, a focus group survey, procedures, or legislation, there are bound to be blindspots, pieces of the puzzle we discount or simply don’t see, often because we take them for granted.
In developing the first set of workshops for Social Media Exchange, our blindspot was basic search. Since all of us have spent uncountable hours on the Internet, we all pretty much Google in our sleep and come up with relevant answers as quickly as we type any given search string in that little blank box.
Even when one attendee challenged us on the importance of blogs—basically saying that they were too hard to find—I didn’t pick up on the real question at hand. Which wasn’t How relevant are they? but, How do you find them?
Later, when we started a series of workshops with a group in Tyre who was brand new to the Internet, we realized that to be able to teach anything having to do with social media, we needed first to teach them how to search efficiently.
If you don’t first understand the principles of search and the ideas behind the algorithms that drive it, picking up tagging, social bookmarking, blogging, etc., is much harder and less intuitive.
More and more, I began to notice in other workshops that knowing how to search isn’t something that always comes naturally. Participants were always happy to learn that putting quotes around a phrase will narrow their results or entering several keywords will get them closer to what they’re looking for.
So, we’ve decided that going forward one of our key competencies should be teaching search. Ongoing conversations with NGO leaders confirm that this is one of the areas where more training is wanted. And we will be ready to provide it early next year.

Meanwhile, we went back to our friends at CommonCraft—the ones who told you about RSS and Social Bookmarking—and saw that they have also produced a quick video tutorial on simple search strategies. If you like what you see, you might also want to check out the Google Cheat Sheet, which will help you make the most of that little blank box. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, click on the Advanced Search link next to the blank box and check out the Advanced Search tips, too.