Finding That One Blue Marble

In the months straddling 2000-2001, I had the good fortune to lead the ParentsConnected Nationwide Seminar Tour alongside my business partner, Ken. We traveled around the country with our team on a John Madden-style 40-foot tour bus, running stage shows to teach kids and parents how to use the Internet in a fun and safe way.

I'm feeling a bit nostalgic, having just stumbled across a video of our adventures -- have a look if you like.

One segment of our show, Hewlett-Packard Marble Madness, involved hiding a marble of a particular shade of blue in a bowl of 4,500 other multicolored marbles. Contestants would come up on stage and have 20 seconds to try to find the correct blue marble, and match it to the "control" marble. If they found it, they won a computer.

HP Marble Madness represented a high point of excitement on the show, and it was certainly a high point of excitement for the people who won. But we were serious people (ha!), with a serious educational message. The educational message of Marble Madness was simple: searching on the Internet is like searching for the blue marble. Sometimes you find it right away, and sometimes you never find it.



At the risk of sounding cocky, I will share with you that I consider myself a reasonably advanced Web searcher. But last week, the blue marble I was after nearly defeated me. I was working on a presentation about professional development for the health sector -- specifically, front-line staff like cleaners. As it turns out, there's lots of information out there on nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, and the like, but not so much about cleaners-who-work-in-hospitals.

Pit bull that I am, I didn't give up. I visited the library. I logged onto academic databases and OECD databases. I used every search weapon in my arsenal to come up with material for my slides. Along the way, I learned lots of little tidbits that fed into my overall understanding of the topic.

People sometimes point to the increasing length of searches -- the long tail -- or to multiple searches being run consecutively, as evidence that search is broken, or, at a minimum, that it can still be improved a great deal. And no doubt it can. I would suggest, however, that there are some searches we're willing to invest in. Some searches require a bit more thought, because the very act of searching helps us better formulate the query. Some searches deserve our commitment to follow the thread wherever it leads.

My friend Chris feeds his Labrador by flinging the food across the yard. The dog has to find the food if he wants to eat. This process gives the dog exercise and stops him from gulping all the food at once. Our more complex queries, like flung food, force us to exercise our creative problem-solving abilities. From Google's perspective, this may indicate the search giant hasn't done its job well enough yet; from my perspective, I say thank God things aren't always that easy.

Don't get me wrong; there are some things I don't want to waste a lot of time on. I booked a rental car online yesterday in 30 seconds flat. But I hope that our current Internet generation and those to come are educated in the fine art of searching properly. Finding that blue marble may be tedious, but searching for it has great value.

2 comments about "Finding That One Blue Marble".
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  1. Carolyn Allen from California Green Solutions, November 10, 2009 at 12:05 p.m.

    Good points...both about learning while you are searching...and having that big ole' Lab go hunting for his food :-) The new search tools coming online are helpful both for finding a specific solution, ie: green solution for LED lights, and for learning about options you had not yet considered, such as "energy efficiency solutions for lights" We are specializing to the nth degree these days...and SEO is putting the "devil" into the details :-)

  2. Alexander Valencia from, November 10, 2009 at 12:57 p.m.

    Cheers KC.

    To good times with great people and to the blue marble that afforded many underprivileged children and families the opportunity to learn how to search, and be safe online with a shiny new HP computer.

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