Searching In Katrina's Aftermath

Coming to grips with Hurricane Katrina is impossible. The loss of life, the destruction of a city on a biblical magnitude, and the survival struggles for the masses of uprooted countrymen is beyond my comprehension. Though I can't make sense of it, I can take a more detached view, and look at how Katrina is represented in search results.

Here are some anecdotal findings after conducting scores of searches on the subject in Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Ask Jeeves, and Dogpile. Although I note some sites as standing out and some sites as delivering puzzling results, there's a major caveat here. Think back to 1992. Hurricane Andrew hits. You're looking for ways to help, for information on loved ones, for the latest news. How did you do this in 1992?

It all seems archaic, doesn't it?

On to the search review.

Best Ad Title: "Help Pets Hurt By Katrina"--The Humane Society of the United States, on Google. There's an emotional plea with a call to action in the headline, and it stands out from all the other relief ads.



Most Informative Link: Wikipedia earned its share of first-page rankings for Katrina-related searches. Copying its page on the hurricane into Microsoft Word translated into 31 pages of text, just shy of 10,000 words. That's the word count of about a dozen of these columns, or four times as long as the script to a 15-minute presentation I just recorded. And it's all user-generated and user-edited. With content this rich and so well-organized in an ultra-hyperlinked, outlined format, it's no wonder that search engines love the site too.

Best Search Engine Addition: Ask Jeeves compiled a special page of links, with charitable organizations, health and safety resources, and local information. No frills, nothing special--just a convenient resource that it perches atop search results for relevant searches.

Notable Search Engine Omission: Ask Jeeves wins this one too, oddly enough. In the "Narrow Your Search" field on the top right when searching for "Katrina," not one of the ten suggested terms involves the hurricane. Instead, you get selections such as "Katrina the Waves" (referring to a band), "Mistress Katrina" (not sure what this means, but natural results included references to a "professional sadist"), and "Katrina Campins Apprentice." Perhaps the Jeeves links aren't updated that regularly. Yet AOL also has a "Narrow Your Search" field, and for "Katrina," the top link says "victims of hurricane," and all the other links are related to it.

Best Charity Resources: Various helpful natural and paid links came up when searching for Katrina-related information, and you may want to check out a few. After trying the Better Business Bureau site to research charities, I found better information at, the site for the BBB Wise Giving Alliance, which has detailed reports along with giving guides, tips, and other resources. Network for Good lists about 60 charities accepting donations to help Katrina victims, and also provides volunteer opportunities. Charity Navigator rates organizations on a four-star scale, lists expenses and revenues in clear graphs, and ranks charities compared to their peers. Register for free to see even more detailed reports.

Best Video Search: I'll give this one to a surprise pick, Dogpile. The link to video search was particularly prominent in Dogpile, and was easy to navigate. Google didn't have such a link at all. Yahoo!'s is actually the best video search experience, with a link in the top navigation, hundreds of links, and stills for each one--although I didn't think to try video search until using Dogpile, which makes it stand out. Thus, here, the award doesn't go to the functionality as much as it goes to the marketing.

Best Government Site: Ranking #1 in Yahoo! for "Hurricane Katrina," is an admirable resource. Unfortunately, most of the people who could benefit the most don't have the best Internet access right now. Although the state has been maligned over its response times, the online response came together in a hurry.

It's Not All About Katrina: In other news, Britney Spears has spent over 1,050 days in the Yahoo! Buzz Index Top 20. Meanwhile, I feel so out of it. Another top 20 mainstay is Ciara. I thought this was either a pharmaceutical brand or an online advertising company, but much to my surprise, Cialis and Claria aren't nearly as popular as the singer. Her website has a feature "Ask Ciara," which I thought could be a takeoff on Ask Jeeves. It turns out it's just a list of her answering readers' questions, and, to save you the time, she likes soul food, Michael Jackson, and "bad boys," and wants a G-Wagon. If I ever get tired of marketing, I'll be a rapper named G-Wagon and ride around with Jay-Z and P. Diddy.

After searching through all the Katrina links, a little Ciara was a welcome diversion. And what was she doing around this point in 1992? Based on her birthday, found on Wikipedia, she was entering second grade.

At least in some ways, we are better off than we were 13 years ago.

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