The Shodan Search Engine IS a Bit Scary

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But it may be indicative of the lurking loss of privacy and security we seem to freely exchange for the convenience of connectivity.

There are search engines out there specializing in all sorts of online information. I have highlighted some here, for example search tools that delve into the deep web. Shodan is different. Shodan searches for devices connected to the Web. Like servers. Printers. Routers. Webcams. Security cameras. Control systems for water parks. Really? Yup, really. And it can see what is secured out there and what is unsecured. From a CNN Money article that ran the rounds yesterday:

A quick search for “default password” reveals countless printers, servers and system control devices that use “admin” as their user name and “1234″ as their password. Many more connected systems require no credentials at all — all you need is a Web browser to connect to them.

Search parameters include location by city or county, latitude or longitude. Or search by hostname, operating system or IP address. It also allows you to export your search results by XML, so you can take it with you, with the IP and physical location associated with the result. And, if you don’t want to do the heavy lifting, let some other hackers users do the work for you with shared searches.

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Even scarier, use Shodan Exploits to search for known vulnerabilities and exploits lurking out there.

I can hear you now – “Oh.Em.Gee. How long has this been out there?” Three years. When you search one of their shared searches for, say, video web servers, you will see results from 2010 forward. Shodan is celebrating its three year anniversary with a decent flurry of press activity. Great. Now more hackers users will know about this means of tapping stuff.

I totally understand that being fore-warned is to be fore-armed, and that the principle purpose of this is to enhance security rather than shake up that fragile concept, but my pessimistic self can’t help but consider all the nefarious uses such a tool could promote. It is all great if device owners take heed and actually start securing these devices. FWIW, SHODAN (Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network) apparently is a name used for a fictional AI antagonist in the cyberpunk action role-playing video games System Shock and System Shock 2. Take from that what you may/will.

Shodan invites you to register using your social logins, but I had no problem running some searches without registering. Check it out. And be chilled.

Little Bird is Your Avian-Robot-Web-Based Librarian

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I know. Quite a mouthful. But it is a title fit for the endless sea of information that is the Internet. And the depth and breadth is only growing. How do you target your time and resources effectively to get to the information you need quickly? Back in the day, you would go to your public library, school library, or law library and enlist the assistance of the librarian, skilled in the art of finding the needle in the haystack of stacks. She or he even knew how to use a card catalog! But, there is no librarian patiently standing at the entrance to the World Wide Web. Or is there?

Enter Little Bird. Little Bird “bills” itself as the Robot Librarian for the Web. But it is more than just a search engine for information. Little Bird’s creator, former ReadWriteWeb writer Marshall Kirkpatrick, clearly understands that there is more value in connecting with the people who know than simply finding the right bits and bytes. So Little Bird seems to be more about panning for the influencers and experts in a given field, seeking out the connections and interactions between these people and mining that information that passes from them for you.

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I poked around on Little Bird’s site, using a password that simply allows me to view what is going on, as it is still in private, invite-only beta. I could see that listings and profile cards lean heavily on Twitter, although the engine behind the site isn’t limited to Twitter activity as it also can tap blog posts and LinkedIn activity. The more connections between top influencers – both in the form of content creation and in amount of attention to creators – the higher the influencers rank in results on Little Bird. As a result, it would be difficult to artificially promote oneself in Little Bird results as the engine also measures the quality of the influencers followers – purchasers of followers need not apply.

So, how do you use it? You can either browse “reports” created by others on various topics, or create your own. The site suggests that you don’t search on too broad or too narrow a topic in order to maximize your results. Once you have a topic, Little Bird “seeds” your search with a few good people, which you can keep or discard. When you run your search, Little Bird will look for experts on your topic in Twitter’s stream, analyze who is following those experts, and automatically build an index of the community of connections between experts in your chosen field. Run the search and get back a “report” of the top 500 experts in the field, and from there explore their content.

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You can also compare two Twitter users and see overlap and connections between follows and followers. This information can offer insight into how the influencer interacts with his or her community. Use this information to map how you might engage with this influencer and build your own influence. Because, as web denizens know, it really is all about influence these days.

There is also more “generic” information that you can browse, such as “hot news”, magazines built from shared material from influencers, most highly linked blogs, and direct search of topic insiders blogs and other content.

I am not surprised Marshall is behind this effort. I used to really enjoy reading his posts about crafting ways to automate his search to find whatever information he might be looking for – going deep into the Web trenches to pull data and make connections between data. He has gotten a great deal of interest from investors and other influencers, so hopefully Little Bird can move from private beta to full blown public web tool soon. Congrats and best wishes to the Little Bird team – sounds like a fascinating new way to gain insights and connections on the web.

Introducing Facebook’s Graph Search

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It’s been a while since Facebook has done anything interesting enough for me to write about. The wait is over, apparently, as today Mr. Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s new Graph Search. What is Graph Search? No, it’s not a method for finding a visual for your business stats course. It is Facebook’s way of “giving back” to its users a little of that user data it has been hoarding for the past 6 or so years.

Introducing Graph Search

Graph Search is essentially a search engine of Facebook’s “social graph” – a network dataset which describes the connections between people, or in other terms “the global mapping of everybody and how they’re related” per Wikipedia. Apparently, Facebook has been developing this engine for years, and either has finally perfected it or has simply gotten to the point where there are enough datapoints to make such a search tool viable – there are more than 1 billion people, 240 billion photos and 1 trillion connections within the social graph.

How does it work? Users (it is only in limited beta preview for U.S. users only) will be able to search queries across this graph like “people who eat sushi” or “people who eat sushi who also live in Seattle.”  Or, you can search things like “TV shows that my friends watch” or “languages my friends speak.” Or maybe “places my friends visit.” The results that come up are culled from your Facebook friends, as well as other information made publicly available by others on Facebook. Scary? Perhaps a little, but Facebook assures that users will only be able to search the content that has been made available to them. The net effect is that everyone’s search results for the same query will be different and custom tailored to them and their own social graph.

When it rolls out, users will see a search box at the top of the Facebook site that invites you to “search for people, places and things.” It will predict your search as you type, offering options, and the results page can be further filtered and massaged. Results will be ranked with the highest hits being the ones with the most interactions, likes and comments. Web searches can also be run – Facebook has partnered with Bing to provide those results to you.

Obviously, you are thinking about privacy right now. And you are right to do so, particularly when Facebook rolls out something new. Facebook is moving preemptively to assuage concerns – check out the video below:

What about the business angle? Graph Search will work for business Pages too. Along with the organic results for business-related inquiries, Facebook has indicated it will include sponsored links in the results. Obviously, making sure your Page is up to date, adding new content and cultivating fans and interactions will be important in securing high spots in more searches.

No matter how one feels about privacy, Facebook, etc., there is no doubt that Facebook’s new Social Graph Search is a huge announcement. Google has no access to this wealth of personal data. Facebook clearly is positioning itself as a formidable search option when those personal connections are a priority. And, as the world becomes more and more impersonal, those connections are sure to gain importance.

Why DuckDuckGo?

I have featured DuckDuckGo here in the Studio before, but this article at MakeUseOf has prompted me to bring it up again. That, and the fact that I always run substantive searches in DuckDuckGo as well as that other search engine everyone “flocks” to. Seems redundant, sure, but there are plenty of good reasons to do so if you want to make certain you are really getting the goods.

 

DuckDuckGo has the ubiquitous search box on its main page and a results page full of links. But it also has zero click pages which permit you to instantly access sources by the type of term you enter in the search box. Type “define” and a word and you will get a Merriam Webster definition. Or a name, and access Crunchbase. Or a song lyric and access LyricBase. And numerous other databases of information. Zero click allows you to get an “answer” rather than links – you will see results to queries that give answers from Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia, and many other reputable sites, enabling you to collapse your search efforts and answer questions from the results page. If your term is more on the ambiguous side, DuckDuckGo will respond with variations on the theme, broken out by category, to help direct you to the right results. You can even enter emoticons into the search box and get back their meaning in the results.

 

Click the down arrow next to the search icon, and you can feel “ducky” instead of Google’s “I feel lucky” instant results. There are other prompts in the drop down as well.

 

Check out the Goodies page on DuckDuckGo for more search tools (there is also a Tech Goodies page, with more technologically specific data and tools).   You will boxes for entering searches for Calculations, Conversions, Dates, Entertainment, Facts, Finance, Food, Geography, IDs, Language, Random, Time Sensitive, and Transformations. There are some location aware searches that will pull relevant information from your locale in responding to your search request. For example, type in “Is it Raining?” and get a local weather report discussing the chances of rain in your area.

 

DuckDuckGo has built-in syntax for searching that will assist in formulating queries. Related to this, the search engine features a tool called !Bang – there are hundreds of sites that the engine will search directly when you precede the search term with an exclamation point. Such as typing in !Amazon portable basketball hoops and go straight to Amazon’s search results. This covers most major sites and most general terms. For a complete list, check out the !Bang page here.

 

If you are missing Google’s auto-complete, a DuckDuckGo user has created a browser add-on that combines the search engine with Google’s auto-complete – check out DDG + Google Suggest.

 

Private browsing is enabled by default, which is a nice change of pace. Furthermore, and this is the reason I like it for searching, it does not attempt to tailor results to your interests – you will get results based solely on your search terms. DuckDuckGo’s results are a compilation of many sources, including Yahoo! Search BOSS, Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha and its own Web crawler, the DuckDuckBot. As I previously reported, the engine automatically deletes results from sites believed to be “content mills”, ostensibly improving the quality of the results. While Google recently has made attempts to cull out similar sites, DDG has been doing it all along. You can also employ voice search on DuckDuckGo with the Chrome browser, with another user submitted add on.

 

There are mobile apps as well:

Check out the add-ons page for more tools.

 

People tend to default to Google because it’s there. But there are so many other great search options out there – you may be missing some key information. Check out the browser comparison charts here to get an overview of some of the other choices you could make when searching your terms.

 

Broaden your search and broaden your horizons. DuckDuckGo is a great place to start. Load it into your browser using the instructions at the Tools page and you’re good to go.

When You Need To Dig Deeper In Your Search

I was asked earlier today to find something that Google couldn’t find, at least for free anyway. So what did I do? I did the deep dive, of course.

I haven’t touched on this topic recently here in the Studio, so the time is ripe. I am talking about the “deep web”, the “invisible web” of data and documents hosted on the Internet that traditional search bots and crawlers of Google and similar ilk can’t seem to index. It is estimated that the invisible web is 500 times larger than the searchable portion of the Web, which we all know is pretty freaking big to begin with. Sometimes, you won’t be able to find what you are looking for using traditional search engines, so what do you do? You use some tricks to access those hidden databases, of course – you are more than 500 times more likely to find the goods.

If you are looking for a search engine tuned to deep web searching, check out this great list (over 100!) broken down by topic, curated by the Online Education Database.

If you are looking for information that is more geared towards the legal profession, you can do no better than this great list of invisible web resources over at LLRX curated by Marcus Zillman.

Wondering what I was looking for? A current list of legislation across the 50 states pertaining to medical malpractice, particularly tort damages caps. I found it in a database maintained by the National Association of State Legislatures. I didn’t have to pay a cent for it. Thanks guys! Sorry Westlaw.

 

 

Blekko – The Grown Up Search Engine

There is a lot to like about Google, yet there is also a lot to dislike too. An inherent distrust of results on first glance is one of my personal pet peeves. One never know if the top site on Google contains a scholarly answer to your question or is simply the result of cleverly crafted SEO.

Blekko (link here) is an upstart engine that hopes to address some of those woes. Blekko, which is publicly available as of today, trolls three billion Web pages it deems worthy and shows the very best results on any given topic. These “curated” pages are known in Blekko-ese by the somewhat unfortunate name of “slashtags.”

Blekko’s creators know enough to weed out pages that are churned out by companies on topics the company deems popular by people who may not fit your particular definition of “scholarly.” Blekko also leverages vertical search engines on specific topics – a better way to gain depth in results.

It is also drawing on a fruitful category of Web search — vertical search engines that offer results on specific topics. Search within one of Blekko’s topics and you will see the benefits of  weeded, reliable vertical search.
Tailor your search by identifying a single site and desired object, search by specific types of results or topics. Use the slashtag to segregate search commands such as “iphone/antenna” to narrow in on just the articles of interest. Use Blekko’s slashtags, create your own or edit existing tags to suit your needs. What about the spammers getting in and editing the slashtags? Blekko advises that it will police its own processes, Wikipedia-style, as it is committed to staying true to its course.
A different angle on search is a good thing. Hope Blekko is onto something here.

Make Your Own Pretty Search Engine Page

Do you like the look of Bing with its photo backgrounds? I do, but I don’t like to be tied to a Bing search.

You can file favitt.com under “visually appealing” first and “productivity and efficiency” tools second, but I found it cool nonetheless. Favitt is essentially a Google custom search page on which you can apply your own skin or photo background, and toggle between different search engines. Choices include Google, Images, Bing, YouTube, News, Amazon, Wikipedia, Twitter, Digg, Last.fm, Yelp, Answers, and Maps. Favitt also allows you to add links on the search page to your favorite sites including FAcebook, MySpace, Twitter, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Hot Mail.

It is efficient in the sense that it offers you the ability to toggle between a variety of popular search tools and use quick links for favorite sites. And looking nice while doing it. Favitt promises that new features are coming. We shall see.

Check out my Favitt page here (link here).

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Heapr Is A Fast, All-In-One Search Option

Want a comprehensive search but don’t have the time to hit all the major engines? Check out Heapr (link here). Heapr will show results from Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, WolframAlpha, Flickr, and more. It’s cool and its really fast – it starts searching as you type and only loads one page at a time. Images will show you both Google images and Flickr images. Videos show results from YouTube, Vimeo and Hulu on the same page. You can download YouTube vids with a single click. The lite version of Heapr just hits up Google but does it much faster than Google itself!

Heapr offers a browser plug-in so you can access Heapr’s search from the little browser box in your bar. Go ahead and check it out – bet you will be as impressed as I was.

I got the screen below in response to my “tweetie purchase” search in about 2 seconds. Wow. Oh, and for you ad-phobes, there are no ads. Really. It also looks like there are some features in the pipe-line, including customizable layouts, color themes, widgets and speed enhancements. A service to watch, for sure.

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Search PDFs & eBooks via Live PDF (and Google & Bing)

With new content consumption devices popping up faster than you can spell “i-P-a-d”, you surely will need some content to consume. How about a search engine for PDFs and eBooks. Live PDF (link here) lets you query Google or Bing (although not at the same time) via a single search interface for PDFs and eBooks on any topic. Your results will take you straight to the downloadable content, where you can whisk it from the ether into your internet-enabled reading device.

There are no filters, categories, sorting options or any other form of data / search manipulation tools on the page, but you can view the last 10 searches! Here is to hoping that one of the previous ten visitors was looking up stuff on the semantic Web!

Thanks, MakeUseOf!

MetaSearch For eBooks

Search engine fun day continues with this cool metasearch engine for eBooks called Addall. Addall searches over 30 sites for great stuff to e-read. Filter by author, title, keyword or ISBN. Results show in table form, with the elements of the table also serving as filtering tools. Both free and paid books are included, but you can sort by that trait as well. You also can narrow by book format (Kindle, HTML, PDF) and can exclude terms. Did you get a new Kindle or other eReader for Christmas? Then this search engine’ s for YOU!

Hat tip to ResearchBuzz