“Marginalia” up-ranks sites that are text-heavy — with truly offbeat results. Call it “serendipity engineering”…and downranking ones that are highly visual, loaded with modern web cruft, and SEO-optimized.
The upshot, as the creator suggests, is that you wind up with a lot of weird results very different from the usual fare coughed up by Google or Bing or even DuckDuckGo. In s sense, Marginalia is doing…
…the opposite of what most major search engines do, they favor modern websites over old-looking ones. Most links you find here will be nearly impossible to find on a regular search engine, as they aren’t sufficiently search engine optimized.
The purpose of the tool is primarily to help you find and navigate the strange parts of the internet.
“When I did an ego-search for myself,” says Clive, “Marginalia basically ignored all of my modern presence online — Instead, it was an absolute smorgasbord of deep-cut Clive Thompson material — going back literally 25 years into the Internet’s Precambrian past. One of the top links was to a contribution I made to an email newsletter in 1996 (!!).”
This is the kind of pure “serendipity engineering” that’s hard to find in the contemporary tech ecosystem. Conventional search engines certainly don’t encourage the stumbling upon of new information – the facts, figures, history, and storytelling that reaches toward a very particular spot on the vast landscape of a unique set of interests with kung fu grip. But maybe they should. After all, isn’t that how most of us picked our college majors?
No disrespect to the just-the-facts search engines out there. After all, that’s usually what we want. And we get it in spades. No issue is up for debate in an era where everyone in the room carries around with them a supercomputing smartphone. We are a culture that definitively knows, and should we find ourselves stumped, we are tooled with the means to find answers.
But who doesn’t also love the happenstance and spontaneity that occurs when you’re at a computer or on your phone with no particular task at hand, and your mind starts to wander. You have a notion, search it, learn. You’re diverted. A new interest. Read. Consume. And deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole you go. That’s how real learning is done!
Speaking of which, here is a seriously meta piece of bonus content – a Reddit hole, if you will about the best rabbit holes on the internet today. Personal favorites: My 90’s TV and all the various content on sourdough bread making.