Going Against Goliath: OBRC vs. Google

The Online Bioinformatics Resources Collection (OBRC) is a freely searchable collection of over 2,600 bioinformatics databases and software tools on the Web. The HSLS Molecular Biology Information Service created the tool and maintains it regularly.

A criticism of OBRC is, “Why bother [searching OBRC]? You can just use Google!” To answer this question, a research project was developed comparing Google to OBRC for locating bioinformatics tools. The project intended to answer three questions:

  1. Is OBRC superior to Google at locating bioinformatics resources quickly, easily and successfully?
  2. Does OBRC leave users more satisfied than Google with the results of their search and the overall experience?
  3. Do users want to use OBRC again for their research?

Ten biology graduate students were recruited. Each was assigned three tasks to find bioinformatics resources, using both Google and OBRC. Their searches were recorded using screen capture software, and they narrated their actions and thoughts while searching. The time spent searching, number of search queries, and number of sites visited were recorded. If they gave up without locating a resource, that was recorded as well. Afterward, they completed a survey regarding their opinions about both Google and OBRC. Specifically, they were asked how appropriate the results were, how easy each tool was to use, and then rated their entire experience. They were also asked how likely they were to use the OBRC again for their own research.

On average, the users spent twice as much time searching Google as they did searching OBRC. They visited slightly more sites with Google and used slightly more search queries. Users failed to find relevant information using Google 30% of the time, while they were 100% successful using OBRC. They had overwhelmingly positive reactions to OBRC, while Google only garnered negative or neutral ratings. The majority of students plan to use OBRC again in the future, and many asked when it would be available, not realizing it already was. Their comments suggested that they felt that Google was too time consuming and frustrating, while OBRC was very direct.

OBRC’s success shows that libraries can and should produce niche search tools, and they must aggressively market them to users.

~ Katrina Kurtz