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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

And the Smartest Site on the Internet Is...

Google now lets you filter sites by “reading level.”

  • December 16, 2010

The Internet used to be full of highbrow reading material, until broadband penetration exploded and everyone with a credit card managed to find his or her way onto the Web. Finding your way back to the rarefied air that used to suffuse the ‘net can be a slog, so Google has a new way to help you out: You can now sort sites by reading level.

(For those of you following along at home, under Google’s “advanced” search, simply switch on this option by hitting the dropdown next to “Reading level.”)

The results are fascinating. Searching for any term, no matter how mundane, and then hitting the “advanced” link at the top strips away all the spam, random blogs and all the rest of the claptrap from the advertisers, hucksters and mouthbreathers.

This is only one of the varieties of elitism enabled by the new feature, which was created by statistically analyzing papers from Google Scholar and school teacher-rated Web pages that are then compared to all the other sites in Google’s index.

As pioneered by Adrien Chen of Gawker, by far the most interesting application of the tool is its ability to rate the overall level of material on any given site, simply by dropping site: [domain.com] into the search box.

By this measure, the hallowed halls of the publication you’re reading now fare pretty well:

Not quite as well as some sites that share our audience:

But certainly better than certain other, decidedly middlebrow, publications:

It’s when you turn to the scientific journals that the competition really heats up:

And the battle between traditional and open access publishing models takes on a new dimension:

(Just for reference, Here’s how MIT itself performs)

And, much as I’m loathe to admit it, the smartest site on the Internet is…

Meanwhile, excluding sites aimed at children, here’s the dumbest:

If you can do better, leave it in the comments!

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