TAG | infobesity

 

 

Google is without a doubt the most widely used search engine in the world, and has far outstripped its rivals in terms of popularity and usage, to the extent that the verb ‘google’ is now  part of our common language. In 2008 Google was handling 65 million searches per hour (Britannica Online). In 2010, one estimate was 34,000 searches per second (2 million per minute; 121 million per hour; 3 billion per day; 88 billion per month). Google is fast, clean and returns more results than any other search engine, but does it really find the information students need for quality academic research?   According to Dr Marcus Leaning from the University of Winchester, the answer is often ‘no’.  He states, “while simply typing words into Google will work for many tasks, academic research demands more.” (Searching for and finding new information – tools, strategies and techniques, August 27, 2010)

As far back as 2004, James Morris, Dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, coined the term “infobesity,” to describe “the outcome of Google-izing research: a junk-information diet, consisting of overwhelming amounts of low-quality material that is hard to digest and leads to research papers of equally low quality.” (Is Google enough? Comparison of an internet search engine with academic library resources.)

Our challenge is to encourage our students to move from infobesity to infodieting.

Five reasons not to use Google first

  1. Google gives you the good with the bad, a mixture of trustworthy and not-so-trustworthy web sites. On the internet there is no standardized review process by editors, publishers, and librarians and very little control over what is being published. A website could be created by anyone, with few or no credentials, and they could present misinformation, biased information or false information.   It takes time and effort to check the validity and reliability of every website, and very few students would regularly do this.
  2. Google’s priority ranking system is determined by software and is dependant, to a large extent, on how many times a particular website has been linked to by others – i.e. its popularity.  However popular websites are not necessarily truthful or trustworthy. When these sites are listed first, students search them first, thus reinforcing the number of links to them and ensuring they stay near the top of the rankings.
  3. Google returns too many results. Students rarely search beyond the first one or two pages of results, and if they haven’t been taught to search properly, they can keep retrieving the same sites again and again. They need to be taught the techniques of power searching – effective ways to access high-quality information – otherwise they will waste a lot of time viewing irrelevant websites.  (Beyond Google – 15 Tools and Strategies for Improving Your Web Search Results)
  4. Google (and other popular search engines) are unreliable at searching the deep web, peer-reviewed or refereed content.  Google only searches a small percentage of the content available on the web, information  referred to as the visible web or the surface web. According to BrightPlanet, the “total quality content of the Deep Web is at least 1,000 to 5,000 times greater than that of the Surface Web.” The invisible or deep web often requires the use of passwords to access the information (e.g. subscription databases) or these sites use their own search engines, thus effectively blocking Google from accessing them.
  5. Advertisments, links and pop-ups are displayed on websites for profit, and can distract students when researching.

According to Chris Sherman, Associate Editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, “vast expanses of the Web are completely invisible to general purpose search engines” but there are ways “to find the hidden gems search engines can’t see.” (quoted in Those Dark Hiding Places: The Invisible Web Revealed). The New York Times in 2009 also quoted Chris Sherman as saying,  “Google faces a real challenge …  They want to make the experience better, but they have to be supercautious with making changes for fear of alienating their users.” (Exploring a ‘Deep Web’ that Google Can’t Grasp)

While Google is an extremely useful search engine for many purposes, it is essential that for academic research our students learn to access quality information located in our subscription databases and in the deep web. At Brisbane Grammar School we are always working towards this goal.

When Not to Google: Searches You’re Better Off Making Elsewhere

Image from http://www.pro-webmarketing.com/search-engines

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