Tuesday, July 6, 2010

All About Google

I was reading this chart earlier today, and I thought a lot of you might be interested in stopping for a moment and thinking about what search engines really are doing. Click on over and check it out, then come back here for some discussion.


Good. Searching online has become such an ingrained part of our lives these days. (At least, it's an ingrained part of my life, but maybe that's because I do it professionally.) But do we stop to think about who's controlling where we get what information? I mean, when I go to search for a product on Amazon, I recognize that it's a store, and they're trying to get me to buy something. That's where they make their money. Happily enough for both of us, I'm looking to spend money--and I'm often looking for the best deal on ______ possible--as long as ______ has some really good reviews. Our purposes align, money changes hands, and we're both happy. Everything's above board and straightforward.

When I go to Wikipedia, I do so knowing that I might not get 100% all of the information on a topic, and that not all of it will be 100% accurate, but I can do a simple search there and find adequate information to fill most basic needs. I wouldn't go there to learn how to become a brain surgeon, but to find out the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow, it works pretty well. (Answer: about 24mph. First go here, which links to here--nifty!) Again, I realize I'm asking the masses a question, and the masses respond with their wisdom. Case closed. Wikipedia is non-profit, so no need to worry about who's making the money.

But what about Google? Everything seems okay at first. I go to Google, enter my search, and Google connects me with information. Find, right? Well, okay. But follow the money. Where does Google get it? From selling ads to companies. And what do companies get in return? Featured spots on Google's results pages, depending on the search terms. So someone can buy their way into your search results list. Hrm . . . Still feeling okay with Google? (And other search engines--I'm just using Google as an example.) What if we librarians did the same thing? What if we started offering authors and publishers the opportunity to buy placement on our shelves? We'd promote the paid material to users. Libraries get their funding, users get their information, and companies get people using their books. Everyone wins, right?


The thing is, we librarians believe information wants to be free. We try to give as much information as possible to as many people as possible. We also do our best not to filter that information. We emphasize accuracy of the information, but we shy away from promoting one source over another. We aim to add quality materials to our collections, but then promote them all equally. This isn't always what ends up happening, but it's our goal. We don't make money off information. (We make money off you returning that information late. Mwa ha ha ha! Just kidding.)

Seeing how much people do with information they find these days (research jobs, find medical and financial advice, etc.), isn't it important to be able to get unbiased information? I'm not saying we need to abandon Google--but we need to use it knowing what sort of a beast it is.

Make sense? What are your thoughts? Share share share!

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