Posted by included in Beyond Capella Library
According to Hitwise, Google recently hit a new high in terms of search engine traffic. In May 2008 over 68% of all searches in the United States were done using Google. Yahoo placed a very distant second with just under 20%.
Frequent users of Google have probably noticed that at the top of nearly every search is a single resource: Wikipedia. In 2007 the Google Cache Blog found Wikipedia in the top ten results of 90% of their test searches.
This isn’t all that surprising. Wikipedia has nearly 2 1/2 million entries, and each entry is loaded with links to other spots within Wikipedia. The first sentence of Wikipedia’s Featured Article for today had 9 internal wikipedia links! (Most blogs, wikis, articles, etc. will link to resources outside themselves, as I have done repeatedly in this post.) Google counts links as part of its algorithm for ranking search results. The more links to a site, the more important that site must be, right?
Many web searchers never go beyond the first page of results, and it’s very tempting to choose the first or second item on the list. And more often than not, that first or second item comes from Wikipedia.
It’s starting to feel a bit ironic, doesn’t it? The internet makes an entire world of information available to us with so little effort, and here we are choosing to use a single tool to funnel us into a single resource. The amount of power that gives to Google and Wikipedia is astounding. We’re supposedly shifting from a world of publishers, reporters, and other forms of mediated content to a world where anyone and everyone can be part of the action. But with just two players taking over such huge rolls, are we really seeing the future we thought we were?
Several years ago I was working at a news organization and we all sat down in a meeting to watch Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson’s movie Epic 2014, which documents a potential future world where major internet companies have taken over the way we all receive our “news.” You can watch it on their website .
It doesn’t just apply to the news, however. The ways we interact with information (and each other) depend a lot on the conduits we choose to use. Each has benefits and drawbacks. And they have the power to change scholarship and academia greatly. In my humble librarian’s opinion, it’s something that all of us need to know a little about in order to truly think of ourselves as educated.
Now, not to get too down on resources such as Google and Wikipedia, here are some links to critical articles that may help you think about and evaluate what’s going on in the world of information:
- The Wisdom of the Chaperones: Digg, Wikipedia, and the Myth of Web 2.0 Democracy by Chris Wilson in Slate.
- Limits of Self-organization: Peer Production and “Laws of Quality” by Paul Duguid in First Monday. (Especially the Wikipedia section, which brings up questions of plagiarism and accuracy – important questions for any resource.)
- The Battle for Wikipedia’s Soul, from the Economist
- Is Google Making Us Stupid? by Guy Billout in The Atlantic Monthly.
How will all of this change the way we think and learn? Will ideas will be stifled or lost in the new media world? What new ideas finally have a chance to rise in this internet age? Are we able to sort the wheat from the chaff? And what happens if we don’t?