The Seach: Chapter 2: Who, What, Where, Why, When and How (Much)

The Librarian's Book Club discussion of "The Search" by John Battelle continues:


Chapter 2 starts off with a smart idea: Who, What ,Where, Why, When "and a corollary: who's making the money, and how much?" Good on Battelle for thinking of the profit motive here.


Another good quote that caught my eye, on page 23: "At the end of the day, the holy grail of all search engines is to decipher your true intent – what you are looking for, and in what context." And when that happens, will we be needed? Once computers become "extraordinarily good at incoherence", once they can understand the "nearly infinite combinations of dialects, words and numbers", would anyone even bother asking for help? Will they ever overcome the complexities of language? How far away is that day? The "What" section would have been a perfect place to talk about how cataloging relates to how search engines work.


Google says over 50% of all searches are unique. Though the "long tail" thing is old and tired, it's an important thing to consider when we're talking about how people search. Another neat factoid I hadn't considered is the vast majority of searching is done in languages other than English.


"So why do we search? To recover that which we know exists on the web, and to discover that which we assume must be there..."


"How Much" reminds me that though libraries and search engines strive for some similar goals, e.g. getting answers to questions, they are after a very different end result, money. I'm not sure if that's a bad thing, though it certainly can be corrupting. We strive to find the best results for our users. They strive to serve them the best ads.

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Reference Interview

Blake mentioned this:
Another good quote that caught my eye, on page 23: "At the end of the day, the holy grail of all search engines is to decipher your true intent – what you are looking for, and in what context."
I also noticed this line and it made me think about what librarians do to decipher true intent. One tool we use is the reference interview. In Chapter One of the book I noticed this: "The Goal of Google and other search companies is to provide people with information and make it useful to them," Silverstein tells me. "The open question is whether human-level understanding is necessary to fulfill that goal. I would argue that it is." (Silverstein is mentioned in the book as "Google employee number one)
Two points on this. Librarians are already providing human level understanding in information finding transactions. One problem with librarians is that we cannot handle the huge bulk of questions posed to Google each day. There are not enough librarians to intermediate each search on Google. The other thing I thought of when reading this was that to become better Google would need to start interacting with the user. Asking questions. Taking the feedback and reformulating the search.

Chapters two and three: "Search Before Google"

As I read chapters two and in particular, three, the thought entered my mind on how and if librarians could have contributed to the development of the various search engines in the 1990's. Could we do so now? So much of the technology is computer programming based, but are there areas that we could have helped develop? Could we have initiated development of other search engines?If you haven't read chapter three yet, there is a fascinating examination into the development of the pre-Google engines, e.g., Lycos, Excite, AltaVista, etc.

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