Social Search

It is common for us to be asked when we are presenting, why do librarians have a problem with google? While some librarians have spoken negatively about the search engine, I think most recognize that the popular search tool has strengths. For example, on this blog, we’ve talked about Google Scholar before about how easy it is now to search within your search results and also comparing it to PubMed and Medline Plus.

Google, however, is back in the news this week facing criticism for their search results.  At the company blog, Google has responded. The post begins:

“January brought a spate of stories about Google’s search quality. Reading through some of these recent articles, you might ask whether our search quality has gotten worse. The short answer is that according to the evaluation metrics that we’ve refined over more than a decade, Google’s search quality is better than it has ever been in terms of relevance, freshness and comprehensiveness. Today, English-language spam in Google’s results is less than half what it was five years ago, and spam in most other languages is even lower than in English. However, we have seen a slight uptick of spam in recent months, and while we’ve already made progress, we have new efforts underway to continue to improve our search quality.”

Also this week, Bing came under fire for using Google data to improve their search results. What’s going on with this back and forth? While some of this is related to a public relations fight between the two companies, it also speaks to Google changing its primary and original focus from search into other areas such as free calling and now social searching.

Social search takes search beyond a search algorithm.  Social signals such as ‘Like’ buttons may become a key factor in determining the relevancy and popularity of the results we see. An example of a social search engine is Stumpedia.  Members submit new search results and select which key phrases should cause them to appear. They can also vote for search results, make friends, and the results are tailored to what you and your social network likes. A new feature for this tool is that Delicious bookmarks can be uploaded into it.

As web technology moves forward, what does this mean for libraries? Librarians and other information professionals have been thinking about how this technology effects learners and researchers. Whether librarians like it or not, students often begin their search for information with Google or similar commercial or social search engines. How people get at information and use it should be a central question for libraries. How are we serving up our content and making it available for people to use — and if we aren’t changing how we do things, should we and how can we do it in a sustainable manner?

Librarians tend to have rich expertise in thinking about learning & information literacy; scholarly publishing; and now digital publishing. We will look at some of these issues in future blog posts as we think further about the intersections between search and scholarly learning and research.

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