Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Is Google Making Us Stupid?: A Britannica Forum

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

In his cover article in the July/August issue of the The Atlantic Monthly (“Is Google Making Us Stupid?“), Nicholas Carr raises what for some will be an alarming prospect: that we may soon face the end of reading, the end of thinking, and the end of culture as we have known them for hundreds of years, thanks to the Internet and the dramatic ways in which it is reshaping the way we learn, interact, and express ourselves.

He begins with a personal reflection:

“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

Carr believes the problem stems from the years he has spent on the Internet. For a writer, researcher, and blogger like him, the Net has been a blessing, he admits, putting hitherto unprecedented volumes of information at his fingertips. But the blessing has also been a curse because of how the Internet does it. “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles,” he says. “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

Here at Britannica, the article struck us as important, and not simply because Carr is a member of our editorial board. That his stark vision of the future is both noteworthy and, at the same time, that it may not be the final word on the subject prompted us to hold a forum on the Britannica Blog in which we invited comments from several other writers who think intelligently about these issues.  Contributors, in addition to Carr, include Clay Shirky, Sven Birkerts, Larry Sanger, Michael Gorman, Robert McHenry, and Matthew Battles. Come and see the forum at the Britannica Blog

Personalized Search is here — try it

Monday, May 5th, 2008

The volume of information on the Web makes it virtually impossible to find anything without the use of Search Engines. Increasingly we are using the search engine for all our information needs, and therefore what we find is getting ever more dependent on how search engines rank their results.

Search engines use various factors to rank their results, but the single most important factor is how many web sites link to a particular page. That is, Search Engines look at each link to a page as a vote of confidence for that page and ranks the most popular pages at the top. This works most of the time, but it has a significant limitation. Once a page climbs towards the top of the list for a specific search, more people find it, and therefore more people are likely to link to that same page. In other words, once a page reaches a high rank, it has a natural tendency to climb higher. Apart from this technical limitation, we also know that when it comes to reliable and useful information, popularity is not always the only or best indicator. If popularity decided truth then we’d still believe that the sun rotates around the earth.

Recognizing that this one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t satisfy everyone’s needs, Google is gradually moving towards “Personalized Search”, where the search results you see for a particular search term are going to be slightly different from what everyone else sees. The first step towards that is a feature called “Google Subscribed Links”. This allows each of us to impose our own preferences and needs on Google’s generic search results. Using this anyone can let Google know of the content providers they trust and Google then makes sure that results from these selected sites would come up on the first page of their results. For example, if you consider Encyclopaedia Britannica as one of your trusted source, all you have to do is to go to this page and click on the “Subscribe” button next to “Encyclopaedia Britannica”. If you don’t have an account on Google then you will have to create one using your existing e-mail address.

Once you subscribe to this feature, any time you search on Google for any topic where Britannica has an article, this will be offered to you as a special search result on the first page of Google results (currently the fourth result on the first page). Since it doesn’t affect the search results in any other way, there is absolutely no harm in keeping it there. So, give it a try and you won’t regret it. Let Google’s search results reflect your personal needs.

Click on this link to add Britannica to your personalized Google results