Use search engines for research? Become sceptical!

September 29, 2006

As a web professional I’ve been using search engines for years and have learnt to question the validity of the information contained in a large proportion of the results. My first job using the internet involved disseminating online information to pick out the good bits to populate industry focussed portals. Back in those days, when Altavista was the engine of choice (and it was .digital then) and the web was a much smaller place than it is today, it was much easier to find good quality information for a particular topic.

Today however there is much information, and more and more of it is becoming user generated so it is difficult (especially for the less web savvy) to discover information that you can guarantee to be accurate. Of course you can just head for a website of a company you know and trust, but are you then turning your back on what’s known as the ‘invisible web’?

It’s impossible to verify so much that is published on the internet, so the user has to become sceptical. Trust only what you can verify through further research to be true. Information found on unknown websites can usually be backed up by a well known publisher.

I think the problem lies in people’s trust of the search engines. Your average web user most likely treats the ordering of search results as a kind of endorsement, they won’t fully understand how results are ranked according to relevancy of content.

Paid search is no better, with the practices of bidding on terms that may relate to your product but not actually be about it meaning that you can’t always guarantee that the paid results are relevant to your query.

Introducing some kind of trust measure into the search engine algorithms would be impossible and would skew results wildly, so there is no solution that I can see, except to become more wary and be sceptical of everything you can’t verify elsewhere!

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