Friday, July 9, 2010

RE: Copernicus, Cataloging, and the Chairs on the Titanic, Part 1 [Long Post]

Posting on NGC4LIB

Jimmy Ghaphery wrote:

<snip>
It's a tough sell, that only a deep researcher might appreciate
http://www.google.com/search?q=caravaggio+paintings
vs
http://tinyurl.com/39o77fr

I do hear you though Jim. Google is a commercial entity despite the do no evil mantra. I actually think we are barking up the tree that Alex was tossing our way. I too would love to see a high quality unbiased and ethical library search that rivals the features of commercial search. I just don't see us as terribly close, which is especially frustrating as I too believe the information and services we provide are vital.
</snip>

I agree: it is a *very* tough sell and my concern is that we are doing nothing about it, except for RDA, which--let's face it--will cost a lot in time and money, and won't change anything at all for our users.

<snip>
The following article was very eye opening to me on the evolution of commercial search in terms of what is under the hood and constantly changing:
"On most Google queries, you're actually in multiple control or experimental groups simultaneously,"
http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/02/ff_google_algorithm/all/1
</snip>

Thank you for this very interesting article. A few quotes caught my eye:

"The data people generate when they search — what results they click on, what words they replace in the query when they're unsatisfied, how their queries match with their physical locations — turns out to be an invaluable resource in discovering new signals and improving the relevance of results. The most direct example of this process is what Google calls personalized search — a feature that uses someone's search history and location as signals to determine what kind of results they'll find useful."

"Throughout its history, Google has devised ways of adding more signals, all without disrupting its users' core experience. Every couple of years there's a major change in the system — sort of equivalent to a new version of Windows — that's a big deal in Mountain View but not discussed publicly. "Our job is to basically change the engines on a plane that is flying at 1,000 kilometers an hour, 30,000 feet above Earth," Singhal says."

"That same year, an engineer named Krishna Bharat, figuring that links from recognized authorities should carry more weight, devised a powerful signal that confers extra credibility to references from experts' sites."

A lot of this really bothers me and reminds me of the famous Bismarck (apparently apocryphal) quote about laws and sausages: "Laws are like sausages. You should never watch them being made." I guess search engine algorithms are of the same type!

These people, who seem to be engineers and I am sure mean well, are wielding incredible power and potentially, they could have even more. For example, who decides who is a "recognized authority"? And location helps to determine your information needs? Like, you are in the poor part of a town vs. a rich part of a town? Or a poor country vs. a rich country? And I found it very interesting they they do these *incredible* changes to the information that is served up to you, but they work very hard to make sure you don't notice it.

Definitely food for thought and consideration.

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