Since I began teaching reference, I have discouraged students from using Google for their treasure hunts for a variety of reasons, mostly because I know they already know how to search Google. As Google changes, though, my new reason for discouraging students from using Google is that their new attempts to personalize and socialize search results are leading away from “objective” understandings of a page’s quality*. For many reasons, this is not good for library use.

I was one of the early adopters of Google. It was refreshing after the cluttered pages of Yahoo and Lycos to see that simple expanse of white. As they perfected their algorithms, the searches got more and more precise. I knew I could get a balance of precision and recall that was satisfying to me. At some point, the search results began to get less and less satisfying. I could tell when they were messing with their algorithms because it would get harder to get good results with the same search strings I had been using all along. Here is one person’s example. I was getting irrelevant results like this all the time. (In fact, I just searched for “precision and recall” on Google and got pages of SEO pages, along with wikipedia and scholarly articles I don’t have access to at home without jumping through hoops.) Part of the reason for this is that Google has been “personalizing” my search results, sometimes based on where I am (though it thinks I am in a large city with the same name in another state, so those results are generally useless), sometimes based on what I have searched for previously.

Here are some pages focusing on changes at Google and why it might become a less useful search engine as it tries to become more social:

First, we’ll start with Google’s own explanations of the current changes to search: Notice the adorable hand-drawn graphics and quirky search examples. This is to distract you from what is really going on. While they are personalizing and socializing your results, they are also gathering information about you. Worse than that, though, they are limiting what you can find using their service. I honestly don’t mind trading some anonymous data that will be aggregated in order to get good search results, but I mind very much that their limited understanding of who I am will dictate what they show me. I’ve long been concerned about the effect of the Internet on the availability of information– I contend that the amount of information actually available to many of us goes down if we rely solely on the Internet/Web. I guess that’s a post for another day. An NPR article about Google’s new privacy plan. and These articles trace Google’s decline from the “simple white box and search results that made the search engine such a joy to use in the first place” to where it is now. (The discussion of the Olympics search reminded me of my futile attempt to use Google to find out where and when a conference happened last year so I could do a write-up on it.) This is just a quick article by one tech writer explaining why he has switched to Bing as his main search provider. Interestingly, the commenters support Google limiting its results to Google properties because they say it makes sense financially for Google.

Here is the way one organization is fighting the new Google: a browser extension for Firefox that compares search results from Google and from other search engines. “Don’t be evil” is Google’s motto, but like the author of this piece, I’m certain Google no longer lives by that motto. This is an interesting article from a different point of view… not that of a searcher who wants the best results, but that of a consultant to companies who want to rank higher on Google results. Notice that a key to having the best results is no longer being most relevant, most linked, or most popular, but being a member of Google’s network. In his example, Britney Spears’ Facebook page does not show up in search results for her, while her Google+ profile does show up. What happens to those companies who have their primary online presence on Facebook?

One point I’ve had about getting too comfortable with Google has been that when it inevitably goes South, the lazy search habits it encourages will keep us from being able to get good results out of other engines. Over-reliance on Google will also cause us to overlook quicker ways to get information, such as through an online directory or in a print resource. For individuals, this might not be a big deal, as long as you know you’re making that trade-off. For librarians, though, who are providing information for others, it’s important that we challenge ourselves and keep our skills up.

As for me, I’m switching back to the Firefox browser from Chrome, staying logged out of Google +, and using alternative search engines, including meta-search engines. I’m currently experimenting with Bing. On Safari. (And a commenter on one of the above articles mentioned Duck Duck Go.

Fight the Feed

*I don’t believe there are true objective measures of a page’s quality or relevance, but I do believe that commercial consideration is NOT a good measure of quality!

Second Life

Despite my frustration with Second Life, I’ve been hanging around there more than I was ever able to before (new computer.) The Library 2.0 people have done a fantastic job with the design! I really hope I am able to make SL work with my graphics card when the new update is made mandatory, because I would love to get into volunteer reference or reader’s advisory. I’m a member of 2 SL library groups, but I haven’t heard anything from them for a couple of weeks, so I’m not sure if they’re having the same problems I’m having.

I know I’ve been mostly negative about SL in the past, but I can really see the potential. Tonight, two classmates and I were trying to figure out whether we would have time to get together and discuss our projects. Something like Second Life would be very cool for that. Yes, it would just be chatting with our avatars as visual representations, but it would add another element for those of us with learning differences.

Second Life

So, my old computer crashed and I had to get a new one. It’s beautiful… a Dell Latitude D620. Everything I had hoped the old Toshiba would be. However, I have hit a snag. I was hoping to get more involved in Second Life. I’m a member of two library groups in Second Life. I logged on tonight, enjoyed the terrific graphics and the beauty of Rachelville (that is a very nice place!) Then… CRASH. Turns out the developers of Second Life do not support my video driver… one that happens to be fairly common in education laptops. So those who would like to use Second Life as a vehicle for education might want to rethink that idea until the developers see fit to support more than two types of graphic cards.

I’m both attracted to and repelled by Second Life. I LOVE the idea and think some of the execution is wonderful. However, I see it as a further enforcer of the digital divide. My brand new, best computer I can afford on a graduate stipend with student financing is not compatible with Second Life. Where does that leave people using refurbished P2s? Or schools? Second Life is currently solely for the technological elite, not for the regular people. Which is sad, because I really wanted to get involved and finally have a computer that’s fast enough.

Blogging ALA

I said yesterday that I would be blogging ALISE and Midwinter (live-blogging will depend on whether I have an electrical outlet handy, since my computer has a battery life of less than an hour.) Shortly after I posted that, I got an e-mail from ALA about how they’re enabling bloggers. I can even get a blogging badge! I’m not sure what the purpose of that is, but it sounds neat. I joined ALA’s Midwinter Flickr group, so I will be posting some of my pictures there. I’ll also be posting other pictures on my own account so my family can see what I’m up to.

I love technology!


John at Library Clips posted a link to CoComment, a way to track your comments on other sites. So, I signed up. There is a box on my sidebar that might eventually get filled with comments. I’ve been using Furl to track my comments, but that’s not the intent of Furl. I hope this works better. It might be a good start as far as bringing conversation back to blogging.

Blogs and Discourse

Are blogs really good for two-way communication? I’m starting to suspect no.

I belong to a forum of people who have only one thing in common. We represent a wide range of political beliefs, religious beliefs, ethnicities, and gender identities. Somehow, on this forum, we are able to have real discussions, including disagreements. People still generally respect each other while engaging in dialogue.

I used to blog a long time ago, when Blogger was still brand new. It seems that people were willing to disagree with each other, while respecting each other’s rights to have an opinion. Two things changed the whole environment. The 2000 election and September 11 and its aftermath. (Some might argue the Iraq invasion, but the shift started long before that, I believe.) I quit blogging a few months after September 11 because of the hostile atmosphere.

I don’t see discourse any more in blogs. With a few exceptions, the blogs I have come across tend to have commenters who always agree with the main post. Commenters who do not agree are ignored, dismissed, or treated as if they’re attacking the original poster. (Ignored is more common.) That’s if a person who disagrees even bothers to post a comment. There seems to be an intolerance for people with different opinions and priorities.

Is it the medium that leads to this kind of environment? Much like how Power Point is often blamed for poor presentations? Or is it people who like to pontificate and be agreed with are drawn to blogging? Or am I altogether wrong?

How does this seeming lack of tolerance for differing opinions and priorities translate to real-life librarian work? Again, how does it represent our profession? If a non-librarian were to come across some of our posts, what would he or she think of librarians? Librarians are, of course, people, entitled to their own opinions. But we also represent a profession, one that people are increasingly finding to be irrelevant (whether true or not, the perception matters.) If we are presenting an image that makes some people uncomfortable with “asking a librarian,” what does that do to us?

Can blogs be used for true two-way communication?

Furling Comments!

I’ve been trying to figure out how to keep track of posts where I comment, but that don’t quite fit in here (not that I have figured out what fits in here yet.) A few minutes ago, I realized this is a great use for my Furl archive! I have a new category called “Commenting.” Of course, now I find myself wondering how I can integrate my Furl archive with this blog, without trying the sidebar thing, which messed up my blog last time I tried to use it.
You can probably tell it’s spring break.

Edited to add: I have not started rating anything, so everything is currently rated at 3.