May. 11th, 2006

deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Prompted by the Google movie, I've been thinking about why Google is vital to me, as a librarian who is heavily invested in intelligent searching (both on and off the public web). And I realised I use Google as a glorified bookmarks file. If I use a resource so often that I want to get to it in four keystrokes (which is why I find tagging useless as a bookmarks replacement -- I can reach anything in four keystrokes) then I bookmark it. But what if there's a ton of tools out there which do, say, currency conversion? I only need to do that occasionally, and I don't care which currency calculator I get. So I Google, and take the first one unless red flags gets set off by the link. Same for web color chart mappings, or lists of HTML elements. I know I can find those easily with Google as my bookmarks file. But if I want a good definition, I go to, and if I want a more specific type of definition (jargony / more complete / etymylogical / etc) I'll go to one of the many other sites I have bookmarked (OED, Webster's unabridged, etc). I won't go to Google for something where I know precisely who'll have the best answer.

Tags, I suppose, are halfway between Google and a good bookmarks file, which might explain why I don't use them much (I tag my own lj posts, but I don't do social bookmarking). They still require effort to create and maintain a coherent system, like bookmarks, and they require multiple keystrokes to access, like search engines. For me the main value of social bookmarking is the "social" not the "bookmarking". If I felt like organizing something in order to share it with the world, I would find very useful. At least one feed in my personal RSS aggregator is a feed which updates when new entries are tagged.

But for my personal use, its search engines or bookmarks files. Even when I search, I don't tend to search for my final goal -- I usually search for a good resource which is likely to have information about my final goal.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Recently, I was talking to a non-librarian, non-techie friend about the "single search box" debate in librarianship, the idea that librarian's need to emulate the popular search engines.

She immediately responded "but Google doesn't have a single search box! Neither does Amazon!"

As she characterized it, she is well aware, as a naive user, of the difference between the various tabs on the Google front page: Web, Images, News, Usenet, Shopping -- and she uses them as she needs to. She is well aware of the difference between book and DVD searching in Amazon -- and uses them.

It would be good for librarians to remember that single search boxes do actually characterize information in different ways and don't just do keyword searching across a single massive collection. Perhaps the user interface preference should be leaning towards a Google-style text box on a tabbed screen as opposed to the exquisitely bad Wilson SilverPlatter interface, but we need to remember that Google isn't as simple as we think it is.
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