January 12, 2012

Why Books Should Become More Important

There has been a lot of discussion happening online lately about the influence of social media on Search Engine Optimization. Jeff Sonderman writes in an article for The Poynter Institute that Google has again made a move that will significantly impact the information you receive when you search for something online. Now when you search the information presented to you will be as Jeff writes, "shaped by each user's online friends and social networking history"

I think this is 'neat' and certainly makes the networks we live and work within increasingly tighter and more influential. But should it make our social networks more or less relevant? While I appreciate learning what my friends are reading, listening to or watching, will that enhance my ability to find the right information?

Think about this for a moment. Searching online is now an acceptable practice for almost every student - from public, to high school, to university. The information presented to them is determined by a search engine ... the people at Google ... I mean the advertisers paying Google to make sure that their information is presented at the top. Now, add in this new social element and students are going to be presented with information that is further convoluted by what they did online yesterday.

As much as we know the information on the internet shouldn't be trusted, even someone like me who works in PR has to remind myself every now and again to validate sources and that sites like Wikipedia aren't verified to be accurate. At what point will we not be able to trust any of the information we receive? How will that impact us? Will it matter?

It makes me think that books, newspapers, and magazines that create vetted, peer-reviewed content using multiple sources have a serious responsibility and opportunity to help keep us from ourselves in the land of (in)-convenient content.


1 comment:

  1. Cerys, you raise a critically important point. The number of times I hear (and say) "Google it" when seeking to validate a particular point or find an answer to a question is growing at a frightening pace.

    I have got involved in open source training projects recently, since I have become a practitioner of open source searching as part of my consultancy business. The secret, of course, is to use multiple search engines in order to avoid being too heavily influenced by Google (or one's search engine of choice).

    The wider question, however, is how to ensure we - as individual users and consumers - manage the progressive evolution of expectation. The Internet has led us to believe that answers to questions can be found easily and rapidly, depending on how well defined our search questions are. Use of multiple search engines to access a wider scope of available information may be increasingly counter-intuitive, unless we keep a mantra "I need to validate the information, not just locate it" running permanently at the back of our minds.

    The sources we use bear significant responsibility for validation, peer review and accuracy - but so do we as individuals have a similar responsibility to test and question, not just accept the World According to Wiki. As an example, one naval character I was researching recently had three separate dates of death listed in 'tertiary' sources - one of which was before he was born. When I eventually found the man's obituary in an online version of the Annual Obituary and Register for 1823 - all three dates were in error!

    The Internet is a magnificently liberating resource for the inquisitive; it does not and should not, however, be a substitute for our own critical faculties.