New research from the ESRC has highlighted the limitations that academic researchers may encounter with Key Websites Buried in (an) Information Avalanche. As standard Internet search engines try to meet the needs of any and all potential users, it is therefore not surprising that there is a niche for a service like the Virtual Training Suite which can focus on resources that better meet the requirements of the academic community.
Exploring the research further via the ESRC Project page and the Oxford Internet Institute project page, the researchers examine the “winner-takes-all” hypothesis whereby a small number of highly interlinked sites may be responsible for a high proportion of Internet traffic in specific subjects – this sounds somewhat like the Long Tail theory, which has been cited as indicative of online behaviour in a number of areas.
While it may be true that not being in the first 3 pages of a Google search may mean that a resource is invisible, it is also increasingly true that your Google search may not be the same as my Google search. The move to personalised search results may lead to a world where users don’t encounter resources that disagree with their own world view, an idea that is not just confined to Internet search, but has also appeared in the area of wikis, with Conservapedia being set up to counter the “liberal bias” of Wikipedia.
Other online commentators such as Karen Blakeman and Phil Bradley have tried to highlight the limitations of Google as a one-stop search solution and while Information Professionals always need to remember that the average user doesn’t find the process of finding things out as interesting as we do, the broader message about Information Literacy still needs to be made and in terms the academic community can relate to – it’s never a good idea to base a research strategy on a single source – Google or not.
Try using the Internet Detective from the Virtual Training Suite if you want to learn more about these issues or explore one of the subject based tutorials if you want to get to the best of the web on a particular topic.