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Better Than Google

Anyone who has read the title of this blog knows that I write about databases that are "better than Google".  Google is an amazing tool for finding information and there are times when it is the right choice to begin your information search. What is Google good at?
It is good at providing straightforward factual information.  Who was the vice-presidental candidate for the Republicans in 2012? What is the capital of South Dakota? These are questions that have unequivocal answers, answers that in past years you would have looked up in the World Almanac. Google is the main reason why librarians no longer get the kind of easy answer questions that made up what is known as "Ready Reference" questions.
What is Google not so good at?  Google uses an authority-based algorithm that is domain-centric. Google evaluates more than 200 signals to find out which web pages are most relevant to a search query. Google's exact ranking formula is a business secret, but Google doesn't consider the popularity of sites with users when ranking sites in the list of results. Unfortunately, students "trust" search engines and perceive a site as credible when it is returned at the top of the results. Students'confidence in Google to return the best results confirms that they expect a lot from search engines even though they may not know that search engines don't understand their query -- search engines are not that smart.
The company's practice of using its so-called "universal search" feature to prominently display results from its own properties, such as Google Plus, Google Local and Google Maps, has been the subject of discussion.  Complaints about Google's use of its search engine dominance to hurt rivals are not new. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission previously investigated the company on the issue, but ended up not charging it with any misdeeds. The Competition Office at the European Commission, which oversees industry trade practices in the EU, is currently investigating Google on a similar issue in Europe.
So what can we take from this look at Google? Although they have not been charged with any wrongdoings, we need to have a healthy skepticism when it comes to Google results.  The first few "hits" are not where your search should end.  You need to be a savvy researcher, for example, checking the domain name.  Is it a com, an org, an edu,a gov?  This will inform you of what kind of website it is.  Are you looking at a site that is trying to sell you something, or a government site, which should contain unbiased information.  Librarians had an easy comfort with print reference books knowing that a reputable publisher had vetted the information, it was well-reviewed in library literature, and hopefully, was current.  On-line sources have an edge in currency, since it can take a year to get a manuscript to a finished book.  However, databases that libraries purchase have the same imprimatar of excellence that we took for granted with print.  Databases are selected using specific criteria and the best judgment of a professional librarian.  By and large, they are trustworthy, reliable, current and have the "seal of approval" by the fact that the library subscribes to it.  Can we say that information found on Google is always trustworthy, reliable and current?  Unfortunately, no.  For what is called "deep searching", databases remain the gold standard.  For settling a bet on how many rounds the first Ali/Frazier fight went?  Google can answer that just fine.

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