Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Research, the Internet, Barabasi and...Robert Frost

According to a recent Boston Globe article research at the University of Chicago claims the internet is having a narrowing effect on...well...research.

In brief, databases, search engines, etc. all algorithmically favor recent articles over older, established (or obscure) texts, leading to a smaller range of sources and a "tightening of consensus."

There are those, of course, who disagree, and I look forward to watching the debate. Though,if nothing else, Laszlo-Barabasi describes the phenomenon in his excellent book, Linked.
While, theoretically, the internet makes everything available, in actuality it creates 'hubs' that attract the majority of links, based on popularity, leaving other sites stranded in oblivion, buried in the 11+ billion pages that make up the web.

If he doesn't mind me paraphrasing him, Doug Johnson wrote that he's not sure what the findings mean--it could be the idea of "sufficiency" has worked its way up the academic ladder.

I also wonder if that "breadth" that supposedly existed earlier wasn't a function of lack of access to a broad selection of current resources forcing scholars resort to the tried and true of what was already available. Along the same line, before the days of search engines, one really had to dig to find information. I remember spending HOURS poring through the Reader's Guide just to find a few articles that our library MIGHT have. Looking at everything else along the way might have led to some serendipitous finds. Online searching with its wealth of results make that serendipity less likely.

One of the comments mentioned a new search engine that tries to build in the "Eureka!" factor. I wasn't that impressed. It seems to limit results to only 10 or so. On my first search "French revlution" the results were exactly the same as Google's. (they display results side-by-side)

The next search for Basset Hound yielded different results and did, I must say, lead me to some
cool cartoons
Google didn't bring up. Other results were rather bizarre, though.

In the meantime, the kids will continue to do what I suspect kids have always done--find a few resources and think they're finished, while I nag and badger them to dig deeper.

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