Monday, January 22, 2007

Once more 'round the bend

Same old story, but with some interesting bits:
Jeanneney says that Google is not what it seems. Its search results are biased by commercial and cultural pressures. He has a point. Try this: go to Google Book Search and enter Gustave Flaubert. The first results are full of English translations of Madame Bovary.

The books of the English-speaking world are given overwhelming priority. Equally, Google’s main search engine produces paid-for sites. Google is a profit machine. Nothing wrong with that, as long as we don’t delude ourselves into thinking it is an entirely neutral source of information.

But there are even deeper issues revolving around the distinction between information and knowledge. “A search engine,” says John Sutherland, professor of English at UCL, “is not an index.”

An index is the work of a mind with knowledge, search engine results are the product of an algorithm with information. Parents will already have seen the power of the algorithm. Google has supplanted the textbook as the source of homework research.

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