Volume 10 Number 3
Using the Internet for Searching
2004 is rapidly becoming the year of the search engine wars. In mid-February, Yahoo stopped using Google search technology and replaced it with its own technologies, which it had picked up over the last two years through acquisition of Inktomi and Overture. For its part, last month Google announced that it had added over 1 billion documents to its searchable database. Another search engine, Eurekster, (launched in January) is providing personalized search results to users, and Feedster, LLC "showed off software that can periodically send blog and news updates to a person's computer."1 An article in the March issue of Technology Review lists other "Google rivals" and search engine startups claiming to have improved results-ranking technologies that will appeal to users and have the potential cut into Google's market share2. And in a final confirmation of the perceived importance of all of this, Microsoft Corporation is preparing to launch its own search service later this year.
Why all this activity in the search business? Business is booming because "Search-engine advertising is now one of the fastest-growing segments of the rebounding Internet marketing sector."3
Why should we pay attention? As Rita Vine explains in a recent article4, while many web searchers have the impression that "search engines are in the search business," a search engine's primary business is to obtain revenue through advertising.
There isn't anything wrong with that, and in fact it is a welcome development, as long as searchers understand how results are derived and ranked. Professional searchers, including reference librarians, may be tempted to bemoan the fact that anyone can now type a few words into a Google search bar and come up with thousands of relevant information sources, in ranked order of importance, at least as determined by Google's algorithms. Complete and authoritative results will often still require the use of other tools and the professionals who know how to use them, but it would be foolish to regard the new search technologies as anything other than wonderful new additions to the technologies needed to deal with an increasingly daunting flood of information. But they come with a caution, and we need to watch and make sure that search results remain just that and don't turn primarily into a ranked list of advertisements.
 Palo Alto, CA. (Dow Jones/AP). "Startups seek new ways to search the Net," SiliconValley.com Inside the Tech Economy, posted Tuesday, February 24, 2004. Available at <http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/8031055.htm>.
 Roush, Wade. "Search Beyond Google," Technology Review, March 2004. Available to subscribers at http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/roush0304.asp.
 Olsen, Stefanie. "Patents raise stakes in search wars", Cnet News.com, February 25, 2004. Available at http://news.com.com/2100-1024-5165272.html.
 Vine, Rita. "The Business of Search Engines," Information Outlook, 8(2), February 2004.
(URL for the Roush reference corrected April 2008)
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