The success of the Internet search engine Google is amazing. It has become a cultural phenomena, as “to Google” someone or a topic. The implication is that by using Google, you can find all there is to know about a person or subject.
In my opinion, this attitude can be deceptive. Relying exclusively on Google or any other search engine can lead to conclusions based on erroneous or incomplete sources. For example, The Wall Street Journal, one of the most important sources for research on current topics, is absent from Google. Its content does not appear in searches. That’s because the Wall Street Journal is a subscription service. Readers have to subscribe and pay to view its content. Other subscription services — and there are many, some being quite expensive — may not have their content indexed by Google.
Google has a new service called Google Scholar. Quoting from its “About” page: “Google Scholar enables you to search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research. Use Google Scholar to find articles from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the web.” In my brief experience using Google Scholar, it finds some articles I would like to read, but many are expensive to purchase. For example, a search for “Wichita city council” returns an article titled “Searching for a Role for Citizens in the Budget Process.” The article costs $25.00 to read.
An obvious problem in using the Internet for research, and therefore for search engines as well, is the quality of the web pages that are returned in a search. Readers need to be careful in deciding which web pages and sites to trust. It is easy, and becoming easier, to create web sites that have a quality look and feel. That does not mean, however, that the information is reliable. It may have been created to deceive. A good page that can help judge the quality of a web page is here: Evaluating Web Pages: Techniques to Apply & Questions to Ask. Another good resource is Evaluating the Quality of Information on the Internet.
There are many other search engines. Some I have recently become aware of that seem interesting and have merit are Teoma, Alltheweb, Vivisimo, and SMEALSearch. There are also pay search services. These often include content that is not available on free websites. Some of these include HighBeam, Questia, Factiva, and Northern Light.
I don’t mean to pick exclusively on Google, as their search service is very good, and some of their more little-known services are amazing. The recently introduced Google Maps (link: http://maps.google.com ), for example, is a technical tour-de-force and different from other map services. But we must realize that the Internet is not quite like a library with the helpful and knowledgeable librarian there to help us.