In Google We Trust

from the if-Google-says-so... dept

You can certainly question whether or not this study has a large enough or varied enough sample size (22 students from the same university), but the results were that the students studied appear to have something of a blind-trust in the authority of Google. That is, if Google deems a certain site to be more relevant based on a higher search engine ranking, the students often accepted that view — even if sites that showed up lower in the results were actually much more relevant. This really isn’t that surprising (or disturbing). After all, Google is often quite a good judge of relevance, and so there’s value in trusting it to be right most of the time in its rankings. It helps people function faster, rather than having to verify everything carefully — and in most cases, that’s probably okay. As long as people realize the situations when they actually do need to verify things more carefully, it doesn’t seem all that worrisome that kids use Google’s rankings as a reasonable short cut in judging relevance.

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Comments on “In Google We Trust”

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Colin says:

Re: Re: Re: What is Microfiche

A thousand A3 (huge) Engineering Drawings can be photographed using a special (microfilm), camera to make the drawing very small, onto a single film reel saving lots of room, then mailed to someone, or safely stored, and restored back to their original size very quickly and easily. See:
A microfiche card is a single photo of a large drawing held in a stiff card, (aperture card) which has a window holding a single photo of a drawing, making large drawings easy to file and search alphabetically.
A microfiche can be a single sheet (about 5″ by 7″) of film holding about twenty miniturised drawings, easily posted in the normal or military mail.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think we can trust Google about as well as any other internet company. Just remember that nobody is perfect, and you can’t believe everything you read. If you think Google is perfect, you have a problem. If you believe everything you read or see, you also have a problem. The problem here is not Google at all, but rather the idiots of this world revealing themselves to the public eye.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: And Wiki?

I hope that the teachers have the tools in place to quickly compare papers to what’s on the web to prevent wholesale lifting of content.

My wife teaches senior and freshman English. The only tool that she has is her own knowledge of each student’s writing abilities and general knowledge base. If she feels that a paper is written is clearly above the student’s ability she will check it using Google. Luckily, students laziness generally prevents them from going to deep into the Google links that are returned on their search. She has actually had papers that she felt were beyond a specific student’s abilities. Upon entering the paper’s topic into Google, she opened the first link returned to find that the student had cut and pasted the entire article into their paper. Now I realize that plagiarism is the result of laziness, but to do it right you have to at least have the motivation to hide it better than that. At least go to the second page of returns.

George Glass says:

Re: Re: And Wiki?

A little off topic, but did you know that if you “put words in quotes” in Google it will only find pages with that exact phrase? If you find an obscure enough phrase from a student’s paper, then doing this should put the stolen article on the first page if not the first or only result. Now the students will have to pay geeks to write their papers, like everyone else.

Anonymous Coward says:


The study does touch on am important point:
Can we trust Google? They give no explicit guarantee for link quality and most of their search algorithm is not transparent. What if they (or an employee there) all at a sudden decided to manipulate search results?
I love Wikipedia, but the same issue here, no guarantee of quality, just a vague trust in the statistical goodwill of it’s authors (I am one of them).
In summary, while you can get information much faster these days, and in general it is better quality then what you could have gotten from a library book 15 years ago, you can not rely on a single link, there is less *guarantee* for quality then there was (and still is) from library sources.

Sean L says:

google for reference, research elsewhere

Actually.. among most of my friends, peer students, and myself.. we’re really used to using google and wikipedia as reference, but our professors won’t take papers unless our sources are from valid sources, like articles, newspapers and journals. In this case, google scholar is nice and google patent search, but again.. only for reference. Our school’s periodical and journal search is much more useful in this sense. So.. google for reference, schools and libraries for research. I hope it never goes away.

And yea, if we can’t trust google, we’re screwed. I would lose 80% of the websites I browse because I don’t have them bookmarked “yet” 😉

Mashland (user link) says:

Google: it's tomorrow to worry about.

Trusting for the future…It’s not the search results that are worrisome. It’s Google’s forest of servers that keep every single byte we touch across the internet alive and available. Today they (Google) seem trustworthy, though Anonymous Coward makes an important point about humans making mistakes.
But in 20 years, if Google is managed by someone unscrupulous, or the government decides it can mine this ocean of data for criminal or political purposes, it’s going to be damn ugly.
I’m a Google user and a Google fan. But the risks are piling up every year and some day, in error or by design, every footstep along the superhighway will be tracked and analyzed.

Taersious says:

Trust has to be earned

I am a programmer and I use Google almost religiously to find code samples, reference info, and the like. ?If I cannot trust that a link I follow is going to bring the results I need, I obviously need to phrase my search criteria better. ?I have learned to think my search phrase out before performing a search. ?Google has consistently returned better results for me than any other major search engine.

Just my $0.02

Wyatt says:

Taersious has a good point. Being a coder myself, I use Google very heavily. As far as rankings go, I don’t think I’ve ever even looked at them. I always read the summery before clicking the link. If my search string is phrased correctly the results I need are always returned (that is if they exist). Someone made the point about if we cant trust Google then we are fucked. That is true on so many levels. However the ratings system is an unknown, and should not be trusted because it can be so easily fudged with. Just reading the summery will tell you if the link is useful or not.

Vera (user link) says:

Re: Results always returned (if they exist)

If my search string is phrased correctly the results I need are always returned (that is if they exist).

This is not my experience. Non-tech things that do not naturally rise to the top of the pile in terms of traffic and rankings are getting harder and harder to find via Google. I’ve had numerous experiences where the only way I could re-find something I knew was out there was when I finally remembered truly unique search terms (such as the author’s full name and more). It’s still out there, as well as cached, but a lot of it which isn’t mainstream or recently indexed is getting buried deeper and deeper.

Leading edge and popular both have real value, but the state of affairs I refer to reveals the other side of the ‘collective wisdom’ coin.

RandomThoughts (user link) says:

A few posters here touched on an issue and they are spot on. Google records pretty much everything you do on their site, their email, their chat, their toolbar, their desktop toolbar and any other tool they provide. You can cancel your gmail account, they keep your emails.

Were Microsoft to do this, I am sure there would be a loud outcry. For Google, nothing. Who knows, maybe Google is actually part of the NSA.

Forget search results, the other stuff is more important and potentially dangerous.

Myself (user link) says:

Trust isn't the worrisome part.

The original article’s point is the same one I make constantly about Wikipedia. It’s not perfect, but we know that, and for trivial stuff, it’s good enough. For important stuff, it’s still a useful starting point. I like to read the page history and see which parts of an article get the most edits, then I seek out independent views of those facets. I draw the trivial/important distinction this way: Before the internet, would this question have justified a trip to the library?

As far as Google goes, I’m sure their data is already mined by the government. Any spook, in today’s political climate where such things aren’t subject to any sort of review, would be derelict of duty for not making that kind of grab. It’s up to the courts to limit such access, and the executive branch has succeeded in making the courts impotent. To suggest that the NSA doesn’t have their own private what-the-citizens-are-doing feed from Google (and Microsoft, and Yahoo) is irrational optimism of the highest order.

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