Kent Anderson at the Scholarly Kitchen has a post this morning on Google’s business model and its influence on the web as an organizer of information. He brings up a number of important questions that deserve rumination, including: is Google’s ad-based business model really the most natural model for the web? are digital [organizing] systems sufficient compared to more intuitive human models?
I allowed Kent to lead me until I can to this paragraph:
Because Google’s reputation is that it has been able to organize the world’s information, it’s tempting to think there’s a system in the digital realm that can actually do this. But the fact is, Google is a pretty limited organizational system. For instance, I can’t drag all the files I find in a search onto my hard drive. I can’t be sure the search results a week from now will be the same as those I’ll get today. I can’t compare one page to another within the system.
There are two inherent biases present in these statements that I often hear in speaking with people in the print publishing field. First, that one would WANT to drag all the files in a search to one’s hard-drive is a ridiculous scenario given the amount of information on the web. But let’s assume you queried the web so succinctly that you found 30 perfect results, you COULD get those to your hard drive via RSS or “save page”, but that’s not the point. Information on the web is more fluid than print media, it can change, grow, adapt, and improve itself (or fizzle away). Its complex structure exists thinly spread across space and time and is affected by those two forces.
Second, considering the billions of web pages that exist on the internet, Google does a pretty good job of using what metadata exists to organize item in terms of search query. And that’s where it’s strength lies: not in organizing the web from the top down (like Yahoo directories), but from the bottom up. The web, in its amorphous state, remains so until acted upon by your query and Google’s (or any search engine’s) algorithm. It is organization, just not the type that people of the old media are used to (some librarians included).
Otherwise, it’s an article worth reading if you have a moment.