Gideon Haigh on Google Information Idol

The Monthly February 2006At the way home from Melbourne I bought a copy of “The Monthly“, an Australian magazine launched last year with a self-description as “an intelligent, independent voice”.

The lead essay, by Gideon Haigh, is on Google’s effect on education and general intelligence. Haigh draws on Neil Postman’s reminder that technological change is neither additive nor subtractive, but ecological. Our whole environment has been changed by the rise of Google.

Issues covered in the article:

1. How does Google PageRank work? Isn’t it important that we have some way of analysing the reliability of information sources?

2. The ‘dark web’ ignored by Google (80% of web content) includes information held by universities, libraries, associations, businesses and government agencies.

3. Google’s vulnerability to being ‘gamed’ in which GoogleRank is manipulated by web authors and spammers.

4. Gigablast and Exalead, perhaps superior search engines, are ignored by a public in love with the ‘easy-to-use’ Google.

5. Most people have little idea about how to effectively use search engines.

Gideon Haigh goes on to examine the impact of Google on education. Younger teachers know how to recognise and check for Google-enabled plagiarism. Educative tasks now must focus on higher levels of thinking as collection of information is made so easy. However students are tempted to make do with articles they can find on the internet and ignore the work which is only published in print journals and books.

The essay finishes with an examination of the Google project to digitize the world’s books. Clearly many people are unhappy about the threat to copyright holders, publishers and libraries.

The article’s in print but not online. Perhaps some time soon Google will digitize it and make it available for us to read. In the meantime you’ll have to race down to your newsagent and buy the magazine.

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