Tuesday, November 22

egalitarian search engines?

A new study claims that search engines help us find more obscure websites. This might sound reasonable, except that most past studies suggested the engines actually feed a vicious cycle, where certain sites get a few more hits, and so show up higher on search engine's results, and so get even more hits, and so on. Geeks have coined the term "Googlearchy" for this.

But after talking to a couple researchers who study search engines—a computer scientist and a political scientist—I decided not to write about the study. Neither of these commentators were convinced by the paper's methods or conclusions.

But then the Economist just covered it. And their one comment from an outside researcher is from one of the guys I talked to—and they paraphrased him as saying "the data used in the research are pretty shoddy."

So why did they cover it? The paper has not even been peer-reviewed yet, so it hasn't even passed that test of legitimacy. But they're not the only ones: it's caught on with blogs like Smart Mobs, and the PhysicsWeb news site.

Are they just writing about it because it's an interesting idea? Anyway, it gives me hope about my writing career. I often think I don't have enough good story ideas. But if I'd tried, maybe I could've gotten this story in the Economist.


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