Saturday, February 6, 2010

Restricted web searching

Of the many genealogical tools at your disposal, which do you use most often? Is it ancestry com? How about your local family group? Maybe even a major archive or library? Whilst these are all common and well used research tools, I’d suspect that for most genealogists the most commonly used tool would actually be google.com.

Google is many things. It’s a starting point and a friend when we’re sometimes stumped for ideas, and it’s also so ubiquitous in our daily lives that at times we can barely register the truth of just how often we use it. Google has strangely become a universal font of knowledge, and one that is all too easily trusted, despite the obvious myriad reams of crap one must trawl through in order to find the truth. It is what it is, and quite clearly it’s a search engine. THE search engine.

However, is that about to change? Is google about to find itself caught between a rock and a hard place? The evidence is certainly building to that being the case, with the news that Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd empire (Sky TV UK, Star TV Asia, Fox USA, Foxtel Australia) is no longer going to allow google to index its websites.

So what does that mean for genealogy? Well, immediately it means very little. But in the medium to long term it means that google, bing, yahoo and all of the other competing search engines are going to find that they will no longer be the one-stop solution that has served us so well.

Currently, search engines are formatted so that an illusion of universal record is maintained. The expectation is that almost every website on Earth has been indexed, and can be found in searches in descending order of popularity. This however is only partially true. Search engines often rank lesser websites ahead of those that have earned their popularity, simply because they provide the engines with a revenue source. They then rank the remaining websites only after the paying customers sites have been indexed.

Can you imagine doing a search for your great grandmother, and only having a third, or less, of all search results that are currently available missing, simply because the websites that contain your ancestors data are no longer dealing with the search engine you most commonly use?

This perhaps is the stark, unfriendly online world that we will face, and only just around the corner. So, enjoy the encyclopaedic form of web searching currently available, as it may soon be a thing of the past.

1 comment:

Greta Koehl said...

You have raised an important subject for anyone who includes the web as one of his or her research tools. And you are right about Google being both a "starting point" and a last resort in research; it certainly has been for me. Excellent thought-provoking post.