Thursday, October 01, 2009

Research on the Internet 2009

After four hours on the internet yesterday, researching a range of topics I needed information on, I began to wonder what had happened to the world wide web. If I knew exactly what I wanted (e.g. the Qantas website or a particular university course), I came up with the right website in a minute or less. However, if I was looking for information, rather than a site, what I discovered was a huge range of sites that were useless. That didn't respond to my search terms. That redirected me to other sites that were irrelevant. What has happened? Is it Google? Should I start using another search engine?

I remember around seven years ago when I was doing historical research on pirates in the Caribbean (pre the movies). There were plenty of sites, many with a lot of information on them, and my main task was to work out which ones were accurate. There are a lot of people with pirate sites! Usually any sites based at a university or historical research facility or government history facility were good, and gave me not only a wealth of information but lists of further references to pursue.

What do we get now? For a start, Wikipedia. I have nothing against it, but it's really only a starting point (not always accurate) for further, deeper research. What I am finding is that the truly useful sites are now buried under a hundred other sites that try to offer me merchandise or other rubbish, or that have used my keywords in some kind of cunning way to get me to their site, no matter what my real search is about.

I've also found that even refining search terms to be as accurate as possible doesn't work. One search I did was to try to find a cheap or reasonable-cost hotel in a particular area of a large city. I estimated that 70% of the sites that came up on the first two pages of Google were for hotels that were either way outside the area I specified or were way too expensive. This happened with a couple of other searches I did for different things.

The other thing I have found is a paucity of material. Yes, I know that website analysts are pounding into our heads that sites need to have short bursts of information that are readable on screen. That might work for a recipe or tourist site, but if I am researching, for example, the first cars in Australia and what they were and what they looked like and who owned them and who made them, one paragraph was hopeless - and that was on the museum website.

Has the internet finally got to a point where, if you want quality and quantity of information, it is useless to us? Have the merchandisers (i.e. anyone who wants to sell us something via the net) finally made the internet so cluttered that it's no use at all if you are doing real research? What do you think? (What I think is thank goodness for books and libraries! That's where I'm heading tomorrow.)


Anonymous said...

Nothing beats a library. I have library withdrawl - given that I have been living in rural Italy for the past three years (there is a library there but most books are understandably in Italian!). I am making the most of being home in Sydney for a few weeks. I went to the library yesterday and I am now acquainted with some of your books. It was well worth the visit, they were most enjoyable.

Sherryl said...

I've been in at the State Library today and came home with 100-year-old scanned newspaper pages on my USB! Perfect example of the old and the new creating a wonderful research tool.

Lorraine said...

'...the old and the new creating a wonderful research tool.' What a fascinating comment, Sherryl.