Last night at a book event at Books Inc in Mountain View, a fellow asked me a question that made me think – in short, he asked why there was so much useless information on the web. Put another way, he was expressing frustration with search results – so often we can’t find what we are looking for. I responded that – while it’s possible he might not like this answer – we as users of search need to get better at searching. And by that I don’t mean smarter about how to use advanced features, or how to find the perfect query, but rather at critical thinking, at reviewing and critiquing a set of results, learning from what is and is not there, and refining our searches as a result. And that the only way that is going to happen is if our educational system values critical thinking skills over rote testing.
Today as I was waiting between interminable radio interviews (yes, I am being a cranky author now, after all, I got up at 3.30 am, I’m allowed), I read this post from Jeremy. From it:
….I wished that someone could have been watching the query stream and stopped the user to say “hey, I see what you’re trying to find…. try this instead.” I felt like there was a missing link.
I think education and training are that missing link.
We search engines try to make the world look all simple, uniform, and tidy. There’s a little text box you type into and a button you can hit to get what you want back. Except that it doesn’t always work that way. Many times people don’t find what they need on the first try or two. But they don’t know where to go next, how to refine a query, or what their options are. There’s no librarian to help. Few of them will ever see our Advanced Search page or realize they can restrict searches to a subset of languages.
The question I started this ramble with is largely rhetorical, since I know that the vast majority of folks have never been “trained” to search in any way. But I suspect many would benefit from even 10-15 minutes of education.
Are schools handling this yet? Or do they mostly assume that the search box is self-explanatory?
It made me think – perhaps it is just a matter of some simple training. Or maybe it’s a bit of both, as the more one learns how to search, the more pointers one gets, the more one might develop critical thinking skills essential to good searching. I wonder, is there an opportunity there somewhere?
In any case, it sure would be cool to watch as master searchers went on journeys of discovery and explorations. I wrote about this in the book, referencing V. Bush’s Memex as the basic principle. … OK, back to the radio now…
Gary on this….