Monday, January 24, 2005

TECH: Users confuse search results, ads: Survey

What a wierd headline. The comma and the colon flanking such an insidious little word--"ads"--makes for quite a visual treat. The article itself, however, holds more promise.

I've noticed a number of sources reporting on the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Basically, the researchers found that most people (92%) are confident about their search abilities, use only one (or at the most, three) search engines, and don't really understand the difference between paid listings and normal listings. Perhaps most suprisingly, 2/3 of people surveyed could easily walk away from their search engines. Admittedly this figure also counts those people who don't really use computers or the Internet but still, this big number surprises me. 2/3! Wow.

So if the use of search engine technology is so deprecated by people, what's up with the hype around ventures and companies like Google? My suspicion is that search technology has become much more ingrained in our daily practices than we might imagine. Instead of being a tool that we need on occassion (like a hammer), search has become one of those pervasive tools that we don't really think about (like a fork). If asked if I could tell the difference between a silver or a stainless steel fork I would probably have to say, "no." Futhermore, if asked about sponsored forks or normal forks, I would have to still say, "no"; however, the most truthful answer would be, "I don't care!", or even the emphatic, "I don't give a rat's ass!". Because all I want is for my fork to work. The rest of the concerns are moot. A similar dynamic applies to search engines. People just want one that works. But unlike forks (which are real things), information entails a lot of ontological ambiguity. To use information is to engage with understanding and comprehension. While the outcome of using a fork is feeling full, the outcome of using information is a need for more information and more comprehension.

No wonder people don't really care about their search engines. All they want is information--good old ambiguous information. Who cares where it comes from or whether it's sponsored or not?


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