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The Internet Education

Putting Google to the Test 441

Big Nothing writes "Google has built its reputation on being the fastest and most accurate way to find information. But is the internet really the quickest way to access facts - and get them right? The Guardian puts Google to the test against more old-fashioned methods."
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Putting Google to the Test

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  • by i_want_you_to_throw_ ( 559379 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:22AM (#9073036) Journal
    To win radio trivia call in contests a few years ago. Using Google to answer trivia just like in Ghost World.
  • by stlthVector ( 468932 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:24AM (#9073044)
    Great comparison but they don't take into account how long it takes to get to the library, phone charges, etc. For me, 15 minutes on Google is faster than 30 seconds at the library.
  • by titaniam ( 635291 ) * <> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:26AM (#9073065) Homepage Journal
    I'd have to say that google deliberately alters certain rankings. The proof is when you do a google search for search engine []. By almost any measure of page rank google would have to be listed first, but it is not. This means that google deliberately lowered their rankings. It makes sense that if you searched for a search engine on google, they've already got you and it doesn't really matter at what position they rank themselves. But by doing so they can potentially shield themselves from antitrust issues, and help hide the likely fact that for other categories they do alter the rankings for their advantage. Up and coming competitors in other arenas than search can be quietly disposed of if no-one can find them.
  • Interesting but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hal2814 ( 725639 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:27AM (#9073078)
    This article assumes that the person looking for information already knows other means of finding information. I didn't know about the Who's Who book and even if I did, I might not have one handy. I think these results are a little less than accurate for most people. Also, the author directly phones some people. What if I don't know exactly who to phone? I think Google will win in that case.
  • by ArbiterOne ( 715233 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:27AM (#9073083) Homepage
    ... is YES. Books on, say, Napoleon, you can find in a library. But ever tried to find, say, ten pages, or even a paragraph, about Napoleon? Especially in a 1200+ page book, or several? Ever tried looking something up in a card catalog? Or finding one sentence in a huge book? The answer to the question in the article is a definite YES.
  • How? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FreeLinux ( 555387 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:28AM (#9073089)
    How does the "Library" provide sub two minute results? The article doesn't say.

  • Google Answers (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pipingguy ( 566974 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:29AM (#9073101)

    This reminds me, has anyone here used Google Answers [], and if so what was the result? I'm assuming that their researchers use resources other than the internet.
  • Time is the issue... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by danielrm26 ( 567852 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:31AM (#9073136) Homepage
    When considering the merit of convential research vs. Google, consider how much time it takes to get to and from the library and/or play phone-tag with receptionists.

    To me, and probably most others, time is of the essence when doing searches. Getting a 10% better result in 10% of the cases, at the expense of valuable time, is *not* worth it.

    Google is the way, and here's my soon to be revised guide (shameless) to using it more effectively: J: l=en
  • by millahtime ( 710421 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:31AM (#9073137) Homepage Journal
    Google doesn't fare that well in a lot of areas. In the test they ran it through goodle faired about equal to the library. Google mat have more searches on technical data but many things such as history the library is a much better source.

    What this shows is that google isn't the know all. That when all things are considered there are other places to look for information and some may be better sources. Like the right tool for the right job that is the same here. There is no end all tool.
  • by Ghengis ( 73865 ) <[seluR.XINx] [ta] [SIRaLwoLS]> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:32AM (#9073141) Homepage Journal
    This article, while interesting, failed to mention several other aspects that, at least for me, make google the best source.

    1 When using the phone, there are really two searches. The one you care about, and the one before that where you try to find the correct phon number. This can take quite a while in some instances.

    2 I have to leave my house (which could entail getting dressed, which adds more time) and drive 4 minutes to the library. Once I get my online library account through the county, however, this will no longer be a factor :).

    3 I actually have to have a conversation with someone on the phone. Google can be a more private experience, which depending on what I'm searching for, can allow me to better focus on finding the information I need.

    4 With google and the library, I can have multiple searches running at once. With the phone, I'd have to pay extra per search.

    5 With the library and phone, I can only use them during business hours. I can use Google 24/7.
  • Biased? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by toesate ( 652111 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:32AM (#9073151) Homepage Journal
    The article report compare between Google, Phone and Library.

    I think this is a biase comparison.

    In the phone and library search, it is assumed upon a narrowed subject or particular topic. Where the searcher knows where to look for the _authorative_ answer, for example the title of the particular book to get the answer.

    Overall, I think the winner is pretty inconclusive, but it still does shows that Google is a really good search engine - where you can actually find a reasonable result.
  • by dot-magnon ( 730521 ) <.co. .at.> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:34AM (#9073162) Homepage
    The methods all have their uses. I don't use google find old classical music scores, but I don't use the library to find recent news stories, software, and such. There's a use for all these things, and it's important to preserve it all.

    There's nothing that beats human interaction and direct knowledge in many cases, but people are not there all the time. If I had them right at me, I wouldn't need google. Google (and the library) is a compilation of what a bunch of people once knew, worked on, built further on, et cetera. Now, since it's impossible to reach these people, we wrote books. Books that we can read, to learn what people found out. That has it's value. Now, we can find the book, read about it, even read it, using google, or we could find other information rapidly that the library won't have for a long time - at least not before the next day's newspaper.

    After all, the library might even have their search engine against a GoogleServer in the back room :-)

    Final point: Cherish all sources of knowledge, and use them appropriately. That will give you the best results.
  • by skermit ( 451840 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:35AM (#9073182) Homepage
    I'm a researcher with Google Answers [] and it's never a must that we use Google to answer questions that come in. Actually, for one-off's and questions which I know can be answered with a phone call or two, I won't even bother with the internet. Of course, then again, there was that one time [] I called over a hundred different restaurants to see who was serving on Christmas Day. Hah.
  • Re:god google (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:40AM (#9073236)
    Dear God,

    Google can search anything that can be searched.

    Unfortunately, Google is unable to search my soul and desire.

    You need to give me something better.

    Henry, 19 years old
  • by NexusTw1n ( 580394 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:41AM (#9073241) Journal
    "I didn't know about the Who's Who book and even if I did, I might not have one handy. "
    I find it slightly disconcerting that we may be producing a generation that has no research skills bar Google.

    When I went to school we were taught library skills, is that still the case, or do teachers assume you are all going to hit google?

    Google does not trawl the entire internet, it barely touches it in fact, relying on it for your information, is like relying on the Discovery channels for your education or one station only for your news.

    Besides, half the fun of researching in the library is the irrelevant but interesting information you stumble across as you browse!
  • by bobej1977 ( 580278 ) * <> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:41AM (#9073248) Homepage Journal
    I think it was a bit unfair in that the library and phone users seemed quite skilled at the use of those respective mediums, whereas a skilled Googler would easily be able to halve those times.

    I've often said that I'd have to quit programming if Google ever disappeared. I lean on it for information in the same way that excessively using a calulator will lead you to punching in 1 + 1. In fact, I'm so good at it that people sometimes think I'm a genius problem solver, when really it's just a matter of creative googling on an error message.

  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:42AM (#9073267) Homepage Journal

    Isn't this the whole premise behind the old movie, "Desk Set," where a research librarian's job is endangered by the newfangled Computer?

  • Re:Searching skills (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Guru1 ( 521726 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:51AM (#9073355)
    What's really funny about this is that I also ran a search and got the results in a few seconds, as did hundreds of other slashdotters. I don't know if that's more embarassing for the Guardian that they don't know how to search, or for us geeks that instantly jumped to google saying:

    "Hell, I can get the results faster than that".
  • by onebuttonmouse ( 733011 ) <> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:56AM (#9073410) Homepage

    Try calling Piers Morgan's press office at 4:00am. I bet your friend James won't appreciate you calling him when he's just sat down to dinner. The Library is a very poor information source when it's closed.

    Google would beat any of those methods 'out of hours'.

  • by schon ( 31600 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:58AM (#9073447)
    There are some things that Google doesn't seem to have.. like this one:

    Who was the first person to say the word "motherfucker" on national (US) TV?

    Even knowing the answer, I was unable to find it on Google. (Maybe your Google skills are better than mine - give it a try :o)

    I know if I was making a trivia contest, I'd made sure that the results were difficult to find, or non-existant on google.
  • by Shadowhawk ( 30195 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:59AM (#9073464)
    The one doing the library searches knew the books needed. That may work for a librarian or reporter, but most anyone else would have to spend some time browsing the book, looking in the catalog, or talking to the refernce librarian to find the book that would have the relevant data. Whereas Google can't be missed (never heard anyone says "WRONG GOOGLE! ;).

    Also, who but a reporter would have such a wide selection of friends to call on for stupid questions.
  • In college we used to have a group call-in radio trivia show called the "mad trivia party." The panel gives a series of really tough questions; when you call in you can answer up to three of them. For every question you get right, you may ask a new question. You get a point for answering, and a point for stumping the panel, for a max of 6 points per call.

    Because the panel were always obscenely up on standard trivia, we had to ask very cunning questions or we'd never win anything. For a while, the studio had no internet connection, so the last three points were almost a lock. Google for some obscure fact, like the number of canals in Antananarivo, and you get the point.

    When they finally got a PC, it became tougher. Anything that could be googled for in the time it took to take a call would be caught. So, we started working broken into smaller teams. One team on a PC on google. The other team as runners in the university library. Walkie-talkies connected the two who then passed the answers and new questions along to a dialer who would try and get a position in the phone queue.

    Yeah, I know. Crazy set up for a trivia game, eh? But it was worth it. Besides being a very fun way to spend a nerdy evening, the prizes were pretty cool, and the players a fairly unusual breakdown of college goths, high school skatepunks, idie rock losers and retired people with nothing better to do.
  • Re:How? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:03AM (#9073517) Homepage Journal
    They cheated. The guy was in the library before they stareted timing. They didn't include travel time to the library.

    Of course, you could argue that a google search should also include travel time to the internet-connected computer, but I think computers are a bit better distributed than libraries.

  • Re:Not versus, with (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DroopyStonx ( 683090 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:09AM (#9073574)
    I'm not quite sure I agree with that.

    I first had access to the internet back in '96 when I was a sophomore in High School. I've written TONS of research papers since then, even more so in college. Using the internet to look up information not only returns better (and more) information than the library would have, but it's faster. For example, you could look up ATP in an encyclopedia, but if you saw "nucleotide" and didn't know what that was.. guess what? Flip to Nucleotide.. look it up.. etc etc. as opposed to clicking a single link provided on MOST pages that explain ATP. Faster, more efficient data retreival.

    Library resources take up WAY too much time, and they aren't always guaranteed to have what you're looking for. It's a flat out waste of time. I'm not saying "burn all the books", but there is absolutely NO point in using the library for research as opposed to the internet.

    For example, I had to write a 10 page paper comparing and contrasting Dostoyevsky and Joseph Conrad. The professor wanted us to use the LIBRARY to look up magazine articles that other journalists wrote which discussed either of these two authors. I wanted to stab my teacher in the eye for that one. I saw how much time other students wasted in the library trying to find their information, and I really can't say I understand how exactly the library is BETTER.

    We had two weeks straight where our entire class was in the Library researching this. Let me tell you, it's not fun trying to find resources that 20 other students are trying to search for at the same time. Needless to say, I left early every time we went down there. A few days before the report was due, I used google and found all the articles I'd ever need for this paper in little under an hour.

    When all was said and done, I got an A on my paper. What'd it cost me? An hour of research, which is about a 10th of what most other people spent on it (there were a few others who also used Google).

    This is what I don't understand about professors. They're so hard up for you to use the library, but there's really no point in it. If my assignment is to compare and contrast two authors, wtf difference does it make if I use the library vs. Google? It's like those math teachers in the 60's who frowned upon calculators and insisted you use your "handy, tried and true" slide rule.
  • by Swashedbuckles ( 775296 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:16AM (#9073654)

    Teachers are trying to combat this now by requiring sources other than the internet. My last year of high school we were only allowed two or three internet sources. The rest had to be dead-tree books, magazines, newspapers, etc.

    What I find even more disconcerting are students who put down "" in their bibliography.

  • by dcrocha ( 776603 ) <[gro.tekcoswar] [ta] [leinad]> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:26AM (#9073768) Homepage
    Living in a 3rd. world country like Brazil, I would also add the problem of not finding the desired book, which is a *very* recurring issue in our (poor) public libraries. Most of them have catalogs that are so poor that makes going to them to look for something not worth it.

    I bet it happens in a lot of other countries as well.

  • Stumbling into gems (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:27AM (#9073783) Journal
    "Besides, half the fun of researching in the library is the irrelevant but interesting information you stumble across as you browse!"

    I get same experience on Google. One of my favorite things, after I got what I wanted, is to click on the higher numbered search pages and see what unusual results it also pulled up.

    This is from a guy who, as a kid, used to pause constantly while looking a word up in the dictionary because I kept stumbling onto words I didn't know before.
  • by Prince Vegeta SSJ4 ( 718736 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:33AM (#9073879)
    Back when Ricochet was around, I would go into local pubs in Atlanta on trivia nights, the would offer something like $20 certificates or more for the winner of the contest. With Ricochet (192kbps wireless internet), a PDA, and Google, I could walk in late - get a perfect score on the questions I answered and eat and drink free.

    Ricochet was around $70 amonth, but at 20-60 bucks a week it more than paid for itself. Best thing, there were no rules that said you couldn't access the internet. People were amazed at my trivia knowledge.

  • Re:god google (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kinzillah ( 662884 ) <douglas,price&mail,rit,edu> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:48AM (#9074095)
    Some of the things it can calculate are really crazy. []
  • Bad timings (Score:3, Interesting)

    by photon317 ( 208409 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:50AM (#9074124)

    The library timings are all ridiculuously low. One "ilbrary" query was listed as 20 seconds. Google and the Phone (the other two compared information search services) are ubiquitous and can be used from anywhere. A library involves a trip to the library, which is at least 10 minutes travel for most people, if not more. And even if the stopwatch started when you walked in the front door of the library, there's now way in hell they answered that first query in 20 seconds time total.

    Sounds like someone wanted to make a point that Google was inferior to your local library, and made up the data to prove it.
  • Re:I wonder... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by maddskillz ( 207500 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:51AM (#9074145)
    And they didn't include that you would have to go outside, talk to people, and maybe meet a cute librarian or something
  • by dasmegabyte ( 267018 ) <> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:59AM (#9074242) Homepage Journal
    I dunno. I used to do trivia at the Owl Bar [], which has a strict no-cell phones rule. If it's not in your head, it shouldn't go on the paper.

    And yet, people sneak their cell phones all the time. They walk outside, hide in the bushes, use text messages, etc.

    My team didn't care, because usually the cheaters didn't do that much better than we did. All your really smart friends come with you to trivia anyway :)
  • Speed vs accuracy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by colinduplantis ( 454258 ) <(moc.hsifreksihw) (ta) (niloc)> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @12:14PM (#9074428) Homepage
    My googlation has prompted me to submit the following observations:
    • the value of the information presented is inversely proportional to the effort made presenting it
    • the accuracy of the data is inversely proportional to the effort required to collect it
    I've noticed that the most useful pages to me are the ones that contain plain text, like mailing list archives, for example. Maybe that's just an artifact of the type of information I'm typically trying to collect (technical questions, etc).

    The second point is just a general observation. When I was in school, the web was a wet-behind-the-ears DARPA project that nobody had heard of. To write a paper, I had to go to the library and look stuff up in books and periodicals. It took friggin' forever, but the results were pretty accurate. Now, I can type something in google and get a bazillion hits pretty much instantly, but I have to carefully search through the results to weed out lunatic fringe webpages (unless that's what I'm looking for), out-of-date webpages with no date on them, etc. I wonder how that affects kids today doing research papers? Imagine never having to go to the library, but, instead, having to hone your skills of scepticism.

  • medical searches (Score:2, Interesting)

    by chaos421 ( 531619 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @02:21PM (#9075776) Homepage Journal
    i work at a hospital. if ever we have a dispute over what a certain term means or the symptoms of a given ailment, where do i turn? we have a ton of books sitting on the shelf... i turn to google. i usually find exactly what i'm looking for. my fellow coworkers (who are often less than internet savvy) marvel at how fast i come up with results. they try to stump me. me, they can stump... google, however, they cannot.

    google works extremely well (for me) when researching how to fix a problem with my computer or web server. versions change so fast, and a quick search on google (or usually google groups) yields a solution (or a path to one) very quickly.

    even my mom (definately not computer savvy) has added the word "google-ing" to her vocab.
  • by ReadParse ( 38517 ) <`john' `at' `'> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @03:56PM (#9076760) Homepage
    I think this is an extremely interesting topic and test. I'd be interested in a bigger version of the same thing. A long list of questions and an entire day to get the answers, judged on both time an accuracy.

    It's also great that they seemed to have put pretty good people to the test, which proves that whether you're on the Internet, in the Library, or on the phone, the best information miners will always be the most highly skilled people working with their most effective tools.

    The library and phone guys seemed to really be great, and the Google guy wasn't bad. He pointed out Google quoted phrase searching, which is something the general searching public should be more aware of. But I was still not terribly impressed with him. I quizzed myself on the same questions. I'm not British, so I had a bit of a cultural disadvantage (not much of one, though). I blew their Google guy out of the water.

    Again, it's not the tools... it's the person using them. Still an extremely interesting experiment.

  • by spagiola ( 234461 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @04:58PM (#9077480)
    The more things change, the more they stay the same...

    This particular question of whether computers are faster, and its moral that they are for some things but not for others, was the subject of a 1957 movie with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Desk Set []. In it, Hepburn is a librarian afraid that Tracy is planning to replace her with a large mainframe computer with lots of flashing lights. And in the end we find that yes, the computer is faster for some things, but no, it's not faster than a good librarian for all things, and there's a place for both.

    (And yes, I couldn't remember the name of the movie, but it took all of about 5 seconds to find the answer in Google []; searching on "hepburn tracy library computer" got me several links, and the second one [] was so obviously on point that the answer was in the snippet that Google itself quoted.)

I go on working for the same reason a hen goes on laying eggs. -- H.L. Mencken