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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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
      • 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.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Probably because they didn't think someone would be so cheap as to cheat in a pub quiz for $20. They probably didn't put a rule in, on the grounds that they hadn't needed to, because the people there to enjoy themselves were not competing *just* for the money. Now, the spirit of the event is ruined for everyone. You are indeed a sad individual.

          Admit it, you acted like a child. Grow up.
    • by Black Perl ( 12686 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:39AM (#9073968)
      Obviously, the researcher was not an experienced googler. I saw one question that they claim took 6 minutes 27 seconds:

      Question 3: Who is the vice chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on back care?

      A google search for:

      "vice chairman" all-party parliamentary group "back care"
      resulted in *exactly one* hit, a pdf document listing all parliamentary groups. A click on View As HTML, a find on "back care" and Voila, the answer took about 30 seconds to get.

      An experienced googler can find things faster than they did. This particular case was just a matter of knowing the difference between words and phrases and putting quotes in the right place. But there are many other tricks (such as negation and using 'site:') that their google searches could have benefited from.

  • 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 GuyinVA ( 707456 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:27AM (#9073081)
      You're obviously not using your teleporter...

      I actually had the same concern.
    • by mopslik ( 688435 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:29AM (#9073103)

      ...and even then, some of their numbers are questionable themselves:

      Question 1: List the titles of all the books written by Piers Morgan, editor of the Daily Mirror - Library Stephen Moss, 20sec (1st)

      So you're saying that once I'm at the library, it takes me 20 seconds to look up the call number/location of Who's Who, turn to the appropriate page, and list out all of the man's books? Right. More than likely, this is an example of "you are in the library, with the book in hand, opened directly to the page you want."

    • by lukewarmfusion ( 726141 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:30AM (#9073113) Homepage Journal
      Their library lookups don't appear to have included:

      Looking it up in a card catalog (electronic or not)
      Finding the book/periodical on the shelf
      Accounting for missing resources (like a real life 404!)

      Yeah, I'm a Google fan. Sometimes the library is better - but not for factoid lookups or finding out what the Royal Wessex couple did on Tuesday.
      • It also doesn't account for the fact that Google is not responsible for the accuracy of the content, only the relevance of the results compared to your search keywords.

        Books in the library tend to be checked and reviewed for accuracy of thier content. Websites generally are not. Even then, books might be wrong, so it is still up to the person doing the research to determine if the information presented is good or not.

        Also, it seems the author's googling skills are somewhat lacking. It took me less than a
        • It also doesn't account for the fact that Google is not responsible for the accuracy of the content,

          Neither is your library.

          Books in the library tend to be checked and reviewed for accuracy of thier content. Websites generally are not.

          Many websites are. And many materials at the library aren't. Either way, you have to figure out who can be trusted yourself.
    • These are just times for the homeless guy living behind the library who hangs out there all day harrassing patrons and looking up porn on the library computers.

      For people who have computers and access at home, the internet has many sources. The web is not the whole internet, nor is google the whole web.
  • Not versus, with (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Angry Black Man ( 533969 ) <vverysmartman AT hotmail DOT com> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:25AM (#9073055) Homepage
    Instead of comparing them against each other, its more important to use both internet based as well as "old fashioned" resources together. Its important to realize that hard backed enyyclopedias are better than google and wikipedia for some things, and not for others. The younger generation needs to learn how to recognize what source to use, instead of automatically going to google. The internet should not replace old fashioned resources but merely embrace them.
    • 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: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 haystor ( 102186 )
        Your assignment is to compare two authors. The lesson is on how to do the research. While in this particular case the internet was faster, you have passed up the learning experiences the library has to offer. Basically, the professor was asking you to not use a calculator.

        I'm convinced that my ability to find what I want on the web was greatly honed by my time spent in the stacks. I also miss a bit of the serendipity of where the card catalog could lead but that is just nostalgia that doesn't recall al
  • Huh? (Score:3, Funny)

    by pierced2x ( 527997 ) <pierced2x@gmail.com> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:25AM (#9073056)
    What is this li-brar-ee thing you speak of? That must have been where people accessed the internet before computers...
  • by dunedan ( 529179 ) <antilles AT byu DOT edu> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:25AM (#9073061) Homepage
    That none of the questions included something likey what is the maximum sustainable speed in Mb/s of the alcatel 8100 series router

    Thats the stuff where Google with kick everyones trash, not complete list of authorships
    • That none of the questions included something likey what is the maximum sustainable speed in Mb/s of the alcatel 8100 series router

      This is an uncommon question for your average person. It is even an uncommon type of question. They are looking at more common questions your average user would ask. That is a better test. If you know this question you probubally don't even need to search google but can go directly to the site.
  • Library (Score:5, Insightful)

    by artemis67 ( 93453 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:26AM (#9073062)
    He didn't count the time it took for him to leave his office and drive to the library. So add another 20 minutes to all of the library times.
    • Re:Library (Score:5, Insightful)

      by siliconwafer ( 446697 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:27AM (#9073086)
      Exactly. Google (and the entire internet) are accessible from the comfort of our homes. Going to the library to research requires getting up and actually going there. While traditional methods of research certainly have their merits, nothing beats the convenience of Google.
      • Re:Library (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tolan-b ( 230077 )
        Also, I suspect being a journalist you would have a better idea of who to ring for various information, as research is a fairly important part of journalism.
        • Re:Library (Score:3, Insightful)

          That definitely should be taken into account. Not everyone has extensive contacts they can call at any time for random information. Not every library is close-by, and they're certainly not usually open 24x7x365.
        • Re:Library (Score:3, Insightful)

          by nautical9 ( 469723 )
          ... as research is a fairly important part of journalism
          That should be moderated Funny, not Insightful, at least by today's journalistic "standards".
      • "Google (and the entire internet) are accessible from the comfort of our homes"...assumes ubiquitous home internet access. Not necessarily true for all now, or for some time to come.
    • So the article is assuming people have internet connections in their home. If they don't, they're out of luck with Google. The library is open to everyone. (Perhaps they could use Google at the library, assuming it isn't censored).
  • by titaniam ( 635291 ) * <slashdot@drpa.us> 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 [google.com]. 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.
    • by log0n ( 18224 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:34AM (#9073169)
      This could be because no-where in the top page source does Google ever have the word 'engine'.
    • by JimDabell ( 42870 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:53AM (#9073377) Homepage

      I'd have to say that google deliberately alters certain rankings.

      They have done in the past for legal reasons. They do not do so for editorial reasons. For instance:

      Our search results are generated completely objectively and are independent of the beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google. Some people concerned about this issue have created online petitions to encourage us to remove particular links or otherwise adjust search results. Because of our objective and automated ranking system, Google cannot be influenced by these petitions. The only sites we omit are those we are legally compelled to remove or those maliciously attempting to manipulate our results.

      (From google.com/explanation [google.com]).

      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.

      No, that is just one possibility. A far likelier reason would be that you don't know the Google ranking algorithm and so haven't taken into account important details.

  • 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.
    • Like you said, you didn't know the other places to search for things. My kid sister has the same problem. She doesn't know other places to find information other than the web. This is a shortcoming we now have because we rely to much on one source and grew up doing it.

      As far as looking for the information in places other than the net, I found my mom knows all those places and where to find things quickly without the web or google.
    • 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!
      • 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?

        Since the only things in the library nowadays are Internet-connected computers, DVDs and homeless people, "library skills" essentially amounts to using Google.

      • 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 "www.google.com" in their bibliography.

      • Stumbling into gems (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 )
        "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 dangermouse ( 2242 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @12:16PM (#9074465) Homepage
        What I find disconcerting is that so many people don't even realize that the library is not just a big stack of books, it's a service. Libraries have trained staff-- many of them degreed in library & information science-- who spend all day finding information for people.

        Who cares if you don't know where to look for a piece of information? The reference librarian does. In larger libraries, there are usually librarians who specialize in particular fields of research. My university's library, for instance, has at least one research librarian assigned to each college or school within the university-- all degreed, and many dual-degreed in library science and their respective specialty fields. And they don't care in the least who is asking them for help-- it's not like the CS librarian will only talk to CS students.

        Google is convenient, and fast for most searches, but there's a lot of information that just isn't available to it. Libraries buy access to that information, both in print and in databases, and they hire people to help you find the stuff you need.

        The most important library skill, and the one that is most often overlooked, is recognizing the reference desk and asking for help.

    • That's what I thought when I read the article.

      I bet a normal person would do considerably worse trying to find those answers on the phone than a professional journalist.
  • 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.

    • Re:How? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by lawpoop ( 604919 )
      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.

  • or did they..? :-)
    With just a wee bit of ai built into google you cannot expect it to answer questions like those.Of course given a little time goofle will manage to pull it up.
  • 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 [google.com], and if so what was the result? I'm assuming that their researchers use resources other than the internet.
    • Re:Google Answers (Score:5, Informative)

      by Peter Cooper ( 660482 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:43AM (#9073280) Homepage Journal
      I'm a Google Researcher. Generally most Researchers use the Internet or their own knowledge as their primary resource when answering questions. This is because most questions have a low fee and can be given answers which are merely pointers to further resources. Researchers are also encouraged to give the methods they used in their answer, to help the person who asked the question.

      However, there have been quite a number of extraordinary cases where people have been so interested in answering the question that they've made phone calls, chased people, and dug out answers to incredibly complex questions. In one case, a Researcher managed to track down someone's obscure pre-20th C. German heritage.

      Do remember that Google Answers is primarily for people who don't have excellent research skills of their own. While easy to use, finding certain things with Google (and other engines) requires skill, time, intelligence, and abstract thinking faculties that many people lack. Also bear in mind that most Google Researchers don't do it for the money. You will inevitably get a far higher quality (and longer) answer than you could possibly expect for the money. This is why tips are given to Researchers so often on the system.
  • by kbsingh ( 138659 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:30AM (#9073116) Homepage
    The comparison dosent seem to be so much as google / other means - its more of an Online V/s Offline means to search for specific stuff.

    I think its wrong to brand Google as the only means to look for information online.

    Secondly, the issues that the reviewer raises are also adhoc - they cant be used to generalise the entire deal / spectrum of infomation that people need / want / desire.

    Try looking for a code sample that shows you how the GTK# can be used from Mono to display a Multi level Outline filelist. What are the options that you have for this in the Non - Online world ?

    The guy already knew who to ask / who to talk to - what if you dont know that - what then ? how do you go about finding the best non-online resource to speak with / enquire from ? My guess is that you are going to be heading right back online.

    What about the fact that the online resources / google are avilable to you when you want it - how you want it and where you want it. Ever looked up what a word from the bible meant in the middle of sunday mass at the local church using a Wap phone over gprs at wml.google.com ? Me neither....

  • I bet those who he/she called, immediatly fired up google to find the answer ;)
  • by beh ( 4759 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:31AM (#9073129)

    After reading the article, I feel there is a slight bias in favour of the libraries when looking at the questions. Of course a library has a master index of books of one author. Or - to find out about some very specific question about an event you immediately know what kind of journals to look in.

    The only question really geared for search engines was the Thatcher quote (as that would be a full text search).

    Would this be the time to create a true categorisation of questions to be used in comparisons? (Note - not the ACTUAL questions, so that search engines could optimise for them, but only specify the general direction of questions).

    I admit, it would be pretty hard to do, but I guess it could be worth the effort...
  • 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: dmiessler.com/study/google/+dmiessler.com+google&h 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 ) <SLowLaRIS.xNIX@Rules> 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.
    • "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."

      "Hi, I'm looking for pictures of hot young naked sluts?...yes, I'll hold"
  • 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.
  • While I realize the story was meant to be a bit tongue in cheek (Calling up friends and such) it saddens me that people assume search engines will work with any old garbage in and hold them to the results given from such searches. Obviously this guy knows the exact right questions and places to query in the library; that sort of knowledge only comes from experience. Unfortunately he hasn't once actually read the advanced search modifiers help for the search engine he is comparing with other mediums where he
  • by dot-magnon ( 730521 ) <co@ a u r a lvision.no> 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 [google.com] 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 [google.com] I called over a hundred different restaurants to see who was serving on Christmas Day. Hah.
  • Bias? Proof: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    1min 17sec (1st)

    1,201 km (499 km of which is electrified). I type "percentage" as well as "Slovenian railway system" and "electrified". Google isn't playing with that combination at all, so I take out "percentage" and separate "Slovenia". Scanning the results, I choose a site I've visited before: the CIA World Factbook, Washington's greatest gift to the web. I am prepared to trust the CIA on Slovenia. For the time being, anyway.

    Verdict: The higher figure attained over the phone may be more up to da
  • Searching skills (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OblongPlatypus ( 233746 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:35AM (#9073189)
    Question 3: Who is the vice chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on back care?

    Google - 6min 27sec (3rd)

    Quote: "Unfortunately, "back" is rather a common word, and is turning up in all sorts of irrelevant documents..."

    Entering "back care" in quotation marks got me the answer in 25 seconds, much less than either of the "offline" sources. If they're going to have an accurate test, at least make sure the person performing it knows how to use a search engine.

    Or maybe I'm wrong; maybe most people don't have these basic searching skills, in which case the test is accurate after all?
    • by thebra ( 707939 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:42AM (#9073259) Homepage Journal
      You are correct, most people don't have the skills needed to get accurate results. It drives me nuts trying to watch others use a search engine, the first mistake is they usually type www.yahoo.com in the address bar.
    • Re:Searching skills (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Guru1 ( 521726 )
      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".
    • Question 3: Who is the vice chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on back care?

      And so far, Google has failed to answer my question -- what on earth is going on with British backs that they need such a parliamentary group?

  • by thebra ( 707939 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:37AM (#9073200) Homepage Journal
    I would think it would take 5 mins just to find the phone number to the library, get some one to answer the phone and then explain the question, PLUS have them search for answer. This also would all depend on the library you call. Google is google no matter where you live, but not every library is staffed when the same people.
  • by GreyPoopon ( 411036 ) <gpoopon@gmailCOW.com minus herbivore> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:39AM (#9073215)
    Although this article is entertaining, the search results are meaningless. The power of Google is in the fact that I can find something I'm looking for in just a few minutes without having to leave my desk or engage in social pleasantries. To really make the results accurate, you must at least include all the factors that impact the time it takes to arrive at an answer. For calling someone on the phone, you need to add in the time it takes to figure out who to call (maybe they did that). For the Library, you need to add: drive time, time spent waiting for the online (or paper) card catalog to be available, and the time it takes to find an appropriate reference in the catalog and then go get the book or periodical you need. You can't count on people knowing exactly what source of information to use for the facts they want to know.

    I believe in using the right tool for the job. If you are in the middle of something at work or at school and need to check on a fact real quick, use Google. If you are doing in-depth research on a topic, you are probably better off first going to the library because it's easier to determine the quality of your source material there. Afterwards, you can supplement with a bit of Googling and you'll probably know whether your search results are useful or pure hogwash. The phone call method? Use that if you're lonely.

  • by Albanach ( 527650 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:39AM (#9073218) Homepage
    From the article: Question 3: Who is the vice chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on back care? Google - 6min 27sec (3rd)

    But if you search google for "vice chairman" "all-party parliamentary group" "back care" you only get two results which are actually for the same document - an alphabetical list of all-party groups. Scroll down to back care and there's your answer. Why would that would take six and a half minutes?

  • by bobej1977 ( 580278 ) * <rejamison@yah o o .com> 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 Tanami ( 601011 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:47AM (#9073318)
    I found the answer to the question 3 in about 30 seconds, well under the 6m 27s quoted by their researcher. It's clear from their comments about irrelevant pages that they hadn't enclosed 'back' in quotes to form "back pain", as '"back care" parliamentary group' puts the result on the third link (from google.co.uk). Also, it doesn't seem very fair to compare a researcher who doesn't think to use quotes round that expression with a librarian who knows to look "on page 242 of the excellent Vacher's Quarterly", a publication with which I (and most of the public, I would imagine) have no familiarity whatsoever.
  • The third question (Score:3, Informative)

    by Peter Cooper ( 660482 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:48AM (#9073328) Homepage Journal
    Who is the vice chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on back care?

    Google came last in their test, with a time of 6 minutes and 27 seconds. I decided to recreate their test (before knowing what the answer was). I entered.. "vice chairman" "parliamentary group" "back care"

    First response, scrolled down a few pages till I saw 'back care' highlighted.. found the name, Janet Dean. Less than a minute! These people are not very good at their Google ;-)

    Google is not some magic research machine. The person is the magic research machine, who uses Google as a tool. Just like "Do It Yourselfers" at home use the same hammers and saws that carpenters do.. but make a crappier job of it.
  • by NitroWolf ( 72977 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:50AM (#9073349)
    This isn't a comparison of anything...

    The library searches don't include travel time. They also appear to only count the time it takes you to read the text in the book... not to:

    a) Find WHAT book you want (Card catalog?)
    b) Locate the book on the shelf
    c) Find the correct page

    All those things take the MOST amount of time, not reading the actual text. This is assuming that you KNOW what book you're looking for to begin with. I had no idea Who's Who would be a good place to look for the answer to the author's books. Google would have given me the answer pretty quickly without the need to know that information. How much more time would it have taken to find out Who's Who is the book you wanted?

    Add on top of the fact that I'd have had to drive ot the library, and the time increases dramatically.

    Calling a friend? Maybe faster, but I don't have many friends that would know answers like that... nor do I have the number to railway stations on speed dial... especially those in other countries.

    Google is simply the fastest AND most convenient method to find the information. Or at least, if not Google, SOME search engine. If you're already at the library and KNOW what book you want, it might be a better choice, but seriously, how often does that happen? How often do you sit at the library and think of things you want to know?

    I don't... I'm usually sitting at home reading, or surfing the web and come across something I want to know more about. Driving to the library to find that information would be ludicrous... and calling my friends regularly with mundane questions would cause me to lose what little outside life I already have.

    Bleh... this isn't even an aritcle worth reading... jeez.
  • by whiskeypete ( 305461 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @10:53AM (#9073384)
    Yes they were able to get the required information from the library, but the only way to confirm that the data was accurate was to compare it to a known "up-to-date" source.

    If I used the encyclopedia that was available in my High School library (in 1983) I would have learned that because of the recent Sputnik launch that man would someday walk on the moon.
  • by onebuttonmouse ( 733011 ) <obm@stocksy.co.uk> 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 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.
  • by Lew Pitcher ( 68631 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:07AM (#9073556) Homepage
    Question 3: Who is the vice chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on back care?

    Google search criteria: 'UK +"vice chair" +parliament + "back care"'

    Results 1 - 9 of about 10 for UK + "vice chair" +parliament +"back care". (0.24 seconds)

    First page presented was http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/ pa/cm/cmparty/memi135.htm which takes you directly to the Back Care Group, where we find that Janet Dean (Labour) is listed as Vice Chair.

    Perhaps the testers don't know how to use Google?

  • Anecdotal at best. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by steve buttgereit ( 644315 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:12AM (#9073606) Homepage
    Well, this isn't a very good test. Really what we learned is how effective one individual can be using google compared to other methods. Even then the tests didn't try to see how this applied to different kinds of information or how these results may have different from a group perspective. Worse still, the results for the author's first question makes me question if the author knew the answers ahead of time and had no way to call a result 'correct' or otherwise.

    Also, more comprehensive searches at a library could involve actually having to visit the library... with it's associated drive time.

    A good test would have had more questions, more participants and questions selected for a vareity of information types. The premise of the article I think is interesting: what kinds of research is the net really good for? Other than porn, of course, which is a given (try not finding it).

    The problem with Google (et al) isn't finding information: it's finding reliable information (for most subjects). There's a hell of a lot of noise out there.

  • Advantage: Google! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Don Tworry ( 739153 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:16AM (#9073650) Homepage
    Google has some other advantages that phoning and the Library don't have:

    1. Google is pretty much 'always on'. I can do a Google search any time of day where as I can't use the phone or the library at 3 am.

    2. The ability to Find a keyword. Usually when I use a google search I use the google cache. This highlights the terms I am looking for so I can find them easily on the page. This is an inherent advantage of the computer over people or your eyes - scanning through text looking for what you really want.
  • by Retired Replicant ( 668463 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:17AM (#9073662)
    The times they list for the library searches are bogus because it doesn't include the time needed to walk or drive to the library. With Google or the phone you can start your search immediately right from your desk at work.

    Libraries are expensive dinosaurs. All information in book or journal form should be digitized and put on the internet.

  • Lexis-Nexis (Score:5, Insightful)

    by squashed ( 664265 ) on Thursday May 06, 2004 @11:21AM (#9073711)
    How about a meaningful comparison of electronic data retrieval services?

    Compare Google to Lexis-Nexis.

    Lexis-Nexis has boolean logic driven search (not natural language), and lacks "PageRank", but it includes all sorts of major periodicals not offered and certainly not archived on the web.

    Lexis-Nexis would win hands down in all sorts of categories of questions.

    It's an object lesson in the impact of intellectual property laws on access to information in our societies.
    • This is similar to medline, where professional researchers and librarians have pre-indexed the material with known keywords (on medline called MESH headings). The key is that unlimited free-text searching is usually much poorer versus use of predefined keywords.

      Since there is a committee that predefines the keyword, and a modern search engine (on medline for instance Ovid), will map your free text to the MESH heading to which all articles have been mapped by a review committee. This is simply shifting the

  • 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.
  • Speed vs accuracy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by colinduplantis ( 454258 ) <colinNO@SPAMwhiskerfish.com> 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.

  • by Control Group ( 105494 ) * on Thursday May 06, 2004 @12:35PM (#9074685) Homepage
    There are a chorus of common themes in posts here, which essentially boil down to: "the test doesn't take into account travel time," "I was able to google the answer faster than that," "libraries are dinosaurs," and "googling works better off-hours."

    Both the tests and the replies miss the most obvious problem: Google, libraries and friends answer different information needs.

    Google is a fantastic way to find web sites. That's both the massive scope and the cramped limitation of it. It's up to you to sift through the web site result for the specific bit of information you want and then determine its accuracy. Google itself makes no claims on providing informationally accurate results, it claims to provide contextually accurate results.

    If you want a significantly higher chance of information accuracy, a library is your ideal choice. For comprehensive information on the topic, a library is a better choice. You have experts on hand to steer you towards the most useful/reliable sources, and information pre-catalogued and cross-referenced for you.

    If you want a an answer to a question that's particularly obscure, highly specialized, or couched in necessarily vague (or, worse, common) terms, a human expert is your best bet. If you want to find the last time the Milwaukee Brewers were over .500 in June, you talk to your baseball-enthusiast friend (substitute in appropriate football clubs and stats if you happen to be in the 90% of the world that prefers football). If you want to know the name of that one blonde girl your ex-roommate dated sophomore year, you call your ex-roommate.

    Somewhat tangentially, the other glaring problem with most of the responses I've seen is they ignore the skill required to use any of these sources. Plenty of people have complained how they wouldn't know what books to reference or what people to call...often the same people who mock the author for not knowing what search terms to use. It's all learned skills. Google-fu is learned, not natural. Just like library research (anyone who's played Call Of Cthulhu should know that), and knowing who to call. Knowing how to differentiate a web site that's probably authoritative from one that's at best shaky is a skill that's really no easier or harder than being able to recognize a publication as reliable or a rag.

    Anyhow: my point is that the article is neither right nor wrong. Google vs. libraries vs. phone-a-friend is a pretty meaningless question. They're different resources for different jobs.

  • by Michael_Burton ( 608237 ) <michaelburton@brainrow.com> on Thursday May 06, 2004 @12:44PM (#9074801) Homepage

    But is the internet really the quickest way to access facts - and get them right?

    It's not a fair test. The "get them right" requirement skews results against the internet.

  • by ReadParse ( 38517 ) <john@funnyLAPLACEcow.com minus math_god> 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.


Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.