A Love/Hate Relationship
ByShirley Duglin Kennedy
When you've been around the block a few times, you tend to be a bit cynical
about affairs of the heart. But sometimes, in spite of your best intentions,
love sneaks up and whacks you upside the head. And there you are: wandering
around in a blissful haze, totally besotted.
When love is shiny and new, you perceive your beloved to be surrounded by
an otherworldly aura, devoid of imperfections. Forsaking all others, you cannot
get enough of this dazzling newness. But as most of us know, once the affair
is no longer fresh and dewy, there exists the distinct possibility for disillusionment.
Maybe you start wondering how you didn't notice certain thingsthings
that are now beginning to drive you crazy.
Breaking Up with Google?
All I have to say is be wary of falling in love with a search engine. You're
likely setting yourself up for a fall. Of course, I'm talking about Google
here. People get emotionally involved with Google.
In 1998, Google was still in beta and handling just 10,000 queries a day.
Its innovative approach to link analysis was attracting the attention of not
only potential investors, but also search professionals. A lot of us were totally
sucked in. Hey, was it good for you too, baby?
Google came out of beta in September 1999. By the end of 2000, it was handling
more than 100 million searches a day. Bells and whistles were added. APIs were
released so creative souls could play. An innovative self-serve AdWords program
began to revolutionize the way advertising was presented and sold on the Web.
Google now processes upward of 200 million queries a day. But is it still good
for you, baby? Some of us are beginning to have our doubts. Yes, there's continuing
Google hype in the mainstream media, and the average Internet user is still
besotted. But those of us who search for a living are well into the process
of perceiving and documenting Google's flawssome minor, some relatively
Certain issues are largely a function of Google's popularity. For way too
many Internet users, if what they're looking for doesn't appear in the first
page or two of results after a simple keyword search, it may as well not exist.
It would never occur to many, if not most, of these seekers to take advantage
of Google's advanced features orheaven forbidtry their queries
on another search engine.
Many search experts and pundits feel that Google may have hit the wall with
its link-analysis technology. The search engine optimization industry has it
pretty well figured out, which is why so many really mediocre and downright
crummy links ooze their way to the top of your search results. You've run into
these: spam pages that are basically nothing more than link farms. And then
there's "Google bombing": manipulation, according to Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineWatch, "where
Web sites are influencing Google's search results by controlling where they
link to and what they say in their links."
And how many times has your search pulled up scores of duplicate results
from the same site or database? Ugh!
Gary Price, my guru and colleague at ResourceShelf.com, has identified other
problems with Google, including the following:
Advanced search features that don't work or don't work properly,
such as the Boolean OR
Inaccurate page-count estimates
The fact that Google indexes only the first 100 KB of any document
(120 KB for Adobe PDFs). If what you need is beyond this arbitrary limitwhich,
according to Price, is never stated by Googleyou won't find it.
Announcements of new features that either don't work right
when rolled out (airline flight searches) or more or less never get off the
(Google crawling the abstracts of IEEE publications)
A librarian could help, of course. Most of us work diligently to educate
our customers. We can show them how to use Google more effectively or introduce
them to other search tools andoften betterspecialized databases,
either free or subscription-based. Many of the latter are paid for by our customers
through their taxes but remain sorely underutilized due to lack of knowledge.
We all know that the big problem is getting them to come to us in the first
Back Together Again?
Every once in a while, however, we have a magic moment. Recently, a customer
approached me with a citation for an article published in a journal that dealt
largely with counterterrorism. (Such is life at a military base.) "I checked
Google," she said, "but it wasn't in there."
I did not check Googleat least not right off the bat. I checked a customized
military and intelligence database we get from Gale/InfoTrac. The good news:
Yes, this publication was available there in full text. The bad news: In the
database, there's a lag in the availability of full text from this publication.
And the article the customer wanted, published in January 2004, was not online
The standard document delivery channels we use for such requests would not
get the article to the customer soon enough. (They always need it yesterday.
Or is it just my customers?) Since I've indeed been around the block
a few times, I've been known to engage in back-channel "guerrilla" interlibrary
loan with colleagues who have what I don't. I told the customer I might be
able to get the article the following day. This was OK with her.
As she walked away, I looked again at the citation she had left me. The author's
last name was unusuala long, Eastern European name. On a whim, I punched
this into Google.
The article she was looking for had been presented as a conference paper.
The entire conference proceeding had been placed online in full text by the
City University of New York. (Thank you very much.) I bolted from behind my
desk and tracked down the customer in our parking lot. I was able to catch
her before she drove away. She was thrilled, especially since she could read
other, related papers as well.
Sometimes, baby, it's still so-o-o-o-o good!
Shirl Kennedy is the reference librarian at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa,
Fla. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.