Wednesday, July 30, 2008

First encounter with Google

Siva Vaidhyanathan is asking for stories about peoples' first encounters with Google on his blog Googlization of Everything. I had a kind of pre-encounter with Google, and this is what I posted on his blog.

I had been guest lecturing at Stanford about searching, showing the CS students some of the down sides of free-text searching. ("fiber optics" v. "fibre optics"). Around that time I was chatting with the brother of one of the Google founders. He told me that his brother was working on a new search engine that would be better than anything ever seen before. I tried to argue that it would still be limited by the reality of the full-text search. I probably looked at Google when it was first made available, and I was pretty un-impressed. Just more keyword searching.

Today I use it constantly, but I'm very aware of the fact that it works quite well for nouns and proper nouns (people, companies, named things), and less well for concepts. It also greatly reflects the Internet culture, where python is a programming language, not a reptile, and ruby as a gem takes second place to ruby on rails. I think of it as a giant phone book for the Internet, not as a classification of knowledge.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The catalog in your hand

At the Top Technology Trends I seconded that we need to get library services on handhelds, and I said that I'd like to be able to walk through the stacks and have the same access to the library's online services as I do when I'm at home. If your handheld device is especially nifty, you probably can browse the library web site and catalog, but for those with really small screens, it might be best to have a "mobile view." Here's an interesting example from BibliotecaLudwig Von Mises in Guatemala.

Friday, July 18, 2008

No Lolita

I don't know how it happened, but Google got set to "use strict filtering" on my computer. I was preparing a new version of my "there's no catalog like no catalog" talk, this time to illustrate the question of open access to library data. So I did my usual search on "lolita":

The word "lolita" has been totally banned by Google under its "strict filtering" option. Curious, I decided to try some other literary works that have stirred controversy. How about "Lady Chatterley's Lover"? Not only did Google do the search, it corrected my spelling:

I was able also to find the works of Henry Miller (whose "tropics" appear higher than the actual earthly ones), and the Marquis de Sade. (Warning: DON'T search on "sadism" and click on Google images if you don't have filtering on. I think I'm going to have weird nightmares for a while. Ick.)

We all know what is going on here, and it's an interesting phenomenon: Lolita is much more than a book, it has become such a part of our culture that it has become a word for a particular forbidden desire. That said, when I did a search on Lolita with filtering turned off I didn't find anything questionable in the first half dozen or so pages of hits (which is all I looked through). Google's ranking seems to favor the book, the movie, and a few businesses with Lolita in their names.

If your library has computers with filters turned on, try the Lolita search and report back to me. Thanks.

Thursday, July 10, 2008