PERSPECTIVE: Day of the Internet, but Long Live Books; the Internet Is Expanding by the Day While Traditional Methods of Research Seem to Fall by the Wayside. Adam Aspinall Pitted Google against the Reference Book to See If It Really Has Had Its Day

The Birmingham Post (England), March 2, 2005 | Go to article overview

PERSPECTIVE: Day of the Internet, but Long Live Books; the Internet Is Expanding by the Day While Traditional Methods of Research Seem to Fall by the Wayside. Adam Aspinall Pitted Google against the Reference Book to See If It Really Has Had Its Day


Byline: Adam Aspinall

After a year of journalism training involving lots of fairytale writing, coma inducing lectures and painful work experience, there was one thing which stuck in my mind - what did we do before the internet?

Many an eminent and grizzled hack has stood before me over the last 12 months and struggled to answer this question. The usual response being an 'erm' followed by a thousand yard stare and some vague answer regarding the library.

The problem is the internet has become such a useful and effective research tool over the last five years people don't think twice before revving their mouse buttons and flying off down the information super highway.

Of course this is not such a bad thing as the time constraints in the workplace require speed and lots of it, but while the internet can be incredibly quick, its reliability is still questionable.

The traditional methods of reference books, cuttings and contacts remain essential and not wanting to sound too tragic, one fantastic compendium of facts and figures managed to wing its way into my Christmas stocking this year.

The Penguin Book of Facts is one of the most amazing reference books I have come across.

It is packed with the most useful and interesting information you could imagine although I'm not too sure when the Chinese Agricultural calendar will come in handy but it's nice to know it's there if I need it.

Bearing this in mind I decided to pit the 'Bamber Gascoigne' of books against the might of Google, the popular American search engine which connects the web like a beating heart.

A colleague chose ten topics at random from the news pages of anational paper so I could time how long it took me to find out what each one was using the different sources.

I gave the book a 20 second headstart on each search to save it from my stubby hands and allow for the fact Google would work at lightning speed.

I was also well aware the challenge may have been doomed from the start. After all Google searches from the equivalent of thousands of books compared to my paltry one.

But because I am not some kind of android that can digest thousands of pieces of information at once I concluded anything else was unrealistic.

First on the list was Baroness Greenfield, a neurologist. I fumbled and floundered with the book for four minutes before I realised she wasn't in there and then found her using Google in 34 seconds.

Now before I get an angry phone call from the people at Penguin she could still be in the book. As beautifully organised as it is I could not find her so it couldbe my error as much as anything else.

But when you find an entire biography from a reliable source (BBC) in 34 seconds there cannot be much argument can there?

The rest of the challenge followed a similar pattern with Google winning each search like a hare who didn't decide to take a nap halfway through the race. …

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PERSPECTIVE: Day of the Internet, but Long Live Books; the Internet Is Expanding by the Day While Traditional Methods of Research Seem to Fall by the Wayside. Adam Aspinall Pitted Google against the Reference Book to See If It Really Has Had Its Day
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