Magazine article Information Today

Search Me

Magazine article Information Today

Search Me

Article excerpt

Pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee and get comfortable, folks. It's quiz time.

Since each Web search engine has its own way of identifying "pay for play" search results (where some entity has coughed up a chunk of change so that its link will be displayed prominently on the first results page), let's see if you can match each search engine with the term it uses to identify its paid links.

A. Google           1. Sponsored Web Results
B. MSN Search       2. Sponsor Results
C. AOL Search       3. Sponsored Sites
D. Ask Jeeves       4. Sponsored Links
E. AltaVista        5. Sponsored Links
F. Yahoo! Search    6. Sponsored Matches

Answers: A-5 (or 4), B-3, C-4 (or 5), D-l, E-6, F-2

The Pew Internet & American Life Project released a report on search engines in late January. Essentially, it reported that only one in six search engine users could tell the difference between "sponsored" and "unbiased" search results. In general, users also had little understanding of how search engines work. Nevertheless, about 92 percent of search engine users expressed confidence in their searching abilities.

What's wrong with this picture?

I always try to read between the lines when I look at reports like this. Perhaps it's because, as deputy editor of DocuTicker, I see reports released by so many different organizations that I realize how pliable statistics can be. At least Pew Internet does not seem to have an ax to grind, but sometimes you have to wonder if survey respondents actually understand what they are being asked.

My number 2 son, now 13, has been using the Internet since he was old enough to reach the computer keyboard. While I'm not sure he understands exactly how it works, he seems to have the basics down--that the Internet is a network, not a database, and that search engines do not search every Internet site out there.

Just for the heck of it, when the Pew search engine study came out, I asked my son if he knew the difference between sponsored and unbiased search engine results. He was blogging at the time and looked annoyed to have been interrupted. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he said. Over his protests, I commandeered the computer and ran a quick search through Google. Several "sponsored links" appeared in a blue-shaded area at the top of the first page of the results. I pointed them out and explained that advertisers paid to have their links appear there.

"Oh, you mean those," he said. "I always ignore those." The disdain in his voice was hard to miss. After all, his generation has been the focus of intensive marketing since emerging from the womb. From where I sit, this has made them extremely cynical about virtually all advertising.

While this does not bode well for advertisers, it has resulted in a somewhat sophisticated level of media and information literacy among the young. For the most part, they are wonderful B.S. detectors. And while they may look to the Internet and other media as a source of information as well as entertainment, they are picky about what they are willing to take away from the experience.

So it is no surprise that the study concluded, "The younger the user, the more likely he is to use search engines and use them frequently." By and large, the young have grown up with the Internet, which has been as integrated into their lives as other forms of media--perhaps more so. …

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