Magazine article Information Today

New Web Similarity Search Tools

Magazine article Information Today

New Web Similarity Search Tools

Article excerpt

Peter Jacso is associate professor of library and information science at the department of information and computer sciences at the University of Hawaii. He won the 1998 Louis Shores/Oryx Press Award from ALA's Reference and User Services Association for his discerning database reviews. His e-mail address is jacso@hawaii.edu.

Are these much-touted search engines panacea, snake oil, or in-between?

Web frenzy has been with us for years, but lately it has reached new heights. Hollywood must be watching with horror as Web-related news steals front page headlines and prime TV spots from Tinseltown gossips. Veteran anchormen of the evening news seem to compete to see who can utter more and longer URLs without pausing for a breath.

I would not be surprised to see someone start a rag called Worldwide Enquirer, and Jerry Springer put on a show with the topic "Web Abusers in the Family." Neophyte enthusiasm .for everything that has the word "Web" in it is understandable, but it is alarming when people who should know better lose their common sense.

You're Charging a $2 Penalty for What?

As I was working on this piece, I heard on the news that Delta Airlines announced that it is going to add a $2 charge to every ticket not bought through the Web as a penalty for the non-Webheads. This news was so absurd that U.S. News & World Report first reported the opposite of it, and then had to run a correction in its February 1 issue that the surcharge applies to domestic round-trip tickets that are not purchased on its Web site. Delta must have been so excited about putting up a commercial Web site that it believed that all Uncle Joes and Aunt Janes will immediately drop their phones and travel agents (who don't get even the much-reduced commission for tickets bought on the Web) and log on to http://www.delta-air.com.

It ain't gonna happen. I hope that customers will revolt and take their business elsewhere. (This is not envy-talk. If there is something I think I do really well, it is finding the cheapest airfares on the Web for scheduled flights. But I have been doing that for 20 years, honing my skills on the rather primitive QAG--Official Airline Guide--database instead of on the many nifty travel sites, not including the one from Delta.) Perhaps Delta should have offered a $2 discount for those who use the Web site, as it saves the company processing costs, and that announcement would have had a much better ring to it.

The spell of the Web also works the other way. As a prelude to my new Savvy Searching column in the February issue of Online & CD-ROM Review, I discuss the fear-mongering articles written lately that suggest that anything that comes from the Web should be suspect. If you have been reading me in this decade, then you know that I say the same thing about many high-price-tag databases created and hosted by information industry stalwarts. Ironically, those who pen these articles and make these speeches mostly credit (if they credit at all) Web publications, ignoring the rich traditional print literature by long-time database-quality crusaders familiar to readers of IT, such as Reva Basch, Anne Mintz, Ruth Pagell, Carol Tenopir, Jeff Pemberton, Nancy Garman, or Barbara Quint--to name but a few. The unprecedented unanimity of Congress in passing the Communications Decency Act of 1996 was surpassed only by the unprecedented incompetence of those who tabled the bill, and the (perhaps) unprecedented ignorance in Inte rnet matters of those who voted for it, which was almost the entire Congress. Luckily, the Supreme Court recognized the brutal unconstitutionality of the law and struck it down, Of course, there is a new round now with CDA 2 still pending.

What made me write this tirade is the news about some over-hyped Web search products in the printed press and on the Web. They certainly have merits and deserve interest, but not like the frenzy of teenage girls for the handsome Hansons. …

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