LISNEWS Bookclub: Chapter One of "The Search"

Chapter One has several interesting ideas presented. The author presents a concept called the "Database of Intentions". This database is the aggregate information about what we search for and what we want. The author argues that the "Database of Intentions" is going to be sought out by companies, governments, and people that want money and power. Currently the major online search companies contain the information about the "Datebase of Intentions". (Google, Yahoo, AOL, etc...) The author points out that if you are worried about the government seeing what you read you might be concerned if the Patriot Act were applied to your email account at Yahoo or Google.


Early in the chapter he talks a bit about Google Zeitgeist as being "directly jacked into the culture's nervous sytems" and this leads him to his conclusion that Google is a "database of intentions – a living artifact of immense power. My god I thought, Google knows what our culture wants!"I can't help but think librarians have known this for decades. Plus, Google only knows what people who use Google want, I'm not sure that's the same as "our culture" or not.I like the phrase "traces of intent" he also uses on page 2. The possiblilties are endless, and scary I might add, about what Google can do with all the information they collect on people.By page 4 we've already learned that Google is a media company. I'm not sure that's entirely true, because without the geeks they're dead in the water. They make money from the media part of their company, but without the technology they would be nowhere. Which side is more important now?"Put a search box in front of anybody and he'll know what to do with it"I'd add:"Put an OPAC in front of anybody and they'll ask for Google"I do like his ideas on why he chose to write about search, it's central to the Web. Though I'm not sure it'll lead us to AI, he does make a good case for that."Search is about 5 percent solved" Chew on that and think about what it means for libraries when it's even 50% solved.The implications section starting on page 12 is interesting. Those who have the "database of intentions" can learn an incredible amount of information about their users.Finally, I'm struck by how much all of this makes me think the search companies want to replace libraries. They never say that, but they say they want to be smart, and lead people to information, and understand what they want. All things that we do now, and have been doing for a century or two. Of course now the amount of information out there makes it difficult for one librarian. The amount of information, combined with the cheap and powerful computers we have now make it a good time to be in the Search Business.

Blake posted this line from the book "Put a search box in front of anybody and he'll know what to do with it"
Blake then made this comment:
"Put an OPAC in front of anybody and they'll ask for Google
I was thinking it would be a neat feature if on the peronalized part of Google you could list what libraries you had access to and when a book was at the library Google would display that info in your search. I know there is a duck tape way to do that now with WorldCat but I wish it was actually part of the system. With Z39.5 it should be technically possible.

Why should an OPAC with an interface designed in the same manner of Google (one search box), be so hard for people to use? If you called it Google Lite, would that make a difference?

Did anyone see the remake of "The Time Machine?" Remember the AI librarian the traveler runs into - the "7-Up-yours" guy. Call me a stick in the mud, but that kind of credible holographic interaction is going to take awhile despite what the holodeck inventors would have us believe.

Why should it? That's a good question. I think the answer is the librarians currently in charge won't let it happen. "We can't do that" is what you'll hear back. "It's not good enough" will be the reason. Remember, OPACs are designed for librarians, NOT patrons. Librarians tell the vendors what they THINK the patrons want, and the vendors make changes (begrudgingly and at a high cost).People will go with the path of least resistance i.e. the search tool that is easiest to use, not necessarily the one that will give them the best results.

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