I’ve noticed a lot of posts lately about how the quality of Google’s search is declining. This is mainly due to content farms that churn out mediocre to low quality articles about every imaginable topic. They do this in the hopes that people will find their pages through Google and click on the ads there.
These content farms are things you have seen in search results before. They are sites like eHow, eZine Articles, HubPages, and Yahoo Answers among many others. And they are annoying as hell. I can’t remember ever finding a useful post on Yahoo Answers. Luckily, it seems that Google is finally trying to do something about it.
For some things, Google is great. I can type “Aljazeera” in and quickly find their English page without knowing the URL. For articles where I can’t remember who wrote them or where I read them, I can type a few keywords that I remember and retrieve them. But if I am doing any shopping I’m not going to Google. There is far too much spam and bias. I’ll go to Amazon or directly to a site. If I am looking for a somewhat credible answer to a not simply factual (Wikipedia) sort of question, I’m not likely going to search Google. Or if I do, I am often disappointed.
This was part of what I was trying to get at in my information landscape post earlier this month. Google is not magic and can’t do everything. It often fails us, and we lower our standards for it because we believe that it’s magic. It seems like these posts about lower quality search results could be used as teachable moments for students.
I observed another librarian teaching and she talked to students about sites like these. She pointed out things like the “belly fat” ads and how the content is normally pretty terrible. It seemed to work very well. Can we use this problem with search to help students become more discerning information consumers? Does anyone else talk about this?
A couple of days ago I was able to help a patron on Twitter with a question that they had about citations. It wasn’t directly addressed to the library though, so I almost missed it. A savvy marketing professor actually referred the student to the library on Twitter, which was very helpful.
This got me thinking though. There are likely a lot of potential library related questions on Twitter from our patrons that we miss because they might not be asking us or thinking of the library when they tweet. Patrons may be talking about proper citation or research though not @replying or DMing the library.
So, to remedy this and catch some of these questions I set up several alerts using Twitter’s advanced search. You can take advantage of the Boolean nature of the advanced search to make your searches very specific. I set up searches for:
- Tweets containing the word library
- Tweets containing the word cite
- Tweets containing the word research
- Tweets containing the word paper
- Tweets containing the word need AND book OR article OR books OR articles
All of these alerts I set up were within a 10-25 mile radius of the college to keep it targeted locally and keep hits managable. I keep these alerts in a folder in Google Reader.
Different libraries might run different searches. For example a public library around this time may run a search having to do with “tax help” or “taxes.” The searches can be tailored to your specific community, and they can be modified over time. I may find that some of the searches I’m running never return any useful hits. But something like the word “cite” or “citation” is not used that often. When it is, there’s a decent chance it’s something a library can help with.
What do other folks think? Are there other searches you would run? Is this just going out and looking for more work?