Commentary: To google or not to google, that is the question
Article first published online: 3 NOV 2006
Copyright © 2003 International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education
Volume 31, Issue 3, page 203, May 2003
How to Cite
Parslow, G. R. (2003), Commentary: To google or not to google, that is the question. Biochem. Mol. Biol. Educ., 31: 203. doi: 10.1002/bmb.2003.494031030218
- Issue published online: 3 NOV 2006
- Article first published online: 3 NOV 2006
- Manuscript Received: 25 FEB 2003
If you want to do a web search then it is likely that you will Google without a second thought , although you may have a niggling feeling that it was just too easy. Even when I have a relevant book on my shelves it is generally more convenient to type a word into Google and choose from multiple references. I have only seriously used three search engines, initially Alta Vista (from 1994), then HotBot (from 1996), and now Google. I am delighted with how Google works for me, so I was hoping that it was equal to the best available. I particularly like the images search, a feature that has contributed to its dominant popularity. If you want a text on hemoglobin then use the image search, and you will find only articles that have illustrations of hemoglobin and are more likely to be suited to teaching. Hemoglobin as a search word selectively produces 1,700 hits in the image search mode and an overwhelming 316,000 reports on a web text search.
As satisfactory as Google is I keep encountering print articles on the range of web tools available to help me. At last I have faced the chore of reading through the search engine reviews and confronting the question of whether I would be better served by alternative search tools. The list of alternatives includes AllTheWeb, AltaVista, AOL Search, Ask Jeeves, HotBot, Kartoo, LookSmart, Lycos, MSN Search, Netscape Search, Overture, Open Directory, Teoma, and Yahoo. You can find all of these described directly and in links from Search Engine Watch . Unfortunately it is not quite as simple as looking up Search Engine Watch and finding a box with “best search engine.” Danny Sullivan, the chief executive of Search Engine Watch, has, however, stated that Google is the biggest and probably the best general search engine on the web. My sons, who are immersed in web communication and extremely discriminating in their use of computer utilities, also tell me that Google is their choice.
Google is a serendipitous, yet deserving, success story. The founders were Larry Page and Sergey Brim of Stanford University who 4 years ago thought that the most useful answers on the web were probably at sites that were frequently linked to by other sites. Sun Microsystems became patrons of the scheme in 1998, and Google popularity has increased ever since. Google provided much of the on-line information about the events of September 11, 2001 from cached resources when primary sources were overwhelmed by access demand. It remains a strength of Google that material newly deleted or inaccessible due to server failure can be located in their archives. The company now has 500 employees, and the income is generated from commercial users keen to have their product data featured in generic search reports and context-responsive advertising. Google also makes its data bases and search technology available to computer programmers so that clever updates (such as stock prices) can be fed into applications. There are known grounds to suspect that Google results have been manipulated by interested parties, notably through meta-tags that are in hidden text presented to Google when a site is being referenced. However, all search engines are vulnerable to bias, so it is just a matter of being wary as in any other transaction.
Google started as a noun and has become a verb. There are even modified verbs. To Google a person is to do a biographical check. Googlewhacking is the competitive sport of locating unique combinations of words, and Google fighting  is a word game that reveals how related topics have different web popularities (for example God gets 43 million web mentions and Satan gets a mere 2 million). I know that for a serious specific search a number of search engines should be used, but for most queries Google will be equal to the best.