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Your Google search is influenced by the crowd

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I just wanted to quickly check in today to make note of this fascinating article on Ars Technica, which summarizes the results of a study on how Google’s top search hits related to nanotechnology changed over a year, from 2008 to 2009.

In the 2008 search results, the top hits related to nanotechnology contained mainly neutral or economics-related terms, while in 2009 the landscape of the top ten search results was heavily skewed towards potential health concerns posed by nanotechnology. Google even made “Nanontechnology in medicine” the top suggested term for this topic, even though that phrase was not actually the most commonly searched term. Why is this?

The article suggests that reason for this apparent bias towards health related information seems to be overall media trend away from science news coverage and in favor of health and medical coverage, and that Google may not be driving these trends so much as reflecting them. However the implications for web search on scientific and technical topics is clear; when prior art searchers use Google, they’re being lead by a web search engine that has already been “taught” what’s interesting by a crowd of casual searchers. That’s not necessarily always a bad thing; however, it’s not always exactly what a prior art searcher wants.

There are a number of alternative web search engines out there which may not be as influenced by trending topics. Some are even science-specific, such as Scirus, or provide a federated search of the deep web, such as Scitopia. What search engines are you using to keep your results free from peer pressure? Let us know in the comments section!

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This post was contributed by Intellogist team member Kristin Whitman.


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