Search engine love?

By reeset / On / In Education

Apparently, search engines are loving wikipedia.  Nicholas Carr and others have taken notice recently that Wikipedia is quickly becoming the default source of information for a number of search engines.  Well, now there is some informal research to confirm this trend.  Carr writes today that:

Well, now we have such a sample, thanks to a student in Slovenia by the name of Jure Cuhalev. In a research project, Cuhalev gathered a random sample of about 1,000 of the 1.4 million topics covered by Wikipedia. He then ran the terms through the Google, Yahoo, and MSN search engines. He found that Wikipedia did in fact appear with remarkable consistency in the upper reaches of search results. On average, the online encyclopedia appeared in the top-ten search results 65% of the time – and 26% of the time it actually had two results in the top ten. (Cuhalev has posted a summary of his findings on his blog, and the full report can be downloaded here.)

While I find this interesting, its not terribly surprising.  However, what did get me thinking was the following comment from Cuhalev’s web blog:

Interesting stuff! It’s nice to see our beloved encyclopedia in the results from a lot of searches, as it generally has nice concises data about the subject. Also, I won’t see Encyclopedia Britannica equal this feat any time soon

And you know what, it’s true, at least for part of it.  It is very unlikely that we’ll see Encyclopedia Britannica showing up on the top of a web search engine result.  For academics, this will be a cause for some concern.  While wikipedia does generally serve it’s purpose as a good general information source, the fact is that it isn’t a reviewed resource in the traditional sense.  What’s more, within most academic circles (including the classroom), it won’t be treated as an authoritative source of information.  Will this be problematic…sure.  We already know that most students use [insert popular search engine here] while doing their research — so if Wikipedia is showing up in the top 10 results, its very likely that students will start/continue to use it.  And this is where we get the rub.  For many, wikipedia will become their default source of encyclopedic information — assigning to it a measure of authority that quite possibility, it has yet to earn.  How does that affect the academic community?  Personally, I think it affects the professional community very little since this group will tend to gravitate towards more traditional research publications — but the students that they teach…that could be very different.  I’d be curious to know on OSU’s campus how most faculty currently treat citations pulled from wikipedia.