(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Google Scholar Redux

Friday, November 19, 2004
Well, unless you've been living under a digital rock, you've probably heard that the latest Googlething is Google Scholar (Beta), which, according to the official GoogleBlog:
is a free service that helps users search scholarly literature such as peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports.
The New York Times article on the new service pointed to the utility of the service beyond the ivory towers of the univesity, and to a home truth that still has many academics concerned:
Google Scholar is another reflection of changing habits in the academic world, said Mr. Sack of HighWire Press. In the past decade, students and researchers have begun to go to online search engines first.
The omni-Google approach is definitely here to stay, so the new service could, in fact, go a long way to ensuring that students find relevant academic material, even if they only use the Google-one-stop-info-shop! A quick test on a few of the key writers in my field--Catherine Waldby, Donna Haraway and Mark Poster--came up with the results I would have expected, and a few more, so I'm impressed with the larger academics being covered. (Of course, I was a little disappointed that nothing of mine has been indexed yet, but hopefully The Fibreculture Journal, Limina, Outskirts and Reconstruction will ask to the Googleable soon; I must confess being a little surprised that Comparative Literature Studies wasn't in there!). Of course, if Google Scholar becomes the first stop for academic searches, then I imagine there will be a huge push by smaller journals and indexing services to make sure their content is searchable (being unGoogleable could very quickly dry up citation building!). Alex Halavais points out that there are some notable absences:
that blogs seem strangely absent, but occasional and working papers, self-hosted, seem to appear. Actually, that?s not entirely true. For example, one of my blog postings showed up because it was referenced in a conference article.
I have no idea how Google would "decide" what constitutes an academic blog, though. On a slightly more concerning front, Halavais asks:
Is this yet another system that is just asking to be gamed? I showed my chair the site, and a few hours later he was walking around the department with a ranking of our faculty by number of hits. Luckily, this didn?t leave me on the bottom. While I am ?underpublished,? this particular impact factor actually measures things like conference papers and notes of thanks from authors and editors. Now I just have to ask myself if including this in my tenure package a few years down the road is going to mark me as too weird for tenure, or is going to be required.
And I must concur there are very real concerns now about how Google would use and develop the service (although those may emerge), but rather of import is how universities might utilise the service to rank academics or their worth, through a system which, if the past is any measure, can be tweaked by dedicated and clever individuals in ways never intended by those maintaining the service. On the flipside, Academic Gamer blog has perhaps the most optimistic response:
This could be really incredible - imagine libraries using this as the main search and imagine journals switching over to an open access version (for all, not just through stupid paid-for connections) so that they could be searchable by Google Scholar. And, since print journals are so costly, imagine them supplementing themselves with Google Scholar-only versions that would have ads on the side to offset the costs/ad revenue lost. This will certainly be a long process and this is only one small step, but it's the biggest step I've seen in the last 5 years (which is how long I've been in grad school and really paying attention) towards academia becoming more accessible for everyone . I could be overly positive on this, but Google has been such a boon that I think we could be seeing the rise of the Google Generation, or at least I hope we are.
And my thoughts? Anything that makes links between academia and the public more generally is a good thing. Academia only remains useful when linked to the wider world. However, as Google becomes more and more dominant and important as both a research tool and, potentially, a cut'n'paste resource, it will increasingly be the reponsibility of all academics to ensure that students develop the critical skills necessary both to Google well (pagerank is not an academic measure, after all!) and to look beyond the Googleplex, no matter how encompassing that service becomes.

Update (5.17pm, 22 Nov 2004): Richard Wray of the Guardian Online puts Google Scholar to the test and finds that for many searches, the service really isn't up to the task!


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