Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Man vs. Machine - It's On

A few months ago, we introduced findingDulcinea, Libarian of the Internet. It is one of several efforts characterized by the audacity to believe that the human brain can outperform an algorithm in helping users to find credible and comprehensive information on the Internet, and to add needed context that helps users make sense of it all. It's the most exciting man-machine throw-down since Kasparov battled Deep Blue a decade ago.

These “human-powered” efforts reflect a common belief that search engine queries, in many cases, do not provide satisfactory results for most users. Yes, for many simple queries, anyone can find an accurate answer from a search engine in a few seconds. And if you have many years of Internet research experience and know hundreds of varied sites you can trust and are well versed in the many ever-permutating permutations of fraudulent schemes online, and have gobs of free time to sift through search results, a good search engine will suffice in most cases. But for the vast majority of users that do not met these criteria, curated information filtered through human insight and knowledge may often prove more useful to you than a slew of barely differentiated search results.

Surveys consistently conclude that most Internet users cannot find credible and comprehensive information on the Internet. Yahoo recently published its own survey that suggested that 85% of searches fail to produce the desired information on the first try. Yahoo coined the term “search engine fatigue” to describe what ensues from the wild flailing at the search box to guess the magic words that will produce the information desired. And while many Internet users claim to be satisfied with search results, a Pew Internet survey has concluded they are “trusting and naive” and "strikingly unaware of how search engines operate and how they present their results."

Algorithms, search personalization, artificial intelligence, and the semantic web are all buzz words that describe Orwellian efforts to eliminate the need for human beings to use their own intelligence and judgment to find, critically evaluate and effectively utilize information. And most pundits give strong credence to these efforts. But human intelligence and judgment have an enviable track record that has lasted a fair bit longer than any punk algorithm. And I’ll always take the underdog with a solid track record over the neophyte riding the crest of popular wisdom.

1 comment:

ed said...
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