google scholar 04.20.2006, 3:45 PM
posted by jesse wilbur
Google announced a new change to Google Scholar to improve the results of a search. The results can now be ordered by a confluence of citations, date of publication, and keyword relevance, instead of just the latter. From the Official Google Blog:
It's not just a plain sort by date, but rather we try to rank recent papers the way researchers do, by looking at the prominence of the author's and journal's previous papers, how many citations it already has, when it was written, and so on. Look for the new link on the upper right for "Recent articles" -- or switch to "All articles" for the full list.
Another feature, which I wasn't aware of, is the "group of X", located just at the end of the line. It points to papers that are very similar in topic. Researchers can use this feature to delve deeper into a topic, as opposed to skipping across the surface of a topic. This reflects the deep user-centered thinking that went into the design of the results, which is broken down in more detail here.
Though many professors lament the use of Google as students first and last research resource, the continual improvements of Google Scholar and the Google Book project (when combined with access rights afforded by a university library) provide an increasingly potent research environment. Google Scholar, by displaying the citation count, provides a significant piece of secondary data that improves decision making dramatically compared to unguided topic searches in the library. By selecting uncredited quotations and searching for them in Google Book project, students can get information on the primary text, read a little of the additional context, and decide whether or not to procure the book from the library. I feel like I'm overselling Google, but my real point has nothing to do with any specific corporation. The real point is: in the future, all the value is in the network.
KF on April 20, 2006 7:22 PM:
Alex Halavais made an interesting comment about this development on his blog today:
"This strikes me as a good thing but I wish they would share that ranking algorithm. I recognize that they are probably looking to patent it (ugh!), but there's a tradition in the academic community about being a bit transparent about such things, so I hope that if not now, at least eventually they will share more details about how, exactly they are doing their ranking."
I have to agree with him. We really need to know more about how those rankings are produced in order for them to be valuable. But I also wish that such rankings were a bit more folksonomic than taxonomic; wouldn't it be good for scholars to be able to contribute to those rankings directly?
K.G. Schneider on April 20, 2006 7:43 PM:
For anyone noticing or caring, their citation export is a big fizzle. It only supports institutional subscriptions to products such as RefWorks so single-use users like me are out in the cold, the citations export feature is buried in "Preferences," and you can't force a record view or email yourself a set like you can in other databases.
Welcome to the world where every flavor is offered, as long as it's artificial vanilla.
bowerbird on April 21, 2006 3:09 AM:
alex said elsewhere:
> "This strikes me as a good thing
> but I wish they would share that ranking algorithm.
> I recognize that they are probably looking to patent it (ugh!),
> but there's a tradition in the academic community about
> being a bit transparent about such things, so I hope that
> if not now, at least eventually they will share more details
> about how, exactly they are doing their ranking."
if "the academic community" wants their "traditions" to rule,
they should be developing these tools themselves, thank you,
instead of sitting on their hands and whining about google...
don't get me wrong, i think it's utterly _sad_ that a corporaton
is leading the way, but i'm also tired of waiting while academia
and librarians have done nothing as the many years ticked by...
ben vershbow on April 21, 2006 11:56 AM:
I couldn't agree more that Google has a transparency problem vis-a-vis its ranking system -- and the exact same goes for Google Book Search. I also agree with Jesse that it's not ultimately about any one corporation, it's about the value of networks. But it's corporations like Google and Microsoft who have established a monopoly over the attention we pay into those networks, and are rapidly superseding the role traditionally played by libraries and universities. This is a cultural land grab of epic proportions.
(Incidentally, Microsoft just unveiled its answer to Google Scholar.)
The reason I ultimately don't have faith in free markets is that they treat every person as just a means to an end, and that end is profit. Libraries and universities treat individuals as ends unto themselves, and knowledge as a means toward realizing those ends. No matter how good Googlesoft's services get, we still are just means to their ends. Access to knowledge should be a public not private interest.
The Library of Congress could have begun developing services like these ten years ago. They knew the net was coming and they knew it was going to change everything, yet they failed to seize the moment. Back in November they announced plans for a World Digital Library. I haven't heard much about it since. Ironically, Google is providing $3 million in seed funds.
bowerbird on April 21, 2006 2:56 PM:
> But it's corporations like Google and Microsoft who have
> established a monopoly over the attention we pay into
> those networks, and are rapidly superseding the role
> traditionally played by libraries and universities.
> This is a cultural land grab of epic proportions.
it's _our_ fault because we aren't demanding our government
and our universities and our libraries do this job for us instead!
so i absolutely agree that the library of congress is to blame.
indeed, two months back, i suggested we sack billington's ass:
K.G. Schneider on April 22, 2006 3:32 PM:
I agree with Ben that this is a failure within librarianship. Exactly where this failure lies, however, is a more complex question.
Outside of librarianship, there is a belief that LoC is a formal or informal "leader" within our profession, the way some people believe every book is at the LoC. (They're actually at Amazon.) (Joke.) (Sort of.)
The reality is that I am in a profession somewhat in free-fall. The leadership that would chip us out of the amber we are stuck in (ca. 1950) has yet to evolve. Too many predictions about librarianship are predicated on massive denial. There are some bright spots of hope, such as the work done at California Digital Library, but most often the institutions with the resources to do significant innovation are encumbered by their own size.
So yes, we should have developed Google. On paper we have humanity's interests at heart. In practice, we've been a bit solipsistic: training our focus on elegantly, expensively precise metadata; overly confident in older usage patterns; reluctant to embrace rapid change. In a way, we aren't any different than Google, because our motivations have been too often trained on ourselves. The difference is who wins.