Internet Era and Search Engine
Based on the significant support of rapidly developing cyber technologies, internet has brought human culture into a brand new era with digital information. People have to deal with the information online almost every day, it has become an indispensable part of daily life, it can be said that the internet and cyber information have greatly changed people’s lives.
In such an internet era, search engine plays a meaningful role of connection in our daily life to deal with digital information. Search engine refers to a digital system that collects information from the internet according to certain strategies and specific computer programs, after organizing and processing the information, it provides retrieval services for users and displays relevant information retrieved by users. Actually, search engine has only experienced a short period of rapid development since 1990 to have present appearance with a simple search bar. When a user puts a keyword in the search bar and click enter, all web pages that contain the keyword in content will be displayed as search results. After complex algorithms are used to rank the results (or include a commercial paid ranking, commercial promotion, or advertisement), the results are ranked in order of relevance (or no relevance at all) to the search keyword. Therefore, to a large extent, search engine provides convenience and efficiency for internet users to seek specific information in cyberspace where is full of network resource. On the other hand, search engine owner like Google company could make huge profits from attention economy or other commercial intercourse that comes with search engine.
Genesis and Role of Search Engine
Before 1990, no one could search the internet for information. In the early days of the internet, there was little information on it and most of the internet users were professionals, which made it relatively easy to find information. But with rapid development of the internet, information volumes on it had been increasing sharply, ordinary users want to find the required information is like looking for a needle in a haystack. At this time, to meet information retrieval needs of the public, the idea of search engine came into being. As Halavais introduces in his book, search engine is a free-standing technology which is created for finding things located on another technology World Wide Web, but the idea of search engine emerged before World Wide Web as “Archie” in 1990,it is a system for retrieving files by whole file name on FTP (File Transfer Protocol, one of the first ways of moving files between computers) servers (Havalavais, 2013). In the following years, the World Wide Web emerged and search engines like Yahoo, Google appeared, one of the posts about search engine on “WordStream” depicted a specific timeline of search engine history from 1990 to 2017.
However, no matter how the search engine evolves, its core function is information retrieval and providing results to users, its absolutely a key communication media of information in modern life. In brief, a search engine builds a database by extracting information from various websites on the internet, retrieves relevant records that match the user’s query criteria, and then returns the results to the user in a certain order. This refers to information management, as Lewandowski states, the size of databases (web crawling and indexing) and document ranking algorithms of a search engine is two vital factors of how this search engine deals with information (Lewandowski, 2005). The size of databases determines how many information the search engine can collect and display, ranking algorithms determine the order of collected results in relevance to search keywords. Dave Davies, CEO at Beanstalk Internet Marketing Inc, explained how search engine algorithms work and it’s main purpose is to understand user intent. Also, there is a video specifically explains how search engines work and what they do at each stage.
The Value of Search Engine
Nowadays, search engine has become an indispensable tool for net users, while it is serving the public, search engine company is undoubtedly the biggest beneficiary and making huge profits from it. At current industry, Google is the biggest search engine company and its search engine algorithm is arguably the best, but there are still some other strong competitors, Gil listed several popular search engines of 2019 and characteristics of them in her article. So, how do these search engine companies make a living when its free to use search engines? The answer is advertising business which refers to attention economy. As Havalavais stated, attention economy refers to a special economic model in which enterprises can attract the attention of users or consumers to the greatest extent in an environment full of information and obtain maximum future business benefits by cultivating potential consumer groups (Havalavais, 2013). In addition, search engine is a perfect platform to implement attention economy model owing to its giant user base and flow. “Internet Live Stats”, a website of statistic project, showed statistics of search engine queries of several search engines on its post and one of the chart is shown below.
Therefore, enterprises are willing to pay for their advertisements to attract potential consumer’s attention efficiently by search engine as communication media. Actually, the revenue by advertising business that search engine companies do is incredibly high and keeps rising, the news article on “AdNews”, a news sharing website , showed detailed Google’s advertising revenue in 2018 and 2019, and it obviously accounts for most of Google’s revenue. As for how Google carry out the advertisement function, it has two programs “Adwords” and “Adsense”, in general, they are about “clicks” and “impression”, advertised websites will be placed at the top of search results of keywords which the business paid for. Oussama’s post on “Economy Secrets” particularly explains how is Search Engine’s profit model of its advertising business.
On the other hand, the public is another group benefit from search engine, an ordinary man could become omniscient when taking advantage of search engine’s information gathering ability. Plenty of knowledge can be found by search engines, politics, social news, fashion trends etc. People can use search engine to obtain more comprehensive and detailed information about their questions without going to libraries and checking physical materials.
Life with Search Engine
In my personal point of view, search engine brings my daily life’s convenience and efficiency to another level, my life has become inseparable from search engine. As I mentioned before, search engine allows us to obtain knowledge without going to library, I used to browse academic sources for my essay by “Google Scholar” (Google’s subsidiary search engine for scholarly resource). In terms of my entertainment and leisure, like concert ticket checking, house-renting, choice of leisure place, I have been more inclined to search them online. Not only my daily businesses are closely related to search engine, according to Head and Eisenberg’s research of college student’s everyday life with web search, it indicated that 95% students use search engines to check everyday life information such as current events and purchasing something etc (Eisenberg&Head, 2011). In general, the advantages of search engine could be listed as:
- Richness of Information. Containing different fields of information, no matter its political, social or academical etc.
- High Convenience and Efficiency. Getting information just by simply clicking without other physical activities.
- High Serviceability. Searching anything you want to know for daily life, which restaurant is nice, price of new iphone, even finding a job.
However, as I have been using search engine for a long time an frequently, I found two problems that search engine presents to me. The first one is that search engine disturbs my thinking ability to some extent. Relying on internet search for a long time has led me to search for answer or inspiration whenever I encounter a problem, I can feel the creativity of my thinking ability is poor when using search engine, and sometimes the search results even lead my mind into wrong direction. According to Konig and Rasch’s journal article, search engine is trying to understand user’s intent based on its a algorithms and user search behaviors, but misunderstanding happens constantly (Konig& Rasch, 2014). Hancock’s post also indicated that some of Google’s political search results might be biased, these one-side search results indeed influence the public’s thought. Another problem is that some search engines such as Google will track user activities and gather personal data in order to promote useless information like advertisements to users, this is bothering me and let me feel like I’m naked. Nations’s article stated how Google gather data about users and if you don’t want to be tracked by search engines, there are five search engines you may like to use in the video shown below.
Search engine is one of the major innovation in this internet era, it’s powerful ability of information collecting and wide use of the public makes it has become one of the main communication media at present. Meanwhile, search engine companies make huge profits by its information transmission capacity which perfectly suits attention economy. Additionally, every internet user gets benefits from search engine, it gives us a new way to retrieve information, users can get multifarious information what they want to know just by simple clicks, ordinary internet users like students improve their life and study quality in convenience and efficiency when taking advantage of search engine, even though it might impair a bit of user’s ability of thinking in creativity and push junk information such as advertisements to them.
Davies, D. (2018). How Search Engine Algorithms Work: Everything You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.searchenginejournal.com/how-search-algorithms-work/252301/
Gil, P. (2019). The best of the Web Today: Search Engines of 2019. Retrieved from https://www.lifewire.com/best-search-engines-2483352
Google’s advertising revenue up 16% – AdNews. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.adnews.com.au/news/google-s-advertising-revenue-up-16
Google Search Statistics – Internet Live Stats. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/#trend
Halavais, A. (2013). The engines. In Search engine society(pp. 5–31). Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Polity.
Hancock, J., & Metaxa-Kakavouli, D. (2018). Are Google search results politically biased?. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/06/google-search-results-rigged-news-donald-trump
Head, A., & Eisenberg, M. (2011). How college students use the Web to conduct everyday life research. First Monday, 16(4). doi: 10.5210/fm.v16i4.3484 https://firstmonday.org/article/view/3484/2857
How Do Search Engines Make Money Even If It’s Free? – Economy Secrets. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.economysecrets.com/search-engines-make-money/
Konig, R., & Rasch, M. (2014). A database of intention. In Society of the query reader: Reflections on web search(pp. 16–29). Institute of networked cultures.
Lewandowski, D. (2005). Web searching, search engines and Information Retrieval. Information Services & Use, 25(3-4), 137-147. doi: 10.3233/isu-2005-253-402 http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1019.232&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Nations, D. (2019). What Does Google Know About Me?. Retrieved from https://www.lifewire.com/what-does-google-know-about-me-4587648
The History of Search Engines – A Timeline. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.wordstream.com/articles/internet-search-engines-history