Web searching shapes user expectations of what an information retrieval system looks like, how it behaves, and how to interact with it. These factors also influence people’s preferences. Among many other web searching tools, there many reasons why people choose Google. There is a growing trust towards Google’s search result rankings. Most of the people who are using Google as their search engine accept the idea that if Google ranks a site on top of search results, that site is reliable and relevant to their search.
University students are perhaps the internet users who do a lot of searching online. In a recent study about university students’ perceptions of searching web, F.Karl and G.Campbell (2004) argue that Google is perceived as an easy tool that requires very few specialized skills to use so that’s why students prefer Google. They further explain why students prefer Google by saying that students think Google searching produces immediate results, for better or for worse: and the engine retrieves documents with no or very less waiting time, and that students can go directly to the documents themselves.
In another study about students’ searching behavior and the web, J.Griffiths and P. Brophy (2005) talk about students’ comments about Google. In general, students find Google very straight forward where they put in their own word and it searches. They add that it also corrects spellings to rectify their search. Students find Google bright, eye catching and simple and consider it the most popular search engine. They find the site very helpful and think that Google’s web site has whatever they want. They think that Google combines simplicity and completeness.
A reason why students prefer to search articles from Google is that it is easier to try Google first as it is quite good at finding articles and also because otherwise there would be a need to look at a few different databases. Google is what students prefer as a search engine. They prefer Google over academic resources. There is also the fact that students may trade quality of results for effort and time spent searching which increases their choice of Google. Even student who tried other methods of searching still prefer to use Google, a situation referred as the “Googling phenomenon.”
In an experiment done with undergraduate students, college student users have substantial trust in Google’s ability to rank results by their true relevance to the query. Even they found the abstracts less relevant, students’ decisions were biased towards higher links in Google when they were asked to select a link to follow from Google’s result pages. These findings show that students are influenced by the order in which the results are presented and, to a lesser extent, the actual relevance of the abstracts. In other words, these students trust Google in a way that they click on abstracts in higher positions even when the abstracts are less relevant to the task. This experiment demonstrates trust in Google and shows that it also shows implications for the search engine’s tremendous potential influence on culture, society, and user traffic on the Web.
In a recent relevant study, M.T. Keane and colleagues (2008) assess whether people are biased in their use of a search-engine and whether they are biased in clicking on those items that are presented as being the most relevant in the search engine’s result list. There are the items listed at the top of the result list. To test this hypothesis, they simulated the Google environment and they reversed Google’s normal relevance-ordering of the items presented to users. They compared users’ responses when they received result-lists in their normal ordering versus a systematically-reversed order. They created a database in which they linked specific queries to their appropriate result-list. This database sat behind their simulated Google interface and was used to systematically counterbalance the presentation of result-lists in either a normal or reversed ordering when a user entered a query.
They found that people show some bias as they select and favor items at the top of result lists, though they also sometimes seek out high-relevance items listed further down a list. This study shows that people are biased in their search behavior using Google. This represents similar findings with the study on students. Findings indicate that people are biased towards Google’s result ranking order and that their web site preferences are actually affected.
These studies and their findings indicate that Google has a tremendous power to affect people. This implies a problem with the neutrality of Google. Google keeps its search engine’s algorithm a top secret. This is perfectly natural since that algorithm is the key of Google success. However the problem with that is no one knows if Google provides discrimination. This discrimination can be in two formats. The first is how Google would use this influence to promote its own or partner site’s, regardless of its content quality or popularity or any of the criteria Google uses to rank pages.
For example, when yousearch in Google for maps the first result is Google Maps. When you do the same search in Bing, Microsoft’s search engine you don’t even get Bing Maps in the first page. A Bing map is on the fourth page in the Bing search while it is the second result in search made on Google. That does look weird. Of course the two algorithms are probably very different, but one wouldn’t expect that to be a 3 page difference.
The example of searching for “maps” in Google and Bing, shows that Google might not be that neutral and true at all. Google might sell the right to come up at first page to a site resulting that site’s business to thrive and no one will ever know. Google would defend that the site came up in the first page because it got popular but there is no way to know which came first. So the power of Google being able to manipulate massive amounts of users can be very dangerous in the name of neutrality. This is itself a very important issue in the talk for net neutrality.