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(Talk) Stephen Robertson [on Information Searching]

Talks by Stephen Robertson at Hokkaido University, July 28 2017

Date: 28 July 2017 (Fri) 15:00-17:00

Venue: IST Building, room A21

Title      Search: then and now  with particular reference to the web

Nowadays, we take web search engines for granted. For many people,
their favourite search engine (Google or some other) is their primary
or even sole entry-point to the web. Not only that – it also, in some
sense, is the web: what you find by searching is indistinguishable, or
at least not distingushed, from the search engine itself. In this
talk, I will attempt to chart how we have reached this point. To
start with, I will go back before search engines or the web even
existed – indeed, before computers existed. Card catalogues in
libraries, printed indexes, punched cards (some mechanically sorted,
some used purely manually) have all played a role in how we see the
search task. In the computer era, but before the internet or the web,
we started exploring the idea of computer searching, particularly in
relation to abstracts of scientific papers. When the web came along,
web search engines began to emerge, but they took a little longer to
become mainstream, and then to discover a viable business model. But
as both these things happened, a rather extraordinary series of
feedback loops began to shape and mould the search experience. The
most obvious loop is that between the search engine and the population
of searchers. The way search engines work, as seen by us the users,
has had a profound effect on our notion of what search is and how we
might use it; and on the other hand, the search engines have responded
to and learnt from their users, to an extraordinary extent. Other
feedback loops can be indentified, one involving website designers and
another advertisers, each interacting with (influencing and being
influenced by) the search engines. The consequence is that the modern
search engine feels a thousand miles or years removed from its library
science forebears. I will end with a novel way to think about what
web search engines do.

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