Wait a second… how can the internet be invisible?

By thauckthauck (1223782771|%a, %b %e at %I:%M%p)

So, you're going about your daily internet life. You probably spend a lot of time just clicking around… I know I do. I might start off browsing someone’s Facebook page, see a link posted on their wall, click it, follow it to some other website, see something interesting on that site that takes me to yet another site, and the process goes on and on and on…

Well, before learning about The Deep Web in my BIT 330 class, I never considered the fact that much of the content I stumble across on the internet by myself would actually be impossible to find using a common search engine like Google web search. This “Deep Web”, or content invisible your run-of-the-mill search tool, makes up a massive portion of content on the internet. Traditional search tools are programmed to retrieve information based on text, but searching by text alone will fail to yield potentially relevant results like a flash video or a scanned image of an important document. These tools are also limited in the sense that they will never give their users access to pages that can only be retrieved by filling out a form. Finally, important academic databases are likely unsearchable using traditional tools.

Think about it: there is a whole other side of the internet just waiting for you to discover it!

Now you are probably thinking, “well, if this stuff is hidden, how am I ever going to get to it?” Well, thankfully some smart people have been working on ways to give the public access to this material. Keep in mind that this is really a field that is being developed, so the tools that are currently at our disposal are not going to be perfect, or anywhere near perfect really, but they are a good start!

Google Scholar

Who would have guessed it… Google has created a tool that is able to search this so called invisible web. It’s called Google Scholar, and it is designed to make the formally unsearchable world of scholarly articles, well, searchable. The site indexes the works of publishers and gives librarians the option of making their databases searchable. Basically, all that means is that as a student is that if you used Google Scholar, you would find a lot of material that is useable in an academic context.

The material is returned in the order of the relevancy that is determined by the text of the article, who wrote it, where it was published, and how frequently it is cited in other scholarly literature. I found the “cited by” ranking to be really cool because if there is an article that is cited a lot, it is probably a pretty legitimate source.

Now, even Google is not flawless, so there definitely are some kinks to work out of the Google Scholar programming. However, for the sake of this entry I am just going to say that if your main concern is picking a starting point for research for your next big paper, Google Scholar is a pretty good choice. You can read more in-depth about the problems that Professor Moore highlighted here.

A Real-Life Application

Something I have noticed, especially in general “I’m-only-taking-this-class-because-I’m-required-to” courses, is that students are often interested in taking the easy way out. I cannot tell you how many presentations were given in my freshman year courses that ended with a bibliography slide that listed websites like Wikipedia as sources. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Wikipedia. I probably spend three hours a day on that site reading useless info on a myriad of topics (today’s happened to be train transportation systems in Asian and European countries…). However, I have personally never had the audacity to site Wikipedia as a legitimate source in an academic setting.

I think the reason that people resort to using it really boils down to the fact that they do not care so much about the class they are citing it in, and Wikipedia is just so dang easy to use. Well, that happens to be the good news about a search tool like Google Scholar: it bundles the simplicity of use that we have grown accustomed to with the legitimacy of academia. Really, PLEASE think twice before you city Wikipedia in your next paper or presentation. Google Scholar is just as easy to use, except using it will actually yield sources fit for college-level work.

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