Thursday, April 13, 2006


Data Mining

An interesting article from the Guardian about data on the internet in general, and Google and Wikipedia in particular. I don't quite accept all of the article's conclusions, but there's quite a bit here worth considering.

For my part, I find Google and Wikipedia invaluable tools. I know that much of the information found on both is unreliable, and always look for independent verification, but the sheer breadth of data on both is just staggering. When I was in college, I practically lived at the Perry-Castañeda Library at the University of Texas (it helped that I lived literally across the street, and could walk from my dorm room to the front door of the library in a matter of minutes), and at any given time would have dozens of books checked out, all research for whatever novel or story I was writing at the time. I kept handwritten notes, though I had a Mac Classic II I used for writing, and looking back at those notebooks now it's clear that I was lucky to wring more than a few individual facts from each of those books. Dozens of books would boil down to just a few pages worth of notes at best; not terrifically efficient, but it was the best solution at the time.

Now, I can look up a topic with which I'm unfamiliar on Google and Wikipedia and, in a matter of moments, have a fairly good overview. Granted, some of the information in that overview might be a bit off, and some of it might be outright incorrect, but it's taken me only a few minutes, and not a week of reading. I'm then able to use that overview to locate the most useful source materials, whether a well-sourced website or a book or what-have-you. And thanks to Alibris and Abebooks I can usually find any books available for sale, and usually for just a few bucks. So with a few minutes on Wikipedia, a quick search on Abebooks, and media mail transit times, I can get more research done than I used to be able to do in weeks, even though I had access to one of the best university libraries in the country.

People can decry the inaccuracies and "banality" of Wikipedia and Google all they like, but for me the use of these tools is a one-way street. I'm not going back; I just don't have that kind of time anymore. I welcome whatever follow-on information tools will success "Web 2.0," but in the meantime I'm quite happy with the banality, thanks very much.

Chris,, is an even better meta-search engine to find books, and it includes alibris and abebooks, as well as 6-10 others.

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