[Air-l] Looking for good search-engine literature

Elizabeth Van Couvering e.j.van-couvering at lse.ac.uk
Tue May 16 00:16:45 PDT 2006

Hi Ben,

Search engines are the topic of my doctoral dissertation.  I would  
say that what kind of literature you find depends on what your  
question is; however, there is quite a bit of literature out there.   
Most of it is from an information retrieval (ie computer science)  
point of view, dicussing algorithms, indexing, and other technical  
topics.  Some is from a user-interface point of view, testing the  
efficacy of different systems.  A much smaller literature considers  
it from a social science point of view - people who are working (or  
have recently been working) in this area include Marcel Machill in  
Germany, Eszter Hargittai, Matt Hindman, Eric Goldman, Michael  
Zimmer, Concetta Stewart and Gisela Gil-Egui.  Eszter is editing an  
issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication on the topic  
and Michael and Amanda Spink (who does large-scale user studies of  
search queries) are doing a book.  Marcel has also organised a  
conference in Germany at the end of June on the topic.  So things are  
happening that you can tap into.

I highly recommend putting the term "search engine" into the ISI Web  
of Knowledge and downloading all the abstracts that come up if you  
want to make sense of the field as a whole.  If you can define your  
topic a little more, I can give you specific references. Let me know.

Regarding your questions.  Library of material with no catalogue - if  
you are interested in the results you'll want to check out the  
statistical modelling and large-scale user tests which evaluate  
search engines.  Self-reflection - I agree but it is possible to use  
alternative systems to access the academic literature, and if you are  
attempting a technical study then you will establish some kind of  
reference collection.  Don't let it get you down.  Posterity - well,  
although some things change, some stay the same.  I just finished a  
draft chapter on search engine history which is definitely not ready  
for prime time, but might be worth a read if you're struggling to  
make sense of things.  Several other chapters are available on my  
personal web site: http://personal.lse.ac.uk/vancouve/, and they all  
have bibliographies.

Hope this is helpful, feel free to email me off-list.


On 16 May 2006, at 07:24, Ben Peters wrote:

> Hi,
> I'm Ben Peters, a doctoral student at Columbia struggling with how  
> to study
> search-engines. There's the problem of plenty: searching search- 
> engines
> produces a library of material with no card catalog. There's the  
> problem of
> self-reflection: studying search-engines through search-engines  
> makes one
> pause to consider. Must one remove herself from the medium in order  
> to study
> it (and other second-order issues)? But how else can one study a  
> subject so
> young, except by using it to study itself? And there's the problem of
> posterity: search-engines seem to be evolving so quickly, with the  
> web they
> index, that one struggles to step back from detailing a close  
> search-engine
> genealogy to view the larger historical role search-engines may be  
> having
> upon society. The species of search-engines is as important as their
> specifics manifestations.
> Plus I'm sure there's at least a billion other problems I haven't  
> happened
> upon yet.
> Anyway, I've got a month to devote to this topic right now. Someone  
> throw me
> an anchor, please: citations to institutions, people, books, articles,
> sites, or any related discussion would be hugely appreciated.
> Pleasantly perplexed,
> Ben
> bjpeters [at] gmail.com
> bjp2108 [at] columbia.edu
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Elizabeth Van Couvering
PhD Student
Department of Media & Communications
London School of Economics and Political Science
e.j.van-couvering at lse.ac.uk

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