Thursday, March 14, 2013
Google Ditched the Wrong Product
Gentle readers, I don’t use Google Reader. Frankly, I don’t even really understand what it does. The only reason I am aware of it at all is because yesterday my Twitter feed let out a collective yelp at its imminent passing. While my Tweeps pour one out for their departed Reader, for Google's next trick, I want them to consider eliminating our truest frenemy—I speak, dear CMers, of Google Scholar.
Oh, Google Scholar, you shine with a veneer of seriousness that our flakes just can’t resist. Your menu icon shows an old-school model of an atom. The lowercase g in my browser tab sports a jaunty little mortarboard. Your motto, “Stand on the shoulders of giants” beckons in go-ahead green below the eager, blinking search-box cursor.
It's such a shame that the flakes don’t have a clue how to use you.
My heart has broken no less than three times this week as students who started out with quite brilliant research topics each abruptly changed their minds.
“But why?” I said, each time. “That was such a fantastic topic!”
“I searched for it on Google Scholar, and nothing came up. I don’t think I can do it.”
“There are definitely sources out there for you. Did you talk to a librarian about your topic?”
“OK, did you at least check the journal databases online? They must include journals that deal with this field. Or maybe a related subfield, but anyhow I'm sure there are relevant publications you can find.”
“But nothing came up on Google Scholar. This topic will be too hard. I am going to look at representations of hamsters instead.”
[Head + desk]
Google Scholar, you have cultivated the dangerous illusion that you can contain and regurgitate All Human Knowledge, slicing and dicing it on command for even the most hapless undergraduate. You are squelching the dreams of our youth by making them think that this place called a “library” staffed with so-called “librarians” can be replicated with a persnickety algorithm and the click of a mouse. You convince these flakes that they are checking a discipline-specific database when what they actually end up with is a ridiculously broad list of intermittently applicable material where the only truly useful study doesn’t pop up until at least page 14.
You may do some good for non-humanists. (If so, I’m sure I’ll hear about it in the comments.) But until you can actually hold a candle to what those horrendously overpriced databases can dig up, and do this in a way that even flakes can comprehend, Google Scholar, I will consider you about as scholarly as all of Wikipedia run three times through an Internet translator and printed vertically in 6-point Comic Sans.
Cuts are coming, Google Scholar. They already came for Reader, and I can only hope they’re coming next for you.