Monday, February 28, 2011

My Growing Dependency with Google

Reading Search Engine Society has me acutely aware of how dependent I am becoming with Google. All of its functions has me wanting more and I am starting to understand that my Google package could pretty much do anything for AND with me. All of the features Google offers are designed to help give me the information I ask for. As Halavais mentions on page 57, "The successful search engine does this: it is a technology as much of ignoring as it is of presenting." While I was reading Chapter 3, "Attention," I kept thinking of Google Reader. I have moved from the traditional "Search Engine" to help me move things in to a place where I can ask it to filter information for me so I only see what I ask for. Now, part of me thinks this is slightly restrictive because I will maybe not have those "serendipitous moments" I have learned to find value in. But, in the same respect, I think those "serendipitous moments" are more structured with Google Reader. I have several blogs and websites that I feed into Google Reader, which, in turn provides me with a stream of links that I can follow that I wasn't necessarily looking for, but that are similar in content to the types of links I set up to feed into Reader.

Halavais talks about gaining the attention of the user in this chapter. Gaining attention is obviously "the point" for people who publish on the Internet. Page 57 starts with "The web is not flat," where Halavais writes about how websites that have more links will inevitably get more hits (63). "Search engines both contribute to the selection of the more prominent sites, and in turn are more influenced by them" (59). As users continue to choose the pages and links that have the most links, and they in turn re-post and contribute to linking these pages more fully, Halavais writes, "when individuals decide to follow this path, they further reinforce [the] lopsided distribution. Individuals choose their destination based on popularity, a fully intentional choice, but this results in the winner-take-all distribution, an outcome none of the contributors desired to reinforce" (64). So, this begs the question, "Is the web a good thing?" I guess Google could have some kind of God complex and direct me to where they wanted me to go regardless of what I asked for, but I guess we kind of trust that isn't happening. Kind of a weird, scary thought, though if you ask me.

But, with this being said, it still doesn't slow down my budding love affair for Google. Not only am I enjoying some of the features they make available for FREE, I also have a growing level of respect for them and how they continue to grow and adapt their brand for their users. Since we are a part of what Halavais calls "An attention economy" (68), Google is just providing what we, the users, are asking for. Since "The web increases the amount of information available to a person, but it does not increase the capacity for consuming that information," we are asking Google to do that for us with Google Reader.

Halavais also mentions spam and Googlebombing. We read an article last semester called. "I'll Google It!: How Collective Wisdom in Search Engines Alters the Rhetorical Canons" that was interesting. Here's the link:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Search Engine Society - First 2 Chapters

As I read through this first chapter of Halavais' book, I have to get over my awe of how something so incredible has been developed in my lifetime. In fact, it has been just over 20 years. Hopefully as I move through this book, my amazement will fad and I will be able to get out of the book what Halavais wants me to!

Admittedly, this first chapter of Halavais took me a minute to get in to. However, right at the very beginning, Halavais mentions the lost of search engines and I found myself having a mini panic attack at just the thought of living a life without search engines. I never really stopped to think about it before, but Halavais is right when he writes, "The permanent loss of search engines in now almost unfathomable, but were it to occur, we would find the way to communicate, learn about the world, and conduct our everyday lives would be changed" (5).

Also, what I found really interesting was the history and importance of indexing information. I found the quote on page 2 really intriguing, "The modern search engine has taken on the mantle of what the ancients of many cultures thought of as an oracle: a source of knowledge about our world and who we are." And, as I moved through the chapter, I found it interesting to watch Google position themselves in a place to be at the head of the pack of all the search engines. I had forgotten about sites like and I never thought of AOL as a search engine site.

On page 19, Halavais brings up how an ideal interface would anticipate the user's behavior. This made me think of Google's search box. I love the function it has when I start typing; it starts to organize links below in anticipation of what it thinks I am asking for. Sometimes I change my search based on things I see come up below as I am typing.

The second chapter starts by talking about a "user-centered design" and how requires "an iterative process of understanding what the user expects and creating systems that help to satisfy user's needs and desires" (32). In a class I had last semester, we did a project on usability testing on websites, which I found really interested and very useful. It was interesting to a different perspective, though, from Halavais saying that there is a problem with this sort of cyclical process since we assume the user does not change. Obviously this is not true. "It is not enough to react to the user, or create systems that respond to existing needs; the designer must understand the current user, and at the same time anticipate how the system might change the user" (33). (PS – if anybody wants to check out usability information, visit Steve Krug's website: there is a lot of interesting stuff on here. His latest book is "Rocket Surgery Made Easy," but there is a lot from his first book that you can get in .pdf for free!)

What I especially like about this chapter is near the end when Halavais talks about this notion of "serendipity." The idea that I find something on the web that I wasn't necessarily looking for fascinates me, and I found myself thinking while reading, how many I times this might have happened to me without me even realizing it. There are certain things I search for that I expect to find right away and don't expect to have to click on more than one link to find - like definitions. However, there are definitely times when I type something in to the Google search box and the results that come up are almost intuitive to what I wanted, but didn't know yet. This leads me down a road I didn't know I wanted to travel, which leads me to innovation, as Halavais mentions on the top of page 54.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity?

This video of Sir Ken Robinson really makes me think about creativity and education, or maybe - the lack of creativity in eduction. He has a very interesting perspective on how creativity has be neglected in education. It is interesting to me because I feel like I am re-learning how to be creative as I move through my Master's program. But, when I think about how kids are "creative" versus how I feel I am "creative," I now view them as two completely different things.

If you don't want to watch the whole 20 min video ... here are a couple of quotes that I really latched on to:

"If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original."

We are "educating people out of their creative capabilities."

"Creativity is as important to education as literacy."

This last one is one that really struck me. Is creativity as important to education as literacy? And, if it is, why aren't we encouraging it? Who determined that Math and Science get more attention than the Arts in schools ... and why? Creativity is a different part of the brain that needs to be developed and if this part of the brain is further developed, what could the advantages for our future be?

The definition of "creative" given by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is: the ability or power to create. This definition actually makes me wonder if Sir Ken Robinson's theory that we are "educating people out of creativity," is actually accurate. I am currently being creative by writing this blog.

This just raises the question of "what is creativity?" which relates to the Wysocki, Johnson-Eilola piece because the whole time I was reading it, I just kept asking myself, "What is literacy?" The very last paragraph in this piece reads, "None of these terms exhausts new possibilities for 'literacy,' but only suggest productive ways of questioning our current positions, of unpacking old bundles and remaking new ones. Unpack ours and make your own." I think "creativity" and "literacy" can be interchangeable here. Just like literacy, the meaning of creativity can evolve and change over time depending on experiences and environments.

So, do I think schools kill creativity? Well, kinda. I think there should definitely be more of an effort to encourage students to think "creatively" as well as "critically." I think art and music classes, especially at younger ages, should be valued just as much as math and science classes. However, I believe that the meaning of "creativity" can differ greatly depending on the school a student goes to, what their particular talents are, and what they ultimately want to do when they grow up. And, especially as we get older, it really is our responsibility to figure out what "creativity" means to us and "unpack ours and make [our] own."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What was I so afraid of?

Ok, I will admit it, sometimes I am stubborn and resistant to new things. And, with the overwhelming about of tasks and new information coming at me this semester, this first project in 516 was terrifying to me. I have been stalling and stalling and trying to find anything else to do but to log into Delicious or post another blog or figure out what Google Reader is all about. I have started blogs before, but never had any sort of consistency with writing in them. And, I am a regular user of Facebook and I also have a Twitter account ... I don't tweet much, but I do follow a lot of people. So, when we were supposed to make a proposal for our first project, I kind of felt like, "isn't this enough? I mean, how much more information can I REALLY take in??"

Well, the answer to this, I am finding, is a lot, actually - as long as it is organized. I am falling totally and completely head-over-heals in love with Google Reader. I can get glimpses of information and decide what I really need to read and what I can just pass right over. And, I am really starting to enjoy the organization Delicious provides me as well. Now I don't have to print out articles, I can bookmark them and there they are whenever I need them. So, now I can filter the amount of information that is coming to me ... and, when I am ready for more, I can make that happen, too.

I guess the moral of the story for me is that even though I feel resistant, it doesn't hurt to take some time with something to figure out if it is worth it or not. If it isn't, I can move on. I just have to keep this in mind as I go back and re-read Heidegger. I think I like what he's saying, but I'm not quite sure because I don't think I completely understand it yet.