With the rapid development of the internet, the information on the network is growing exponentially. This kind of information explosion reflects the prosperity of the mass media and promotes the formation of an information society, but it also produces the phenomenon of junk information. How to obtain valuable information from the vast Internet information has become a problem that netizens are increasingly concerned about. With the increasing maturity of computer information processing technology, the appearance of the search engine solves this problem effectively.
The origins of search engines
Figure 2: Screenshot of Emtage’s tool for indexing FTP servers: “ARCHIE.” -Sijia Li, 2020.
Search engines are the product of Internet innovation. It collects information on the Internet through the use of specific computer programs, after organizing and processing the information, it provides users with retrieval services. Search engine originated in 1990, and when the first search tool on the Internet was called Archie. Archie was developed by McGill University computer science students Alan Emtage, Bill Heelan and J. Peter Deutsch (Seymour et al., 2011). At that time, the main purpose of the network was to transfer files. However, due to a large number of files were scattered in various FTP (File Transfer Protocol) hosts, it was very inconvenient to query. Therefore, Alan Emtage and others thought of developing a system that can find files by file name, so Archie appeared. Archie works in the same way as most search engines today: automatically collect information resources, build index catalogues, and provide retrieval services. Archie is recognized as the precursor to a modern search engine (Halavais, 2013).
Search engines are part of a historical trend in information management
Figure 3: The video describes information management. “what is information management? animation for platon.” by wearesynkro. Standard YouTube License.
Nowadays, the transmission speed and range of human information are approaching the limit, but the development of information processing is relatively lagging. The information anxiety brought by this makes people realize the importance of information management. The development history of information management activities can be divided into three periods: ancient, modern and contemporary. As a revolutionary and innovative application of Internet development, a search engine is an important tool of information management in contemporary society. Information management mainly includes collection, analysis and identification, and a search engine is to help people intelligently achieve these purposes. The working principle of the search engine is mainly database and retrieval (Halavais, 2013). The system can periodically search for new information from the web page and update the original database. And retrieval is to analyze and organize information through a pre-arranged model. Different levels of social development have different information management mode. The search engine as a tool of information management is the product of the development of the times. It reduces the cost of human information acquisition and improves the efficiency of information analysis and identification, which is part of the historical trend of information management.
Who can benefit from search engines and who cannot？
Nowadays, search engines have more influence on economy, politics, society and culture. It benefits some people based on their advantages, but some groups cannot profit from it.
From an economic point of view, search engines have created an information platform that connects the needs of netizens with the products and services of businesses. This emerging network marketing model has low thresholds and high revenue, which has driven the development of small and medium-sized enterprises. In addition, search engines also bring more revenue for advertisers. Search engines can judge the needs of users by the type of information they search for, and then deliver advertisements to people who have real needs. But this kind of advertisement mode also makes the survival of traditional media face a severe challenge. For example, McClatchy, the famous American newspaper group declared bankruptcy this year due to the sharp decline in advertising revenue (Grieco, 2020). Advertising is the economic basis of most traditional media, but search engines have taken a lot of advertising market share, causing traditional media advertisers to keep losing. Therefore, traditional media cannot benefit from the search engine.
Figure 4: The American newspaper company (McClatchy) went bankrupt. Image: Robert Kneschke / EyeEm via Getty Images. All Rights Received.
From a political point of view, search engines are an important tool for government decision-making. Because search engines have powerful information collection and integration functions, they are important channels for gathering intelligence. For example, in 2008, Google launched a “flu trend” tracking service. It can obtain real-time data like an “electronic eye” and sends cases to information headquarters in time, thereby helping the government quickly collect influenza outbreaks in various regions and take preventive measures (Moisse, 2010).
But search engines also have “political bias.” For example, in Google’s search results ranking, the higher an item appears on a list of search results, the more users trust it. Therefore, the ranking results of search engines will influence the decisions of those undecided voters in the election (Shultz, 2016). Search engines infiltrate political ideology into search results. This behavior can help some “powers” to achieve the influence and control of voters’ perceptions, but it cannot fully benefit for voters.
From the social and cultural point of view, search engines have the ability to spread diverse ideas and cultures. As a central platform for the collection and dissemination of online thoughts and culture, search engines can enable every user who wants to learn about another culture to understand its origin and development through a simple search. And because search engines are interactive, users can talk and visit cultural propagandist without field research. Therefore, both people who want to understand the culture and cultural propagandists can benefit from search engines. But search engines also sometimes reflect social biases. For example, searching for “women should” in Google, automatic search recommendations will show a series of sexist views, such as women should stay at home, stay in the kitchen, and be restrained (Noble, 2018). This gender-biased search result will affect the ideology of growing children and is detrimental to the formation of their values.
Figure 6: “Women should” automatic search recommendations. Image: Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai advertising campaign for the United Nations. All Rights Received.
The impact of search engines
With the development of network technology and search technology, search engines have become an important network application tool that affects people’s life. Take me as an example, in terms of learning, my knowledge acquisition approach has shifted from looking up dictionaries and other reference books to searching for keywords directly on search engines. This not only helps me save the cost of obtaining information but also allows me to obtain more comprehensive and detailed information. In addition, in life, the service nature of search engines also more prominent. For example, people are more inclined to inquire about ticket and house rental information on the Internet. But search engines have also brought some drawbacks to people. I found that after habitually relying on search engines, the Internet replaced the storage function of the brain, and my memory began to decline. When I have a need for information in my study and life, the first reaction is not to retrieve the memory, but to take out the mobile phone to search.
With the development of science and technology, information technology represented by the Internet is gradually subverting the inherent information dissemination methods of human society. Since the invention of search engine technology, Internet giants such as Google and Yahoo have almost formed monopolies situation on a global scale. The strong influence of search engine has realized the control of information and influenced the fields of economy, politics, social and culture. This kind of influence is double-sided, which not only benefits some people but also brings problems such as unfair competition and reality distortion. But the emergence and development of search engines is the inevitable technological innovation. In the contemporary era of the explosive growth of information, search engines, as a product of Internet innovation, alleviate people’s information anxiety, and increasingly become the navigator for people to obtain information.
Grieco, E. (2020). Fast facts about the newspaper industry’s financial struggles as McClatchy files for bankruptcy. In Pew Research Center. Retrieved from: https://pewrsr.ch/2vBgw2M
Halavais, A. (2013). The engines. In Search engine society (pp. 5–31). Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity.
Moisse, K. (2010). “Google Flu Trends” Found to Be Nearly on Par with CDC Surveillance Data. In Scientific American. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/google-flu-trends-on-par-with-cdc-data/
Noble, S. U. (2018). A society, searching. In Algorithms of Oppression: How search engines reinforce racism (pp. 15–63). New York University.
Seymour, T., Frantsvog, D., & Kumar, S. (2011). History of Search Engines. International Journal of Management and Information Systems, 15(4), 47–58. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.19030/ijmis.v15i4.5799
Shultz, D. (2016). Could Google influence the presidential election? In Science. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/10/could-google-influence-presidential-election