The internet has enabled a wide pool of information to be made available to internet users around the globe. Internet search engines help user to access this information. Presently, many search engines have the capability of indexing PDF files and returning them as search results (Baker n.pag.); this is good news to searchers since they can access more information that was not available earlier. Search engine effectiveness is measured, among other factors, by the relevance of retrieval for queries. With an increase in the tracking of browsing habits of people on the internet, search giants like Google, Yahoo, have developed computer programs and algorithms to narrow down search results depending on who is searching. The new search engines have made numerous efforts on improving the quality of search results; this is done through facilitating deeper penetration of the materials that are available online (Mostafa n.pag.). According to Mostafa, the search engines sort and present the search results better and track the searchers long term interests so that they are able to refine new information requests. Moreover, this is aimed at improving retrieval relevance, based on user’s habits. The search engine retrieves only those links, which the user is “accustomed to” and avoids irrelevant links, which contain opposing or contradicting information. While this approach is aimed at saving time and improve retrieval relevancy, it limits the information one can access and suppresses diversity of acquiring knowledge.
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The use of computer programs and algorithms has raised questions of how suitable computers are in determining the interest of different engine users. Critiques question the criteria, which the programs apply to determine individual users’ preferences. The objectivity of this system is compromised by the ever-changing needs of the internet users. While the system may rightly determine a user preference within a given time, this preference is liable to change abruptly depending on user’s needs and interests. It also locks users to a wide variety of choices; thus, denying them wide and different opinions (Vaughan and Thelwall 694).
Most of the search engine users have only a general idea of what they want from the internet. The validity of the search information is aided by the search list generated. The search engine should provide a lead by presenting all information under search criteria. Users’ choice of what they want is determined after viewing through the search listing. The search listing should contain materials relevant to the key word or phrase the user supplied and not a computer “assumption” of what they may need. This affects objectivity of the search engine. The use of basic SEO systems to optimize indexing and the presence of PDF files and other documents is an essential component of the search engines marketing mix (Baker n.pag.); it has enabled businesses to use online PDF documents to market their businesses and allow clients to access these files.
The system also compromises on reliability of the search engines. A search engine is supposed to give links to the most reliable sites based on the key word or phrase supplied. Since users’ preferences keep on changing and evolving with time, if a user’s query is not within the pre-determine scope of his/her preferences, the search engine may provide irrelevant links. This can curtail on the reliability of the search engine. Further, research indicates that most of search engine users view the first page of search listing. It means that, most users will give up on searching if they do not find the material they are interested in (Lawrence and Giles 108).
Search satisfaction is the ultimate goal of using a search engine. The users’ satisfaction is achieved when their needs are met by the search engine. When users are not satisfied, they may shy away from using the search engine in future, which in turn denies users’ chances to access information they require. It also denies providers of the information from reaching users.
The user’s participation in determining his/her preferences is unethical and infringing on their right to decide on what is best for them. Computer programs and algorithms are developed without the knowledge or participation of users. Users are not even aware that a user preference profile is being developed for them. The computer cannot determine what a human being wants, unless there is consented participation by the user. Developing of users profile without their contribution will likely result in wrong user preference profiles.
Computer programs and algorithm utilize the use of key words and their density. These qualities are used to determine user preferences and determine the order of the web list to appear under a given key word. Most of the words have different meaning, which means that if an algorithm uses a certain key word to determine a user preference profile, a query with a similar word will yield same results as the actual keyword. Thus, this can be misleading to the user and lead to inefficiency.
Search engines act as universal gateways to information transfer from the source to users. Each gateway is supposed to be universal in the options it offers to users. Using the computer programs and algorithm methods is like curtailing the magnitude of information, which an individual can access. However, this is contrary to the spirit and letter of the internet providing of information to all. Individuals will be denied access to numerous information resources in the assumption that it is not their line of interest. Some of the information made unavailable to users may be very resourceful to their research.
In search engine evaluation, effectiveness and efficiency are the most important aspects. Vaughan argues that recall and precision is the most commonly utilized criteria in the evaluation (677). Effectiveness is the ability of search engine to find the correct information as required by the user. Efficiency on the other hand, is the measure of how fast this process is accomplished (Lawrence and Giles 109). Computer programs and algorithms tend to lay more emphasis on efficiency at the expense of effectiveness, which in turn affects the resourcefulness of the information fed to the user. Information research should first focus on the effectiveness of search, and eventually, an efficient method of retrieval should be developed. Further, different users have different information problems. The algorithms, which develop user needs, do not exhaust individual users’ unique requirements.
Computer programs and algorithms are intended to improve the effectiveness of search engine and optimize the recall and precision of the search data. Although a noble course this end, several challenges have reduced its overall objectivity. For a search engine to be effective, it must be reliable, efficiency, relevant and user-centered to yield high level of satisfaction. An efficient search engine should have a good connectivity and retrieval effectiveness; it should feed the curious mind with right information requested by the user.
Despite these challenges, the use of computer programs and mathematical algorithms by search engine has greatly improved efficiency in some cases. Some institutions have defined information preferences, which if captured through the computer programs, can develop true information preference profile. Example includes research institutions, consultancy firms, and professional users. The use of this system improves on efficiency, since, only the search engine retrieves the relevant links. In addition, if well implemented, this approach can save users’ time spent on viewing irrelevant web pages; thus, increasing their efficiency. The internet contains thousands of sites on any given subject. A user may be interest in a particular part of the subject. If the computer program and algorithm method well utilize the key words and phrases, the user can access only the most relevant parts of the subject matter.
The use of computer programs and algorithm can greatly help to filter sites, which are not professionally developed. The algorithm principle requires that a web page should contain a certain keyword in its subject to qualify under such a key word search criteria. In such a case, users save the time of opening unprofessional sites. Further research is recommended for reducing the challenges faced by this system wile incorporating the effective ways of filtering information by search engines. The urge to increase efficiency should not override the critical aspect of effectiveness. Effectiveness should come before efficiency, which is critical because the level of information available in the internet will continue to grow now and in the future.
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