The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, May 15, 2004

Knowledge as an artefact of search

You know a snatch of a song, and need a copy of the lyrics: no trouble. You want to know the GDP of Venezuela in 1991: you're stuffed.

Thus the iron rule of Mr Google. Who right now may be on the wrong side of his story arc, sliding slowly down to failure even as the investors poney up their billions, but who is certainly not, in his present form, the future of search.

I've looked here a lot about knowledge about politics and government as an artefact of the politico-journalistic process: search is yet another constraint. If I have a proper name that's reasonably uncommon, I've got a chance with today's search engines - dates are much less useful.

But if I'm searching for examples of an abstract concept, it's the proverbial square peg in the round hole.

Thus, the piece earlier today on the LA Times and the Staples Center affair came out of the association of the two names.

A search on "la times" "conflict of interest" gets you not very far; because you're searching in the text, not in the sort of index you'd find at the end of a dead-tree book, a product of human analysis that has - if it's any good (and so many aren't) done just the work of abstraction you need, and identified under that heading the various instances of conflict of interest (or whatever concept it is) that occur in the book. Where an idea can be expressed in a multiplicity of ways, it makes searching by today's methods ineffective [1].

(Of course, the easiest thing would be to chat to some liveware familiar with the history of the Times. No doubt the LA Public Library has a stack of histories and biographies relevant to the issue. Methods of the era when reporters wore fedoras with their press-card stuck in the hat-band.)

  1. There is such a concept as semantic searching - this is apparently an example - but, since I don't understand it, I shan't discuss it!

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