Search engines and expertise about global issues: well-defined landscape or undomesticated wilderness?

2013-08-16T13:50:50Z (GMT) by Jenny Fry S. Virkar Ralph Schroeder
This chapter investigates the ‘winner-takes-all’ hypothesis in relation to how academic researchers access online sources and resources. Some have argued that the Web provides access to a wider range of sources of information than offline resources. Others, such as Hindman et al. (2003), have shown that access to online resources is highly concentrated, particularly because of how Internet search engines are designed. With researchers increasingly using the Web and Internet search engines to disseminate and locate information and expertise, the question of whether the use of online resources enhances or diminishes the range of available sources of expertise is bound to become more pressing. To address this question four globally relevant knowledge domains were investigated using large-scale link analysis and a series of semi-structured interviews with UK-based academic researchers. We found there to be no uniform ‘winner-takes-all’ effect in the use of online resources. Instead, there were different types of information gatekeepers for the four domains we examined and for the types of resources and sources that are sought. Particular characteristics of a knowledge domain’s information environment appear to determine whether Google and other Internet search engines function as a facilitator in accessing expertise or as an influential gatekeeper.