Summary of Findings from Interview Series and Qualitative Validation of Webmetric Analysis
2 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2009
Date Written: March 1, 2006
In order to help determine whether the winner-take-all hypothesis applied to patterns of access to information we conducted a series of semi-structured interviews in a sub-sample of the original six global domains. These were Terrorism, HIV/AIDS, Climate Change, and Internet and Society. In total twenty UK-based active researchers were interviewed; five from each of the four domains. Interviewees were asked about their research background, key institutions, groups and people in their research networks, and the variety of online resources they used. Questions also focused on their online search strategies, such as the tools they used for finding information, the keywords they used and what kind of entities they tended to search for e.g. people, groups or institutions. The interviews also covered direct validation of specific aspects of the webmetric data. For this we asked respondents to comment on the Google representation of key institutions, organizations and people in their domain and the extent to which it overlapped with their own mental model of the domain e.g. their individual perception of what constitutes the core set of resources and sources (it is important to note that this is different to a particular mental model they may have at any one time in relation to a situational information need). The Google representation was derived during the webmetric data gathering and analysis by retrieving the top-thirty URLs in each domain from Google.com. As with quantitative webmetric results, our qualitative interview findings show that there is no uniform 'Winner-takes-all' effect in the use of online resources. Instead, there are different kinds of gatekeepers for the four topics we examined and for the types of information that are sought. It is therefore important not just to identify a concentration or democratization effect, but rather to refine under what circumstances the search for expertise will be dominated by certain results and exhibit biases, and when, instead, researchers will be led to the resources they seek and to a variety of results. Particular characteristics of a domain's information environment will determine whether Google and other Internet search engines function as a facilitator or as an influential gatekeeper.
Keywords: internet, access to scientific information, webmetrics, knowledge, online search, google, online gatekeepers, information search, search engines
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