Google delivers information in ever newer, better ways

April 1, 2007

Google, a word that sounded like gibberish as recently as 10 years ago, is now so common that it is being widely used as a verb. We "Google" for all sorts of information, from finding a great new recipe to getting the real scoop on a new romantic prospect. The verb is so accepted today that it has been added to many dictionaries in recent years.

Since its beginning in the late 1990s, the company Google has succeeded in large part because it is an easy way to find information quickly. In fact, the company's mission statement is at once grand and yet entirely believable: "To organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

According to the Nielsen Co., Google is the most-used Internet search engine, delivering a 54% market share, ahead of Yahoo! (23%) and Windows Live Search (13%). The fact that Google receives approximately 1 billion search requests per day means that you probably have used it yourself. Google, however, can deliver so much more than simple searches. It continues to debut highly useful protocols all the time, and I have found a few particularly valuable.

Google has gained access to a great amount of material that previously was inaccessible to regular search engines due to subscription barriers. Google has made arrangements with many publishers to allow users to scan portions of password-protected areas-most only allow users to see abstracts, but that is often enough to help them decide whether they want to pay for the full text or perhaps pursue it through another means, such as a medical school library in their community.

Whether looking up a drug interaction or researching articles, GS has been a very quick, easy, and useful tool. I've even had patients find things for me.

What are people saying about GS? A magazine published by the University of Toronto recently included this praise: "Within just a few months, [GS] has established itself as a rival to powerful multinational companies, such as Thomson and Elsevier, that offer huge (and, for libraries, hugely expensive) databases of scholarly material. Some librarians say that Google underperforms its rivals in the currency and quantity of its search results, although others declare that its simplicity is a huge advantage."

A college student commented in an online discussion group: "[GS] has made even obscure knowledge easily accessible from the comfort of one's own home, making it virtually unnecessary for students to venture out to the library."

The free Web encyclopedia Wikipedia describes GS as "a freely accessible Web search engine that indexes the full-text of scholarly literature across an array of publishing formats and disciplines. Released in beta in November 2004, the GS index includes most peer-reviewed online journals, except for those published by Elsevier, the world's largest scientific publisher. It is similar in function to the freely available Scirus from Elsevier, and to CiteSeer, a freely available resource. It is also similar to the subscription-based tools, Elsevier's Scopus and Thomson ISI's Web of Science.

"GS nonetheless claims to cover more Web sites, journal sources, and languages. Its advertising slogan-'Stand on the shoulders of giants' is a nod to the scholars who have contributed to their fields over the centuries, providing the foundation for new intellectual achievements. In terms of features, GS allows users to search for digital or physical copies of articles, whether they be online or in libraries.

"Through its 'Cited by' feature, GS provides access to citations of articles that have cited the article being viewed. It is this feature in particular that provides the citation indexing previously only found in Scopus and Web of Science.

"Through its 'Related articles' feature, GS presents a list of closely related articles, ranked primarily by how similar these articles are to the original result, but also taking into account the relevance of each paper."