College students completely trust Google

28 Aug 2007

Google search is automatically trusted by college students as carrying the most relevant results in the most relevant order, according to a study undertaken by Cornell University in the US.

The way in which Google ranking works by displaying what it deems to be the most relevant was seen to be trusted by students in an experiment using eye tracking to monitor what they read and the links they chose to click on.

It was found that many students tended to click on a link that was ranked high by Google even if the abstract for the search result was less relevant to their search than one lower down on the ranking list.

The study is looking at how Google’s search engine has potentially enormous influence on “culture, society, and user traffic on the web”.

The report noted that “users, as a whole, are not familiar with how search engines ‘find’ what they are looking for”.

“The present results suggest that some users might benefit from having more information regarding the mechanisms by which Google and other search engines ‘crawl’ the web and determine how a website is ranked,” it stated.

The danger of trusting results and not knowing how they are gathered and ranked “is the potential for misguided trust to exacerbate what others already fear regarding the non-egalitarian distribution of information whether as a result of economic resources, indexing policies, or algorithms,” the report continued.

Although the study targets Google, it in fact points to an overarching problem with most search sites. The study itself was partially funded by Google Inc.

By Marie Boran