Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Google as a knowledge multiplier

There is certainly a skill to finding pertinent information on the Internet, and it's something you can practice at, learn how to do better, improve at with practice. But there's a big factor often overlooked.

Someone who already knows some about a subject will always be better at researching that subject than someone who knows almost nothing about it. This is even true when the latter is better generally at searching than the former.

That's because knowing a little bit about a subject provides you with search terms, as well as enough understanding of the subject matter to quickly identify which of the search hits will be relevant and informative. The first 10% of knowledge in any field will make the biggest impact on search efficacy.

I might be reading too much into it, but isn't it interesting that this could be seen as encouraging a revival of the generalist, the "Renaissance man", a pattern of learning that went out a hundred years ago? Okay, so it's just Google, right? But computer-enhanced human intellect is not going to go away -- it'll become more pervasive. It may well turn out to again be a good idea to have a baseline knowledge in everything even if you have to also have a specialized knowledge in one thing, just to take advantage of that multiplier effect.

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