I'm seeing some amusing reactions to the just released Pew study on Search Engine Users.

Disclaimer: I have not yet the report but would like to spend some quality time with it. I'd really like to see where it disagrees with what we believe we know at work.

Chirs Sherman of SearchEngineWatch, in Searchers Say, Damn I'm Good! is impressed by how many search users are confident in their ability to find things:

A new survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that 92% of search engine users are confident in their searching skills, with more than 87% saying they are successful in finding what they're looking for most of the time.

That's great news for companies in the web search business. It means folks who need to find something barely hesitate to use a search engine.

Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing said that a few facts left his jaw hanging.

Nearly half of searchers use a search engines no more than a few times a week, and two-thirds say they could walk away from search engines without upsetting their lives very much....

In other words, a large population of on-line users don't use the web like those of us who practically spend our lives on-line do. This is no surprise. There are a lot of people who just check their e-mail, maybe read a bit of news, and then go back to their real lives.

Where's the surprise here?

I'm sure this will change over time, as the Internet becomes more and more of an essential technology in the lives of "normal" people.

He also notes that:

Only 38% of users are aware of the distinction between paid or "sponsored" results and unpaid results.

I'm surprised that Cory is surprised by that finding. In fact, I would have expected a higher perctentage. When you think of all the places in the modern world that advertising has snuck in without many people noticing, why is search any different?

At least most search engines label the sponsored results. It's too bad the rest of the on-line and off-line media aren't as clear about such things.

The more philosophical question, of course, is this: If you find what you're looking for, does it really matter if it's a sponsored result or not?

I know that's a can of worms and there's no "right" answer for everyone, but there are people who think of search engines as a high-tech on-line phone book of sorts--especially when they're looking for something obviously commercial in nature. Most phone books have a Yellow Pages and a White Pages, right? Where do you go looking for a plumber?

Before you jump up and down and flame me for advocating advocating one view point or another, take a deep breath. I'm not.

Posted by jzawodn at January 23, 2005 08:08 PM

Reader Comments
# Aristus said:

Back in the bucolic days before the '96 Telco Act, I worked for a Yellow Pages ad agency. The user profile was almost exactly what is being said of search engines today: a large percentage of people who are searching are looking for something to buy; more often than not they go for the first placement, and are confident in their ability to navigate the index. White (& Blue) Page users were more likely doing quick "reminder" lookups of little commercial value. But publishers keep pumping out the Whites. Why? Because both kinds are necessary to serve the users' needs.

But chew on this: The downside of direct search ad revenue is that it leads to a lack of focus on algorithims, which means that index-subverting roac-- err, "search engine optimizers" have a stationary target. In other words, the White pages get taken over as well.

on January 24, 2005 08:46 AM
# Josh Baltzell said:

The 38% statistic really surprised me at first (especially considering the fact that it specifically says "Sponsored Links" next to each section on google that has them.)

Just to test I fired up google and searched for "Digital Cameras" then I asked my fiancee what the difference between the sidebar links and the main links were. She had no idea. When I told her they were ads she was a slightly mad.

on January 24, 2005 07:25 PM
# Tom Whalen said:

I've only been using the Internet since 1997, and my oh my, the evolution! For the worse, that is. If you're looking to buy something, great, you'll surely find plenty of choices for said product by querying your favorite search engine. Searching for 'just information' is a different matter. Nowadays it seems that every source of real information also has "now, for our sponsors!" plastered all over it. Can't really complain, as someone needs to pay for someone else's knowledge. Still, there were better days.

on February 4, 2005 09:31 PM
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