University students don't question Google

Students trust Google rankings

University students may be encouraged to be critical but they don't seem to question Google's ranking system, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

The experiment involved 22 undergraduate students (with various majors) from Cornell University, USA. It found that overall, the students had an inherent trust in Google's ability to rank results by their true relevance to the query.

"When participants selected a link from Google's result pages, their decisions were strongly biased towards links higher in position, even if that content was less relevant to the search query," states the report.

"Despite the popularity of search engines, most users are not aware of how they work and know little about the implications of their algorithms," said study author Bing Pan.

The report authors suggest this has serious long-term implications.

"Combining users' proclivity to trust ranked results with Google's algorithm increases the chances that those 'already rich' by virtue of nepotism get 'filthy rich' by virtue of robotic searchers. Smaller, less affluent, alternative sites are doubly punished by ranking algorithms and lethargic searchers," the report concludes.

The authors suggest that more effort could be made by search engine developers to provide users with information on how the algorithms function, and that this, in turn, could help to raise user awareness.

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Dahna McConnachie

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