When I set out to begin this project, I planned to conduct my online research by searching several long time, favorite fee based deep business research sources, as well as going to the open Web.
My strategy was to search high quality business databases like ABI/Inform, well known newspaper and magazine online search services like Proquest National Newspapers, various scholarly databases, like SSRN, and I’d kick off my research with some open Web searches on Google as well.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the databases--I never got there.
I discovered that virtually everything I was looking for could be found on the open Web via Google. The additional databases, which I have used and valued for years, did not add a significant amount to my research.
This was not what I expected.
Of course, my subject was broadly business oriented and represent topics that are reported in the popular and trade press, survey organizations, associations, conferences and so forth, which are sources that Google indexes. There are lots of other types of business or scholarly research queries where Google would certainly not be the first or last word, or even useful at all. Say, for example, you needed to examine the first treatises on accounting from the 1500s; or review a set of archives of financial statements from German companies in the 1920s; or find scholarly analyses on a niche social science or humanity discipline topic. You’d need to turn to a library, a specialized digital or e-journal collection or a niche discipline database.
I’m also not saying that entering a few words into Google equals good research. In order to best leverage Google, it still takes some upfront knowledge and skills such as knowing how to choose and modify keywords; toggling between Google Web, News and Scholar where appropriate; utilizing some of the search engine’s most important features such as its date tool to customize dates (in some cases to limit to newer and other cases for older pages); and knowing tricks like inputting the name of your own trusted sources and experts to serve as quality filters and more.
This is hardly a new topic. Discussions about what can and cannot be found from a Google search is about as old as Google itself, and teachers and librarians continually work to educate students of the world “beyond Google.” But to me the surprise was that even though it was “just Google” it served this complex business research project so well.
But my experience also made me wonder…despite the admirable efforts of traditional online services like ProQuest, Factiva, LexisNexis and others to introduce new versions and enhancements that balance their power search capabilities with Web based ease of search interfaces and features—how will services like this best be able to continue to maintain and justify their fee based services? Or can they at all?
This question will become increasingly relevant as millennials move to positions of greater responsibility in the workplace, which as this just published fascinating book called When Millennials Take Over explains, will change so much about the way things are done. And that includes, of course, where and who we turn to for our sources of knowledge.
What do you think?