“But how do I find out?”

“But how do I find out what I search for?”, a friend asked the other day, “Google cannot help me find information that I need”. This friend is in the process of completing a thesis on social networks.

Google, Yahoo! Search, Bing and the rest are tools that help us search information already available. Unfortunately they are not mind readers, plus vast though it may be, indexed information on the web is not all available information. Years ago, when put in the same situation, my post started with “I have a silly question” and got back two answers, the answer to my question and that “Silly questions are the ones never asked; there are no silly questions”. So whenever in trouble, when your favorite search engine (or your ability to ask it) seems limited, ask the ultimate search engine:


The best answers I have ever got for questions that troubled me were from humans, be it in person, telephone, the USENET or even mailing lists. My advice to her was to locate and subscribe to a mailing list relevant to her subject (in her case SOCNET) and ask people there. Impressive things happen when you ask people instead of machines. Ideas spring and flourish and (human) networks form. Just do not ask anyone to do your homework for you.

One thought on ““But how do I find out?”

  1. Put differently, almost everything you get out of google (and essentially the web) is push-mode information, since it requires someone to push it out there, most times without any explicit demand. It is obvious that push-mode works great for very popular items but not so great for unpopular, rare or obscure items. Asking questions is pull-mode, with explicit demand for the information you are seeking, so it works well for everything, assuming that the people you are asking have the answer.

    This obviously places the burden of intelligence on the question-asker, not the network. And yes, even though there are no silly questions, there are silly ways of getting information. For example, asking about C++ coding tips in a gardening forum will not get you a (good) answer.

    I now work at a place that can be described as “the great (computer) science museum”. There is tons of history here and stories that you cannot find anywhere on the web and the only way to get it is to literally be here and ask around. There is absolutely no substitute to face-to-face conversation; not chat, irc, twitter and other stuff like that—they are not good information retrieval tools UNLESS a previous face-to-face connection already exists.

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