Extreme “wombling”

You could argue that this has nothing to do with searching, but then it depends what you’re looking for!   Rubbish and dead bodies, in this case for the Sherpas who are going up Mount Everest to tidy it up.

As usual, those picking up the litter won’t tend to be the ones who dropped it in the first place.  The Sherpas certainly have my admiration.    The internet is also littered – cluttered – with sites and information that is hardly ever looked at.  Take this blog, for example – it doesn’t get many visits, because it’s not highly advertised or very visible (fortunately my reasons for starting it were more than to reach a wide audience).  OK, if you happen to put “disruptive searcher” into Google it’ll pop up near the top, but that’s because I spent a bit of time working on a name that was unusual .

When I’m searching I often have a nagging worry at the back of my mind that I’m going to miss a key bit of information.   My aim is to make sure that, while there’ll be stuff I don’t find, I don’t miss anything too significant.  Leaving out some “nice to have” bits of information is acceptable, but missing a key point is not.

Moreover I haven’t got time for “extreme wombling”.  Finding every single scrap of info. that’s been dropped at the wayside isn’t practical and neither would my enquirer have time to go through all the data this would generate.  So we select, judge and make the “executive decision” about when enough is enough and we can stop.  Not always an easy decision.

Peter Morville highlights this “lost in a crowd” problem at the start of his book Ambient Findability: what we find changes who we become.  “How did you get here?” is the opening sentence.  He goes on to explain:

“I ask because the odds of finding this book are vanishingly small.  Estimates place the worldwide stock of books between 75 and 175 million titles; plus there are millions of blogs, billions of web pages, countless radio and TV shows, RSS feeds, podcasts and the beat goes on.  Most folks are more likely to win the lottery than find this book”.

Shame, because it’s a very good read.  Anyway, I’ve just increased the odds for him…slightly.

However, there’s no need to despair.  If you’re carrying out a search, just manage expectations.  Keep your client informed of progress, ask questions for clarification, check the search request to ensure you’re still on track (it’s all too easy to get diverted when web-searching), and make sure that what you find is what you think you’ve found – approval after a quick scan is risky, a closer inspection can reveal quite a different slant, at times.  Check for an authoritative source, that the facts make sense, and the date of the information (not the webpage).

Now I must get back to wombling around the web, and I will also pick up litter in the real world when I can, and will smile to think of the contrast between my small act and those brave Sherpas

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This entry was posted in Environmental info., Information literacy, Psychology of search, Social networking, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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