Haider, Jutta and Sundin, Olof. Invisible search and online search engines: the ubiquity of search in everyday life. London, New York: Routledge, 2019. viii, 151 p. ISBN 978-1-138-32861-7. £29.99 (paperback, hardcover and e-book available)
Two researchers from The Deptartment of Arts and Cultural Sciences at Lund University have produced this book that hopefully will attract attention from different fields of studies concerned with information problems in society. They explore the phenomenon of searching as it appears in the society using broadband and mobile networks that are practically everywhere (at least in some part of the world). I have recently used the wi-fi, data communication and Skype software on the iPad to connect family members in Vilnius to my wanderings across the Entebbe Botanical Gardens (better than travel TV as one of them told me), and just a week ago was identifying the names of birds and plants using mobile connection in the middle of a wild forest in Lithuania. Thus, apart from my purely professional interest, I was reading the text as someone who can recongnize the discussed issues and engage with them on a personal level. That certainly adds to the attraction of the text, but its highest merit is the approach to the analysed problems and the methodological perspective, which (though not original) is quite unusual for the text about searching and search engines.
As one can guess, the main focus in the book is on search engines and inevitably the dominating Google, though the topic is far more general. Search engines as a research object figure in many recent academic texts on the role of information technology in society. The users and human searchers or the discussion of the effects of googlization on the societies are also not a novelty. The originality of this book rather lies in the successful integration of rather different research approaches to search. The authors themselves emphasize the areas of information retrieval and information behaviour in everyday life, but they also identify the areas of information systems, information literacy, and information policy as being of major concern in exploring the issues of search engines. The problem of the ubiquity of search in everyday life is approached from the soft perspective, mainly using the practice theory, science and technology studies, and to some extent actor-network theory. This soft multidisciplinary approach provides new insights into the the use of general purpose search engines and search activities within the everyday practices of people. The infrastructural invisibility and intuitive use of search engines are presented as a double-edged blessing, but more important as a research problem deserving attention from many perspectives and disciplines that can draw on each others. Building better understanding of the role and impact of search and the tools used for it in our everyday life is the greatest concern of the authors.
One of the devices to do this is a vast in-depth literature review. In addition, the original data from a research project involving different focus groups conducted by the authors are used. The authors present this method at the end of the book (Chapter 6) including it in the discussion of the approaches to researching search. It makes sense, though I would have liked more concentrated information about the composition of the focus groups and the topics of discussion earlier in the book.
As the authors postulate that search is ubiquitous in everyday life, they examine this phenomenon from different angles. The Introduction is quite extensive and covers the presentation and analysis of the main concepts used in the book (social practices, different search tools, different types of search, users, system, relevance, Google) as well as the aim and structure of the book. The next chapter presents literature on search from information retrieval and information behaviour areas, studies of Web search and the politics of search engines. The third chapter is devoted to the material infrastructure of search and the problem of its definition and delimitation. Much information is devoted to other materialities of search, such as indices, various data and algorithms. The fourth chapter on 'Search in everyday life' was the most interesting to me, first because it includes original research results, but also because of the introduction of such conceptual tools as 'mundane-ification', 'search-ification', 'frictions of relevance', or re-interpretation of such terms as 'feedback loops' or the types of search. Though the newly suggested terms are rather clumsy (see Michael Billig on "ification"), the concepts behind them may serve well future researchers of search. The fifth chapter concentrates on the role, affordances, and limitations of media and information literacy approaches in search practices with relation to trust and authority issues as the authors emphasize in the summary of it. The most important result of this chapter is not only the identification of the limits of the media and information literacy, but the attempt to understand its role in the world of the ubiquitous search created by commercial providers of search tools, producers of the content, other agencies (governmental and non-governmental), and the use of this all by different people.
The sixth chapter discusses the issues of researching search in general and focuses on the methods that the authors have used in their project. Other methods and approaches to investigation of search engines and the possibilities that search engines provide as tools for research are also highlighted. This chapter will be definitely useful for researchers working in this field.
The conclusion effectively summarises the main ideas of the authors argued in the book and the central notions introduced in different chapters. I would think that this book will be a useful addition to the literature on search engines and information seeking and search. Apart from the self-evident academic community, it may be interesting for search engine designers and information providers, information and information technology policy makers. I would even recommend it as enlightening reading for the general public interested in the problems of human life and role of information technologies in it. The style and language, though serious and academic, will be accessible to serious readers and personal recognition of many discussed phenomena will help to engage with more theoretical explanations.
University of Borås
How to cite this review
Maceviciute, E. (2019). Review of: Haider, Jutta and Sundin, Olof. Invisible search and online search engines: the ubiquity of search in everyday life.. London, New York: Routledge, 2019. Information Research, 24(3), review no. R668 [Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs668.html]
Information Research is published four times a year by the University of Borås, Allégatan 1, 501 90 Borås, Sweden.