Web Dragons and Basic Car Care for Women

I’ve been work­ing for over a week on a review of the book Web Dragons:Inside the Myth of the Search Engines. My drafts are copi­ous and they all suck for one rea­son or anoth­er. So in a fit of hav­ing to get some damn thing out by the end of the week I give you:

This book is Basic Search Engine Care for People with­out Library or Computer Science Degrees.

For more then the 20 years a num­ber of com­mu­ni­ty col­leges have offered class­es in basic car care that were aimed at women. A nice avun­cu­lar gent in a shop coat talked about things like:

  • What an engine is and how it works.
  • Which nois­es com­ing from under the car are actu­al­ly dan­ger­ous and which are just annoying.
  • How to change a tire when the AAA truck can’t come for two hours and you have a meet­ing with your boss in 30 minutes.
  • How often to take you car to Jiffy Lube for an oil change and why it real­ly does matter.
  • How to deal with a mechan­ic and not get taken.

I nev­er took one of these cours­es because I know what car­bu­re­tor means (no, it is not French for don’t fuck with it) but lord knows I have some friends and rel­a­tives who damn well should .

Search engines are just like cars. We all use them every­day, and we all assume that they will work prop­er­ly when we need them, and most of us have no idea how they work.

This book is like that Basic Car Care for Women (and oth­er Non-Gear Heads) class. It starts with a lit­tle talk from the teacher(s) about what they mean to do in the class and what we can expect. Then there’s a lit­tle his­to­ry les­son. In this case, a tour thought the ages start­ing with the first the­o­ries about what knowl­edge is (every­one wave at Plato!) and end­ing with the cur­rent projects aimed at dig­i­tiz­ing all of our lit­er­a­ture. Like the his­to­ry les­son in the car class whether or not its amus­ing or dead­ly dull depends on the teacher. Witten and his garage mates aren’t ter­ri­bly fun­ny but they are not dull because they real­ly love this stuff and that enthu­si­asm shows.

After a cof­fee and intro­duce your­self to your neigh­bors break you move out into the shop and sit on the work­bench­es while the garage guys talk you through the basic parts of a car and how they work together.

In Web Dragons you get a chap­ter that describes the web and how it’s built and then a chap­ter that describes what search engines are and how they work. Depending on your pro­cliv­i­ties you’re either going to find this fas­ci­nat­ing beyond belief or just a bit tedious. Stay with us here, this is the impor­tant part.

Witten and his posse are good teach­ers. This is com­plex stuff and they make a good job of point­ing out all the pieces and how they work togeth­er. The expla­na­tions of the dif­fer­ent ways of mea­sur­ing and map­ping the web are love­ly exam­ples of mak­ing some­thing as sim­ple as pos­si­ble but no sim­pler. For all that the sci­ence involved is heav­i­ly math based, I had no trou­ble fol­low­ing along. Sure I missed one or two bits that had some­thing to do with geom­e­try but my under­stand­ing of the ideas was­n’t harmed by it.

So now that you all know what these search engine things are and how they work, its time to look at how things go wrong. Or rather a few of the things that can go wrong. This is “Basic Car Care” not “Theory of Fuel Delivery Systems” so don’t expect any­thing ter­ri­bly inidepth. Witten et al, deliv­er up some of the sim­pler tech­niques that are used to mess about with search results and some of the ways that the web and the search engines go about try­ing to counter those problems.

Then you have to sit through the oblig­a­tory lec­ture on respon­si­bil­i­ty and safe dri­ving and how there are irre­spon­si­ble peo­ple out there and what you can do to keep your­self safe from the lousy dri­vers. It’s dull but you can pull out some bits of wis­dom from behind the par­ty line. Or at least get a good idea of what the par­ty line is.

The last bit where they pre­dict the future of cars is always fun — any­one remem­ber fly­ing cars? How about your very own per­son­al­ized search­bot that brings you the results from the Puget Sound Trailers web site after every tri­al with your favorite rid­ers results high­light­ed in red?

So why do you care that you now under­stand the basics of how the web is built and how search engines work? For the same rea­son you care that you know what to call the parts of your car and how they work togeth­er. Because now you don’t have to freak out at every noise the sil­ly thing makes, you know when to get your oil changed, and when you do have a prob­lem the local ForChryHonLexWhatEver deal­er won’t be able to charge you $450 dol­lars for a muf­fler bear­ing change.

Knowledge is pow­er and igno­rance costs. Whether your head gas­ket is leak­ing or your search for “improv­ing gas mileage” has returned a link to a sell­er of the SuperFuelMAX Pro.

Just in case you did find your­self look­ing into this device you might also want to have a look at: The FTC case sum­ma­ry.

One reply on “Web Dragons and Basic Car Care for Women”

Comments are closed.