Internet time and the reliability of search engines

Paul Wouters, Iina Hellsten, Loet Leydesdorff

Abstract



Search engines are unreliable tools for data collection for research that aims to reconstruct the historical record. This unreliability is not caused by sudden instabilities of search engines. On the contrary, their operational stability in systematically updating the Internet is the cause. We show how both Google and Altavista systematically relocate the time stamp of Web documents in their databases from the more distant past into the present and the very recent past. They also delete documents. We show how this erodes the quality of information. The search engines continuously reconstruct competing presents that also extend to their perspectives on the past. This has major consequences for the use of search engine results in scholarly research, but gives us a view on the various presents and pasts living side by side in the Internet.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v9i10.1177



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