Searching For Truth on Wikipedia and Google

As a kid if I wanted more than a simple answer on a particular subject matter, I was told, “go look it up in the encyclopedia. That’s why we spent the money on it.” So I pulled out the World Book Encyclopedia and rifled through page after page until I found what I needed to know.

I’m guessing that nowadays encyclopedia publishers have been put out of business by online fact treasure houses such as Wikipedia. Why bother to open a ten pound, five hundred page tome when you can type into a search engine input box a phrase of choice and get back several pages of results. More often than not, near the top of the results listing will be a link to Wikipedia.

What has happened, though, with instant online accessibility is that, as Jimmy Durante used to say, “everybody wants to get into act.” Besides an official-looking blurb from a prestige or reputable site, there will be several other links offering their take on the issue at hand. When you click on some of the links you find that they don’t always offer as promised.

Take for example General George Custer. Look him up in your favorite search engine and you will find several sites giving revisionist history on what really happened at Little Big Horn and its affect on America from them on. You’ll also probably find a site or two about someone named George or Custer or both and they want you to know all about themselves. Then there are the sites that want to sell you Old West artifacts.

Let’ say you want to buy a chandelier and don’t feel like trekking to a couple of stores or so to check out designs and prices. Instead, you type in the word “chandelier” into a search engine and quickly the screen returns the first of several pages of listings. On the first page, there will be paid ads trying to get you to focus on ignoring all the items on the page that are free listings. There will also be a Wikipedia entry for those who want to know all about chandeliers without having to click into a “store” site. There may also be other types of non-commerce sites to click into.

Even when you click into a commerce site, half the time you don’t know if it is a cover for a middle-aged fat guy in his Bermuda shorts sitting in front of his computer in his den. Every once in a while he uses his web browser to go to the maintenance side of his Ecommerce site and look for newly received orders. He then calls via cell phone the warehouse operation that has a corner on the market for chandeliers in stock. He tells them to drop ship the newly paid transactions and goes back to watching The People’s Court on tv.

Not long ago, I needed to find the correct navigation to someone’s house. Rather than do the obvious and go to a site especially designed for this such as Google Maps or Map Quest, instead I typed into the browser address bar the full address of the house. Not only did it return results for a navigational map, but it gave me a link for how much the house sold for a few years earlier, another for its current estimated market value and a third informing me that the occupant was a registered sex offender- no joke!

They say that searching is half the fun. Now ain’t that the truth.

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