How Search is Making us Smarter

Search is a multipurpose tool with potentially unlimited uses for each of us. Whether we need to find a birthday present for Mom, find out the latest news on the World Cup, or determine the best driving route to the game, a simple query in the search box will provide us an answer.

Though it helps us quickly and efficiently get answers to our questions, is search actually making us any smarter?

Answers are our goal, but they inevitably lead to more questions. Think about how many times you’ve immediately asked “why?” or “how?” after your initial investigation was concluded.

Before the Internet, we were stopped dead in our tracks time and time again without an available medium to address those follow up questions. Maybe we saw an interesting fact on “Jeopardy,” but short of heading off to the library our options were usually pretty limited to find the answer we were seeking. The Internet — and search specifically — has opened up learning opportunities that even the least intellectually curious of us are taking advantage of every day.

Reference related searches account for 13 percent of the total U.S. monthly search volume (over 3 billion). With about two out of every three U.S Internet users visiting a reference site last month, there is no question that finding answers online is important, but how considerable a role does search play in driving traffic to these sites?

Becoming Smarter From Wikipedia

The world’s largest reference site, Wikipedia, represents one of my favorite examples of how people become smarter through search. If you’ve ever conducted a search, you have surely come across a Wikipedia link in that first or second position of the organic results, offering an informational response to your query (even if you didn’t ask a question).

Interestingly, Wikipedia receives an astounding 90 percent of its inbound traffic via search! And those of us who have landed on Wikipedia after a search know how that visit frequently serves as a springboard to further navigation through Wikipedia as we inevitably learn far more about that subject than we ever intended. These follow up “why and how” questions are both answered and initiated by information we didn’t anticipate desiring at the beginning of the search.

Google Doodles Education

Another example of how search educates us is the Google Doodle, “the decorative changes that are made to the Google logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries, and the lives of famous artists and scientists.” One of the most popular Google Doodles was the recent celebration of Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary.

These Doodles are designed to be interactive, such that if a searcher clicks on the image it will populate the search box with a pre-defined term and run a search when clicked.

Pac-Man is a ubiquitous pop culture icon that perhaps offers little educational value, but Google Doodles frequently pay homage to important historical events and figures. One such subject recently highlighted by a Doodle was renowned composer Antonio Vivaldi on his birthday in March.

During an average month, Vivaldi’s name generates around 20,000 searches in the U.S. After the Google Doodle was shown, however, this number ballooned to 650,000 in March, an increase of more than 3,000 percent. Or, put another way, an additional 630,000 people who likely would not have otherwise searched for Vivaldi were exposed to some new information about him.

The Important Role of Search

While these Google Doodles have perhaps a unique ability to drive these searches, they represent only a tiny fraction of all the new educational information to which search exposes us — both directly and indirectly — every day. Search clearly has an important role in how we gather information, become more educated, and nurture our collective curiosity and intellects. It’s making that process as simple and streamlined as possible, and is most definitely making us smarter as a result.

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