I just completed (late) a chapter contribution for the forthcoming International Handbook of Internet Research. My task was to write a review of search engine research, combined with directions for future work. While the lit review in my dissertation provided a useful starting point, I decided to expand the scope a bit, and came up with a robust collection of research spanning multiple disciplines and methodologies. I ended up suggesting a new field (sub-field? meta-field?) of “Web search studies”:
While still in its infancy compared to the knowledge tools that preceded it, the impact of Web search engines on society and culture has already received considerable attention from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Consistent with most other areas of Internet research, interest in Web search engines as a research topic crosses multiple disciplines, ranging from the quite technical areas of computer and information sciences, into both the social sciences, law and the humanities, providing a kaleidoscope of perspectives on the significance of these contemporary knowledge tools. I suggest the term “Web search studies” as a means to collect these diverse studies of Web search engines into a cohesive domain of academic interest. This chapter will provide a review of major contributions from the interdisciplinary field of Web search studies, broken down into five main categories: technical foundations and evaluations; transaction log analyses; user studies; political, ethical, and cultural critiques; and legal and policy analyses.
Why do we need a field of “Web search studies”? As far as I can tell, no one has suggested the need for such a term (most uses of the phrase seem to be about “studies” of “web search” activities rather than my intended usage). Yet, just as media studies has its sub-fields of audience studies, television studies, film studies, and the like, it seems appropriate for Internet studies to embrace web search studies as a unique domain under its larger umbrella.
I will try to work on a broader thought piece in support of this proposal, but I welcome any reactions.