New Course: The Search Engine Society

I’ve had a new class approved by my colleagues at the UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies which I plan to offer in fall of 2010: Special Topics in Information Science: The Search Engine Society. Here’s the course description:

Search engines have become the center of gravity of our contemporary information society, providing a powerful interface for accessing the vast amount of information available on the World Wide Web and beyond. The audacious mission of Google, for example, is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Attaining such a goal necessarily results in significant changes to the ways in which information is created, stored, retrieved, and used. This course will critically examine the nature of search engines and their role in our information society, and reveal the unique challenges they bring to bear on information institutions, information policy, and information ethics.

The full syllabus is available on my teaching page, and I’ve pasted the weekly breakdown of topics and readings below. I will be assigning Alex Halavais’s excellent text Search Engine Society, chapters out of my edited volume Web Search: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, and will rely heavily on work by James Grimmelmann, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and other preeminent search engine scholars. Let me know if you have additional suggestions for readings (the course is intended for advanced undergraduates and MLIS students).

This will be a very fun class to teach!

Week Topic Readings
1 Introduction to Course
2 Early Searching
3 The Search Economy
4 Web Search: How it Works
5 Web Search: Attention & Manipulation
  • Halavais, Ch. 3 “Attention” & Ch. 4 “Knowledge & Democracy”
  • Grimmelmann, “Google Dilemma
6 Web Search: Bias & Control
7 Web Search: Censorship, Speech & Diversity
8 Web Search: Surveillance & Privacy
9 Search Engines and the Law
10 Search Engines & Copyright
11 Google Book Search: Intellectual Property
12 Google Book Search: Privacy & Intellectual Freedom
13 Google Earth / Street View: Security & Privacy
14 Search: The Future


  1. Please don’t use that law review article of mine. It’s WAY out of date. I will send you PDFs of all my chapters this weekend. You can use the book search chapter (likely to change in next few weeks anyway).


  2. BTW, some day we should offer this course at the exact same time and do it over a Webcam.

  3. Delighted to see academic attention being paid to search. Inc. is a NYS not-for-profit leading the effort to acquire and develop the .nyc TLD (like .com and .org but just for New York City) as a public interest resource.

    One direction we’re encouraging development is toward the creation of a transparent search engine. For business, and particularly for civic affairs, it’s vital that we understand how and why search presents its links. A level playing field must be created in areas such as issue and candidate information. See for our early thoughts on the subject.

    Will your class be presented online?


    Tom Lowenhaupt

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