Amybeth Hale – Research Goddess


The Internet Is Not A Database
July 22, 2009, 9:01 am
Filed under: Research

This topic doesn’t really ever come up in these exact words, but it disguises itself in phrases like:

“This [insert search engine name] search isn’t working; I can’t find any resumes!”
“I typed in [keywords] but there’s nothing out there!”

I have heard this so many times throughout my career as an internet researcher. The thought behind this mindset is that everything on the internet was put there using the same structure, the same wording, the same format. But the thing that must be remembered is that the internet is NOT a database. One definition of database is “a systematically arranged collection of data, structured so that it can be automatically retrieved or manipulated.” Meaning: everything is neatly arranged, catalogued, tagged, coded, and filed away so that you can find it with a couple of quick search terms. Let me ask: how many of your actual databases/ATSes look like this? πŸ™‚ That’s what I thought…. so don’t apply that same thinking to the internet as a whole.

When running searches online, if you’re not getting the results you’re looking for – chances are that it’s not the fault of the search engine. The search engine doesn’t think for itself; it simply follows the instructions that you give it to retrieve information based on what you’ve asked. If your search isn’t returning desired results – it’s probably your fault, and you need to re-evaluate your search query. Try wording something a little different; try thinking about how someone may have written a phrase instead of thinking about how you believe it should be worded and therefore searched.

If something’s not working right for you, own it. Don’t blame the search engine, or the internet, for your query. Try re-writing your search, thinking about the way the person you’re trying to find may have worded what you’re looking for, and you’ll probably get better results.

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6 Comments so far
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Dear, it sounds like it is a database but just one that is kind of finnicky so you have to know how to handle it just right like an old kitchen appliance or TV

Comment by Recruiting Animal

While the internet is not a database now, adopting semantic technologies will make the internet a data-rich, queryable database, using linked data to connect one resource to the next…

Comment by Jay

Several people have pointed out that the internet is indeed a database, to which I will agree πŸ™‚ My point in this post is that many folks, including people who “research” for a living, forget that the “internet database” is not structured ideally for running quick, painless queries for recruitment purposes. Sure, you can find resumes. But you need to change your thought process to consider the writing style of the person you’re looking for as opposed to thinking only about the keywords you need to find. A keyword used on one website might be worded differently on another, or completely omitted and replaced with similar terminology on yet another.

Animal makes a great point, that the internet is a “finicky” database. The whole point of this post is to get people thinking differently about search. We talk about sourcing in locations where people already gather as opposed to waiting for them to come to us. It’s important to think like the person you’re trying to find; that will ultimately make your search easier and more fruitful.

Thanks for the comments and feedback everyone!

Comment by Amybeth

Good article! (smile) I like how you consistently bring interesting content to the forefront Goddess!

-Jim

Comment by Jim Stroud

I have to disagree with some of the commenters and agree with your post title – the Internet in fact is NOT a database.

A good definition of a database is “an integrated collection of logically related records or files which consolidates records previously stored in separate files into a common pool of data records that provides data for many applications. The structure is achieved by organizing the data according to a database model.”

While on the surface the Internet may seem to have a bunch of information in a common pool and in a structured format – it does not. It is largely unstructured data, and there certainly isn’t a database model.

You’re right that this poses serious challenges for those seeking information.

On the other hand, the “search engines” themselves aren’t very strong at text based search – most of the majors don’t even support full Boolean logic, and none of them offer more user control over search relevance, through configurable proximity and term weighting, giving you a real chance at finding what you need.

Semantic web technology will definitely help in the future, but it is not a magical solution, as it is system-defined (YOU know what you’re looking for – the system doesn’t really know – it “guesses”).

Your advice of continuing to think about your searches, observing the results, and recalibrating based on what you’re getting is spot-on. Thinking is the most important aspect in search.

Well said!

Comment by Glen Cathey

[…] and relatively accurate. Keep in mind of course, you’re searching the Internet, which is not a recruiters’ database, so you must have realistic expectations of your search results. But that being said, the results I […]

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