Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Query for Curry

Here's a good example of what can happen when facts aren't checked adequately.
It is reported that Ann Curry, news anchor for the NBC Today Show, mixed up her list of noteworthy graduates from Wheaton College while speaking at the Norton, MA college last Saturday. There happen to be two Wheaton Colleges (I attended the one in Illinois) and it's easy to get them mixed up.

Identical or similar names are easy to confuse online. Several Internet Search Challenges are built on this premise. The earliest of these, the Buffalo Challenge, was created to require additional keywords besides 'buffalo' ("How many buffalo are there today in North America?"). Search engines do a better job with that phrase than they once did. A few years ago you'd have to sort out the Buffalo New Yorks and Buffalo Bills and Buffalo wings from the bison statistics you wanted.

The query, famous graduates wheaton college, leads to a Wikipedia list of notable alumni, possibly the source of Curry's information. The results suggest there could be a problem with the information: Wheaton College (Illinois). Overlooking that part about Illinois could be someone's undoing.  I wouldn't call this as failure of fact-checking as much as a failure of reading.

When you don't know the existence of rival information, what are you to do? Taking the first return and stopping there is rarely a good idea, although the alternative, checking several returns, takes time.  When the accuracy of the information matters, spending the time to look at several returns makes good sense.  It's probably less time-consuming than writing an apology.

The query checklist doesn't ask this question, but it may be a good one to add: "is there more than one of the person, place or thing I am looking for?"

If you've ever encountered a similar confusion between (or among) search objects, share your story!

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