OPINION: We Google, therefore we are

Lisa Harker, chair of the Daycare Trust

At a voluntary sector conference last week I listened to one of the speakers painstakingly spell out the web address where a consultation paper could be found. As he stumbled over the 'w's, dots and forward slashes someone at the back of the auditorium quipped, "just Google it!"

Knowing, or not knowing, how to Google is the test for the digital divide.

If you are one of those left wondering which Tellytubby Google is, consider yourself a novice. Even occasional web surfers have to get to grips with the world's most successful search engine.

Although Google has only been in existence for five years, it has become the dominant method of searching the net, thanks to its stunning efficiency and user-friendliness. So when it comes to keeping track of government announcements and consultation documents, I for one am happier turning to Google than trying to navigate the various Government websites.

For this purpose alone, daily visits to Google have become commonplace in many voluntary organisations. But the search engine's dominance has led to the emergence of a new digital divide within the sector: a divide between those organisations whose websites can be quickly found via a Google search and those which remain undetected.

Once upon a time this didn't really matter. Search engines were a helpful way to explore unknown areas of the net when you didn't have a web address to hand. Besides, websites were rarely the first port of call for an organisation: you were more likely to get to know an organisation before looking them up on the internet.

But now that the net is so vast and the most widely used means of disseminating information, search engines have become far more important. Google is now a common starting point for information about who's who in the voluntary sector. If Google can't find you, you might not be found at all.

Getting Google recognition isn't straightforward. Google uses an elaborate system called PageRank to determine what gets listed and what doesn't.

So, increasingly, the first question you should be asking your IT advisor isn't "will our website be wonderful?", but "will Google find it?"

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