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Google Scholar: Hassle-less Carriage

Google Scholar is an important resource for philosophers (and other academics) because it simply saves a lot of time. It is a lot easier to use for getting hold of an article, than undertaking a trip to the library, or even reaching for a journal while already in the library. But besides being easy to use, Google being good at web-search, and it being a Google project, also helped it to be trusted.

Another important reason for the success of Google Scholar is that it hooks into existing practices. Instead of changing them, it simply makes them a lot faster and/or easier. Changing peoples practices such as distributing journal-papers as .pdfs, or locking them behind paywalls, is exremely difficult. Arranging indexing-access to restricted materials, and making finding articles in unstructured formats possible, let alone much easier, might pose organizational, financial and technical challenges. But the hardest thing, the change of social practices, can be circumvented when existing practices are (mostly) left untouched.

The downside of the existing practices approach is that, apart from making things a lot faster, projects such as Google Scholar do not go beyond being an horseless carriage: not using a new medium to its fullest potential, because its use is being limited to the terms of the previous (such as for example only using film to record theatre-plays). Though Google Scholar might nevertheless become an implicit force of change. It, for example, likely will favour open access simply by making open-access articles easier to find and get (and to use and cite, and thus their authors more prominent). Finally the fact that Google Scholar is a commercial project, and Google Inc. had millions to spend on it (and its advertising on the Google main page) helped it to become a pragmatic, good, and widely-used product.

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