Trapped in its own algorithms Google increasingly turns up exactly what we were expecting anyway. To put it provocatively: Google manages its own knowledge, and anything beyond this goes undiscovered. To make it more aggravating, this knowledge often comes with lists of lists of lists, but no real content.
Some time ago the frustration with such experiences motivated an Internet project called literaturschweiz.ch. This has now been finalized and is available in a new version 1.5. The web portal for Swiss literature aims to function more efficiently than Google within closely defined niche parameters. For this purpose the old concept of the catalogue search has been linked with full text search. Basically, literaturschweiz.ch is a meta-search engine that doesn’t search the global net, but concentrates on a catalogue of pages stored in a database. These pages are selected for qualitative content and are continually supplemented. Pure book lists are not considered. Special websites incorporating databases are integrated by API interface, so their contents are directly displayed in search results or can be played back. Additional elements are built up around this core that reinforce the site’s information value: a document-based resource of Swiss books with multilingual reading tips, a comprehensive literature schedule, a list with the current months’ new books or an overview of network partners that can be filtered via columns and categories. For example, in the category “Literature promotion” a list of all literary sponsoring institutions can be compiled at a single click – and then accessed via direct links. These offers from literaturschweiz.ch can also be exported to other websites via a widget or interface.
The project is backed by an association that is supported by reputable institutions in the literary world, for instance, writers, publishers, booksellers, libraries and so forth. Of course, an obvious criticism is that the national element represents a fairly ineffectual category in a global era. That’s certainly true. Yet a good counterargument is also that the national element makes it possible to define a finite quantity in a never-ending sea of information. We know from experience that slightly tighter restrictions are a good thing – plus, the entire offer can always be linked together.
Nevertheless, the global dimension – aka Google – asserts its power and effectiveness. Users ‘google’ automatically, even if a Google search often only yields a few results. Perhaps, getting around this familiar habit is the biggest challenge for digital niche offers like literaturschweiz.ch.
By Beat Mazenauer
Translated by Suzanne Kirkbright