TL;DR > Ctrl+F

A researcher at Google claims 90 percent of people don’t know how to use Ctrl+F, the keyboard shortcut for the “Find” function in web browsers and applications.

The “Find trick” has been a eureka moment in my library computer class for four years. Even patrons listening to the class from nearby computers are delighted to hear about it. But very few people showing up to these classes are heavy Internet users, or aspire to be, although most have computers at home. I think of the 170+ people I’ve worked with, maybe three wanted to learn beyond the basics, or what they think are the basics.

The find trick is the solution to a problem a lot of people I meet don’t have.

In order to demonstrate the usefulness of Ctrl+F, my class creates the problem that the find trick solves, but when I’m creating that problem (using find and replace to fix patterned formatting errors in a document), no one really recognizes how he or she would apply that solution.

I suspect a lot of the people in the Google survey don’t use Ctrl+F because they don’t wade through a lot of text to find something buried in it. I say suspect because the article that quotes the survey doesn’t include any links to more info about the survey, like how it was controlled: Do the surveyed people use the Internet much, look at a lot of text much, use a different command for Find (“/” orF3), use Edit > Find on the toolbar? And I couldn’t find anything on the researchers site.

Who reads this?

TLDR is a popular Internet initialism because it’s a widely shared sentiment. The Internet isn’t the best medium for deep or long reading (eyestrain, distractions, etc.), so why use a tool that depends on it?

I would like to see the measure of Ctrl+F use among office workers only, where people read lot of text offline. Maybe I can pitch a library system-wide survey to the IT department.

On a more productive note, the guy from Google is obsessed with helping people search better, and pages-worth of his presentations and class content are on his blog: just what I need to start planning search technique presentations I’ve been thinking about. And that 90 percent survey result, however misleading it is, will probably remind a lot of educators how important computer and web search instruction is.

Google’s meaningless game

That timed trivia option is definitely new.At the library where I work, I was telling a colleague about Google’s “agoogleaday” trivia game. The random question for the day, for which Google provides a modified version of its search engine, was a sentence full of obscure medical terms. My colleague was immediately discouraged by the jargon, and I hinted offhand, “You don’t need to know what the question means to find the answer.”

I wouldn’t have realized what a strange thing that is to say had I not just finished a book by James Gleick titled “The Information,” a history about how we think about and handle information. A lot of this book, especially toward the end, talks about information stripped of meaning (with abstract math) in the process of being transformed into something universally quantifiable, and the knee-jerk reactions against such deflowering. (And the current effort to bring meaning back, e.g. the Semantic Web.)

At the time, it felt like my offhand comment about agoogleaday was more intellectually fraudulent than strange. I might have actually looked around, worried that some of the high schoolers pounding away at their keyboards heard me essentially lend authority to the CliffNotes approach.

In Gleick’s book, there’s also a fair amount of math jargon thrown in, which I’m normally wont to skim, so long as I get the gist of it.