“The Internet has no such organization—files are made available at random locations. To search through this chaos, we need smart tools, programs that find resources for us.” —Clifford Stoll

In 1998, Larry Page and Sergei Brin launched Google, an online search engine that was driven by the PageRank algorithm (named after Larry Page) that the two had developed while students at Stanford University. While Google was not the first search engine on the Web (at least a dozen popular search engines were developed in the half decade before Google), it was the first to use the relative connectedness of webpages to rank and prioritize search results, an approach that quickly built Google into one of the leading sources of online search. Google’s success has been further cemented by the verbification of its name. Today, in popular language, to look up answers online is to “Google it.”

The very fact that people routinely turn to search engines like Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, or even Siri whenever they have a question about something is a testament to the power of search and the value it adds to our lives. Before the Web, information was not as readily available to the mass public. Much of the knowledge and information that society possessed was either private, undocumented, or locked up in books buried in a local library. Immediate access to diverse ideas and resources was not available to the degree that it is today. And search engines, like the Dewey Decimal card catalog system of libraries, provide an efficient interface for indexing and finding obscure and relevant bits of information.

The Dewey Decimal card catalog system is an example of metadata. Metadata is data about data. Metadata can be descriptive data about an image, a Web page, or other complex objects. MP3 files have a robust amount of information about about the file. Organizing these files by genre or artist is an excellent way to utilize metadata effectively for searching and sorting these files. Google makes use of similar information about webpages, images, and videos to help you search effeciently. Metadata can increase the effective use of data or data sets by providing additional information about various aspects of that data.

The easy access to any and all types of information has profoundly altered individuals’ behaviors, especially when it comes to learning. If there is anything a person might want to learn about or any skills that they might want to develop, the Web has made the tools and resources needed to acquire that knowledge readily available to anyone who is interested. But while online search has increased the amount that we can know, it has also reduced the amount that we need to know. No longer is there a need to learn and remember infrequent details. If there is anything important that you need to know later, you can “just Google it.”