PENN STATE (US)—Online searches of a spiritual nature are not on the decline in the United States despite that fact that most search engines perform poorly in response to religious queries, researchers find.
Jim Jansen, associate professor of information sciences and technology at Penn State, and his team examined how people use search engines to locate religious information online.
They analyzed more than 5.5 million searches collected from three Web search engines between 1997 and 2005.
“In the days of the earlier data sets, there were limited topics online,” explains Jansen. “As the Internet and Web became more mainstream, a cornucopia of topics emerged—religion was one.”
By analyzing religious Web searching behaviors, Jansen says he sees no evidence of secularization, and that religious and religious-related interests held steady and were generally mainstream.
He also found that the results dispelled the stereotype that religious people are not as accustomed to technology as non-religious people.
“Our results showed that people searching for these religious topics were just as tactically skilled as the general Web population,” he says. “This actually fits well with the historical use of technology by religious groups and organizations.”
There was a general increase in religious searching over time, which may be due to the advancement in technology, increased availability of religious content online, and a change in the Web population.
Concerning the poor performance results, Jansen says “I don’t believe it is an intentional bias on the part of the search engines,” he adds. “It is probably due to the localized nature of many religious Web sites. Small businesses face similar issues in trying to get ranked within the search engines.”
This work appeared in a recent issue of the journal Religion.
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