This is largely a copy of a post in my other blog - Science and Technology Projects for Student Research. I re-post it here because it has relevance beyond science and technology. It is a matter of public interest – how do people find out reliable information about government announcements and policies.
The history of search engines has been a most exciting one. The development of effective search techniques will ultimately get ranked with the invention of printed books. These two, along with the development of the Internet, have made it possible for knowledge of human society to be made widely available among its members, but don’t get carried away! We have got a long way to go. The search problem shares something with the halting problem, at least in practical terms. If you spend time on searching for something, a good fraction of the time you come away with the information you wanted, but you never come away saying that the information you searched for is not there! You go away frustrated, feeling that searching is often a never-ending business. At least in terms of a human lifetime!
I had this feeling last week, searching for the information a friend abroad had asked me. He plans to visit India, SriLanka and Nepal on an Indian multiple entry visa. Someone has told him that if you enter India with that kind of visa and go to any other country, say Nepal, you need to stay out of India for at least 60 days before you re-enter India. I helped get a definitive answer to this by searching the Web for relevant information. It seems that the Government had announced this rule in Dec ’09 and later relaxed it in some way. I redoubled my effort to get a definitive answer to my friend. Can I get a reliable source’s final answer to this question? I searched the Web in different ways and then asked a renowned travel agency and sent email to an agency to which the Indian consulate outsources part of its visa application processing. The more I searched the more confused I got with contradictory information.
Why do I write this? I would like you to try and find the answer. You may be lucky in finding an answer that appears to be conclusive and reliable. Or you may not. Suppose you do find an answer that appears to be conclusive and reliable. How sure are you going to be about that answer?
Do try this experiment. You may not have a friend with this problem. But you may get good ideas on what more needs to be done to help people searching for information, particularly when they do not have the benefit of a professional in the field who knows where to look for information and what to trust.