SIMS 141:   Search Engines: Technology, Society, and Business

   Course Syllabus, Fall 2005
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Search Engines: Technology, Society, and Business
SIMS 141

Mondays 4:00-6:00pm, (2 units)
2 hours of lecture per week, 1 hour of discussion per week.
CCN: 42702
Prerequisites: None.
Location: 100 Genetics & Plant Biology Bldg
Open to all undergraduate students and designed for those with little technical background.

( Graduate student version of the course)

Speaker Schedule

The organizer, Prof. Marti Hearst, is an Associate Professor at SIMS, and has done extensive research on search user interfaces. She was on the Science Advisory Board for Search at Yahoo from 2004-2005 and for Altavista from 2002-2004. She will provide the introduction to the course, devise the homework assignments, and create lectures for topics that are not covered by other speakers.

A set of top-notch experts have agreed to give lectures for Fall 2005.   See the Speaker Schedule.

Sign up for Talk Announcements

Can't take the class but want to get the weekly talk announcements? Sign up here for the talk announcements list. The only email you will receive on this list will be the talk announcements. (To do this manually, send email to with this line in the body: subscribe search-engines-talks)


The World Wide Web brings much of the world's knowledge into the reach of nearly everyone with a computer and an internet connection. The availability of huge quantities of information at our fingertips is transforming government, business, and many other aspects of society.

For most people, Web search engines (such as Google and Yahoo) are technologies which have enormous influence on how people find and think about information. They are the gateways, (or some might argue, gate keepers) to this vast sea of information. With the rising importance of search engines come new legal, business, and policy questions and considerations.

This course will examine these issues via a series of lectures from experts in academia and industry. Students will first gain an understanding of the basics of how search engines work, and then explore how search engine design impacts business and culture. Topics include search advertising and auctions, search and privacy, search ranking, internationalization, anti-spam efforts, local search, peer-to-peer search, and search of blogs and online communities.


Prof. Marti Hearst (
212 South Hall, 510-642-8016

Fredrik Wallenberg (

Hye (Helen) Kim (

Class Meetings

The course will consist of one 2-hour lecture per week, and one 1-hour discussion section per week. Each lecture will be delivered by one or more experts from academia or industry. Each lecture will include at least 30 minutes for question-and-answer sessions.

To better understand the issues, it is important to have an understanding of the underlying technology. Thus, in this course, students will learn and explore the basics of how search engines work via readings and homework exercises.

Discussion Sections

Discussion sections will be used for three main purposes: to prepare students for the next week's lecture, to discuss ideas that came up in lecture, and to help students with homework assignments, as needed. Homework assignments will sometimes be exercises to better understand the technology, and will sometimes consist of answering questions about the content of the lectures, or about other issues of interest to students.

Please note: the LOCATION of ALL discussion sections has changed to South Hall, which is the building that SIMS is housed in. It is the old brick Victorian building that lies west of the Campanile, east of Wheeler, and south of Doe. (We are moving to South Hall because we will have access to computer projectors there.) The details are:

Tue 4-5: Room 205 South Hall (FW)
Wed 4-5: Room 205 South Hall (HK)


Students will be required to write a 5-10 page final essay in lieu of a final exam. Technically-oriented students will be allowed to do a programming project instead of a final paper. Grading will be a combination of scores for lecture attendance, homeworks, and the final essay or project. Discussion section attendance will not be graded.

Grading breakdown: Attendance 50%, Homeworks 25%, Final Project 25%.


Required Book

There is a required book for this course, The Search, by John Battelle. Students are expected to read the first 3 chapters of this book before the lecture by the book's author on Sept 12th.

Because the book is new, it is not available for purchase online until Sept 8. Hence, we have purchased copies of the book which we will be distributing to students on the first day of class (Monday, Aug 29). Please bring a check for $19.50 to the first class session; make the check out to "UC Regents". (We are doing it this way rather than through the bookstore because the bookstore would have charged the full price of $25.95 and we were able to obtain the books at a discount.)

Optional Suggested Book for Techies

For computer science students who are interested in independently studying how search engines work in detail, I strongly recommend Mining the Web by Soumen Chakrabarti.