Tales from the Terminal Room

July 2011, Issue No. 97

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Tales from the Terminal Room ISSN 1467-338X
July 2011, Issue No. 97
Editor: Karen Blakeman
Published by: RBA Information Services


Tales from the Terminal Room (TFTTR) is an electronic newsletter that includes reviews and comparisons of information sources; useful tools for managing information; technical and access problems on the Net; and news of RBA's training courses and publications. Many of the articles will have already appeared on Karen Blakeman's Blog at http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/

Tales from the Terminal Room can be delivered via email as plain text or as a PDF with active links. You can join the distribution list by going to http://www.rba.co.uk/tfttr/index.shtml and filling in the form. You will be sent an email asking you to confirm that you want to be added to the list. TFTTR is also available as an RSS feed. The URL for the feed is http://www.rba.co.uk/rss/tfttr.xml


In this issue:

  • Search tools
    • Google axes Google Directory and prepares to close Labs
    • A good year for culling Google search options
    • Google still thinks coots are possibly cats (or cows)
    • Personalisation, localisation, semantic search: do they work?
  • Kent's Top Tips for Google Search
  • Business Information Workshops - September
  • Business Information
    • Company Information: Bizzy for UK company data and credit ratings
    • Company Information: Company Check gives more UK data for free
  • Twitter Notes
  • Meetings and Seminars
    • Keeping good company: quality business information, Bristol
    • Introduction to business research, London


Search tools

Google axes Google Directory and prepares to close Labs

Google has axed Google Directory (Google Kills Google Directory, Says Web Search Is Faster http://www.seroundtable.com/google-directory-gone-13731.html ). If you try to access the directory you will see a message telling you that it is no longer available and “We believe that Web Search is the fastest way to find the information you need on the web. If you prefer to browse a directory of the web, visit the Open Directory Project at dmoz.org

The directory was not one created by Google but a version of Dmoz.org, The Open Directory Project. I began using Dmoz when it started as an alternative to the Yahoo Directory, which Yahoo had stopped updating. I have not used it for several years, though. The quality of an increasing number of the entries was suspect and the number of dead links unacceptable. I have just revisited Dmoz and the quality seems to have deteriorated even further. It is as tedious as ever to navigate and one often ends up with a list of commercial pages advertising companies and services. I did not have much joy with the search option either (powered by AOL Search). Marketing pages dominated all of my search results. I will not mourn the passing of Google Directory.

Google does not seem to have made an official announcement about the directory and in the time honoured fashion has simply discontinued the service. It has, though, dropped the bombshell that it is to close down Google Labs. (Official Google Blog: More wood behind fewer arrows  http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/07/more-wood-behind-fewer-arrows.html). They will carry on with “ in-product experimentation channels like Gmail Labs or Maps Labs. We'll continue to experiment with new features in each of our products “. Android apps will be available on  Android Market . There is further comment at “Google Labs To Be Closed As Larry Page's Product Streamlining Continues” (http://searchengineland.com/google-labs-to-be-closed-86575)

This is something I did not expect at all and I will miss the single point of access to Google's experiments. Fusion Tables (http://www.google.com/fusiontables) has already “graduated” but what is to become of experiments such as the Art Project, Google Correlate, Image Swirl and the Public Data Explorer? Google simply says that updates will appear on the Labs web site (http://www.googlelabs.com/). The close down emphasises the importance of not become totally reliant on Google search features and services. Get to know the alternatives – they are sometimes better!

I am now wondering what will be next in the firing line.

A good year for culling Google search options

2011 is proving to be a vintage year for disposing of Google search options. Google, in common with most search engines and database providers, is quick to announce wonderful new search features but tardy in telling users about discontinued tools. In fact, it generally takes several messages to the Google support forums about something not working in order to elicit the news that a service has been withdrawn.

UK Google Maps property search was one of the first to go this year. Google had done deals with several UK online estate agents so that when you ran a search in Google Maps on your post code together with the word property you were presented with a Google map showing all the properties for sale or rent in your area. You could even specify price range, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

The service was discontinued in February of this year with “low usage” being given as one of the reasons. That's hardly surprising because after the launch Google did almost nothing to promote it and did not even offer a hint on the UK Maps home page that it existed.

Next to go was starred results. This enabled you to star or bookmark pages in your results list so that next time you ran a similar search they would appear separately at the top of your results.

The ability to create new starred results was removed but your existing starred results remain and will continue to appear in search results (No More Starred Results in Google Search http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2011/03/no-more-starred-results-in-google.html)

The ‘define:' command was the next one to be axed although the same functionality is still available under the Dictionary link in the left hand menu on the results page. Instead of simply prefixing your term or abbreviation with define: you now have to run a search on it and then click on Dictionary. The results are the same but it requires a couple of additional clicks to get there.

Next up were the numerous changes to the appearance and layout of the results page in the runup to the launch of Google+. One casualty was the ‘Similar' link that used to appear next to most entries in the results page. This would find pages similar in content and from similar types of organisations to your selected page. Although it has gone from the main results page if you click on the magnifying glass next to a result you will see the similar link at the bottom of the preview that appears. The related: command is still available and “Find pages similar to the page” remains on the Advanced Search screen.

Another victim of the revamp was the Wonderwheel. This was a great way of exploring concepts and alternative search terms within a search, especially if you are working in a subject area new to you.

The closest alternative is the Related Searches option in the menu on the left hand side of the results screen. It doesn't allow for the same ease of navigation between searches and doesn't match the variety of terms and phrases that the Wonderwheel offered.

The latest disappearance is Realtime search, which returned mostly Twitter results. The contract giving Google direct access to Twitter expired on July 1st and Google have not renewed the contract. This started out as a very useful Twitter search tool as Twitter's own search at http://search.twitter.com/ only returns results from the last few days and many of the advanced search commands do not work. More recently, though, Google Realtime became unreliable and started returning increasingly bizarre results, usually with hashtags because it would automatically correct what it thought was a spelling mistake. You can still use Google to search Twitter by combining your search terms with site:twitter.com but it does not pick up everything. Bing Social is a little better and Topsy.com is generally good but neither is comprehensive.

As an example, I recently attended and spoke at the South West and Mid Wales Library Partnership staff conference. The hashtag was #swamp11 and two days after the event the archive document I created in Tweetdoc (http://www.tweetdoc.org/) listed 185 tweets, which tallied with the number in my own record. Bing Social found 75 tweets, Topsy tracked down a mere 38 and when Google was forced to do an exact match search together with site:twitter.com it yielded a paltry 4 results.

And finally, a search option that many researchers find invaluable seemed to have vanished into thin air. A link to the Advanced Search screen has gone from the Google home page, as has Language Tools. Both are now hidden under the gear icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

What will go next? Who knows except Google and they always seem reluctant to tell us anything. As Gary Price said in his article at Search Engine Land (http://searchengineland.com/official-the-google-wonder-wheel-is-gone-84105)

“..taking a service offline is up to the company. Users are free to go elsewhere or share their opinions with Google. What we hope for is simply for the company to let users know what's going on versus waiting around, speculating, and wasting time.

Google still thinks coots are possibly cats (or cows)

I have been dining out on the ‘Google thinks cats are lions' story for several months but decided that its inclusion in my presentation at INFORUM 2011 in Prague should be its last outing. (See my blog postings at http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/02/12/google-decides-that-coots-are-really-lions/ and http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/02/21/update-on-coots-vs-lions/ for the details on this story). Towards the end of my talk I pointed out that Google has now abandoned coots=lions and carries out what I consider to be a normal search for coots mating behaviour, or as normal as any Google search can be. I had checked in Google.co.uk, Google.com and Google.cz a couple of weeks before the INFORUM conference and coots were definitely black, medium sized water birds and not large furry mammals with huge fangs and claws. As I concluded my presentation, though, I saw a few people in the audience staring at their laptops and shaking their heads. One of them came up to me during the break and pointed out that Google Czech Republic was offering cats instead of coots for the first two results. This prompted a quick review of the Google coots/cats/lions situation.

The search: coots mating behaviour

Google.co.uk gives a reasonable set of results but having blogged and included details of the search in so many presentations and newsletters my own pages are taking over the top positions in the results. I have clearly contaminated the crime scene.

Google.com gives similar results.

Google.cz however has different ideas. It offers me three articles from Google Scholar and then says “Did you mean cats mating behaviour” in Czech and gives me two results on that subject. The rest of the results are all about coots, so at least Google.cz is giving me my original search as an option rather than unilaterally deciding I really meant cats.

Looking at other country versions of Google, Google.no and Google.se came up with similar results. Google Germany, however, thinks coots are cows and even throws in a Youtube video:

I am not going to even begin to try and work out what is going on. Three of us nearly went mad attempting to get to the bottom of the original coots=lions oddity. But it does make one wonder even more whether Google can be trusted to come up with even a handful of useful results.

Personalisation, localisation, semantic search: do they work?

The presentation, along with the text, that I gave at INFORUM 2011, 24th-26th 2011 is now available on the INFORUM web site at http://www.inforum.cz/en/proceedings

The PowerPoint presentation with an additional postscript slide can also be found on Authorstream at http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/karenblakeman-1049065-personalisation-localisation-semantic-search-do-they-work/ and on Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/KarenBlakeman/personalisation-localisation-semantic-search-do-they-work


Kent's Top Tips for Google search

At the end of May I was in Kent running a full day workshop on using Google for search. The participants came from a variety of subject backgrounds and interestingly their Top Tips have a slight technical bias.

1.  Preview. Click on the magnifying glass next to an entry in your results list to see a preview of the page highlighting areas containing your search terms

2.  Google Trendshttp://www.google.com/trends Enter up to five topics and see how often they've been searched in Google over time and in different geographic regions. This is a way of identifying how people are searching on a subject. Several workshop participants also explored the Websites option: enter a web site URL and see what other sites people visited. This can be useful if you are not sure about the main sites that cover a subject and want to expand your search from the one you have already found; for example enter moveto.co.uk and a list including other UK online estate agent sites appears. It was interesting but not surprising to see that typing in a UK university web site came up with job and CV pages!

3.  Take control. A tip that has been proposed in other workshops – sometimes along the lines of “Don't let the ******s grind you down!” Switch off targeted advertising by going to http://www.google.com/ads/preferences/. Log out of your of your Google account so that you are not bombarded with tweets and other stuff from members of your social networks. Use advanced search commands and the side bar on the results page to focus your search.

4.  Timeline and time restriction options in the results page side bar for the most recent news but also for historical information.

5.  Public data explorerhttp://www.google.com/publicdata/home There was a lot of interest in this but some of the participants wanted to merge data sets from different sources, which led them to…

6.  Fusion tables http://www.google.com/fusiontables/Home “Merge data from multiple tables. Visualize your data on maps, timelines and charts.” This in turn led them to ….

7.  Google Labs http://www.googlelabs.com/ – lots of interesting experiments including Google Correlate http://correlate.googlelabs.com/ [Note: Google has now announced that it will be closing Google Labs]

8. For a different perspective, search for pages and sites in other languages using the Translated foreign pages option in the results page side bar.

9. Don't forget the advanced search commands. It is all too easy to slip into lazy searching habits when everything goes well and results are relevant. If Google starts to do its own thing and comes up with bizarre results then using an advanced search command (e.g. filetype: or site:) or one of the two tips mentioned below usually brings it heel.

10. Two reliable standbys for getting out of a search rut or forcing Google to give you different results: repeat your main term(s) to change your  results (sometimes radically), and/or change the order of your terms in your search strategy.


Business Information Workshops – September

There is a lot happening in the UK business information sector at the moment. As the two reports on company information below indicate competition between the information providers is hotting up. If you are interested in business information and want to get up to speed with current developments I am running a UKeiG workshop on the topic on Thursday, 8th September. It is being held in Bristol at the Frenchay Campus of the University of the West of England. Further details are on the UKeiG web site at http://www.ukeig.org.uk/trainingevent/keeping-good-company-quality-business-information-web-karen-blakeman. The emphasis will be on free and pay per view services. Please note that you do not have to be a member of UKeiG to attend, and the workshop will be relevant to all types of organisations.

If you are new to business information I am also running a workshop entitled “Introduction to Business Research” for TFPL on 15th September in London (http://www.tfpl.com/training/courses/coursedesc.cfm?id=TR1116&cid=rs)


Business Information

Company information: Bizzy for UK company data and credit ratings

There are numerous services that take UK Companies House data and repackage it. Some of the data is offered free of charge but more detailed information and additional analysis such as credit reports are priced. bizzy (http://www.bizzy.co.uk/) is one such organisation but uniquely it also offers free credit ratings for many UK limited companies. (Note that it is the overall rating and not the full report that is available free of charge.)

To search bizzy simply enter the name of a company and bizzy presents you with a list of likely matches. Click on the company you want to view and as well as documents available for purchase you can see free of charge the names of the directors together with a list of the other companies of which they are directors, industry sector, date of incorporation, registered address, and a list of competitors and peers.

To see the credit rating of the company you have to register with the site. Ordinary registration is free but there is also a bizzy PLUS account (£9.99/month or £99/year). The PLUS account allows you to view credit limits, mortgages and CCJs, includes a Risk Tracker for monitoring companies of interest, and gives you a 15% discount on all purchases. If you have the bizzy FREE account you will only be able to see credit ratings that are from 100 down to 30. Those below 30 show “Not public for this company” for their credit rating. If you have signed up for the bizzy PLUS all credit ratings are displayed.

The bizzy credit scores are as follows:

85 and 100 – ‘Excellent Creditworthiness',
70 and 84  - ‘Very Good Creditworthiness'
50 and 69  - ‘Good Creditworthiness'
30 and 49  -  'Creditworthy'
15 and 29  -  'Credit Against Collateral'
0 and 14 –  'Caution – Credit At Your Discretion'

I ran a check on a company for a friend of mine. They had heard rumours about the company and were uncertain as to whether it was safe to do business with them. Would the company go under? There was little to go on at Companies House as the company was filing abbreviated accounts and had not filed documents for the previous year. I used bizzy FREE to run the search and no credit rating was displayed. In order to see how bad it was I bought the credit report (£11.99). bizzy gave the company a rating of zero and the long list of outstanding CCJs for unpaid bills was all the evidence we needed to avoid the company like the plague. (The company concerned has now gone into liquidation).

Official documents filed at Companies House and bought direct from them cost £1 but can be bought via bizzy for £0.99. That is only 1 pence less than the Companies House price and might not be enough on its own to tempt you onto bizzy but the additional free information might. An important part of company research is uncovering what the directors are up to and bizzy makes it very easy to view a list of directorships held by a person. On the Companies House web site this is only possible if you subscribe to the full service.

I have found that the information on bizzy is often more up to date than that provided by some of the larger credit rating companies and bizzy covers every UK limited company, even very small ones. I tried searching for three small companies using   http://www.do-business.net/sbc , which I have often used in the past, and none of them were in that database.

Bizzy also searches official information and sells credit reports on companies in other European countries. It is not obvious how you do this until you start searching on the company name. Above and to the right of the list of companies on the results page is a ‘Search Country' box and it is from the drop down menu that you select the country.

Remember, though, that the amount of information that companies have to disclose varies from country to country and may consist of little more than name, registration number, status and address.

If you are researching UK companies I recommend that you consider including bizzy in your toolkit, but should you go for a FREE or PLUS account? It all depends on how much company research you think you'll do in a year. If it is just a handful then perhaps the free option will suffice but more than that and bizzy PLUS with its 15% discount and standard display of credit limits, mortgages, and CCJs makes more economic sense.

Company Information: Company Check gives more UK data for free

I first reviewed Company Check (http://www.companycheck.co.uk/) earlier this year (Free UK company information  http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/01/10/free-uk-company-information/). Since then they have made more UK company information available free of charge. As well as Cash at Bank the service also shows 6 years of figures and graphs for Net Worth, Total Liabilities and Total Current Liabilities. Data is taken from official Companies House documents. Documents can be purchased through UK Data (http://ukdata.com/) but they are much more expensive than ordering direct from Companies House (http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/) or bizzy (http://bizzy.co.uk/). UK Data's detailed credit reports are worth considering though if you want more in depth analysis. Although Company Check lists the company directors it does not show other directorships as does bizzy. (See my previous posting Company information: Bizzy for UK company data and credit ratings http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/07/19/company-information-bizzy-for-uk-company-data-and-credit-ratings/). This is another very useful site that I recommend you add to your company information toolkit.


Twitter Notes

The following are some of my recent tweets and retweets. They are selected because they contain links to resources or announcements that may be of general interest. I have unshortened the shortened URLs.

July 25th

RT @Charonqc: So.. you think Google and other cloud computing is a good idea? I don't.. not if this happens... http://consumerist.com/2011/07/google-deletes-last-7-years-of-users-digital-life-shrugs.html

July 21st

At last! "TalkTalk's savings claims exaggerated, misleading and unsubstantiated, advertising regulator rules" http://www.out-law.com/default.aspx?page=12101

July 20th

The competition is hotting up! Another free UK company director check service coming soon at http://company-director-check.co.uk/ @CompanyCheck

From out-law.com "Google reinstates Belgian papers to search engine results" http://www.out-law.com/default.aspx?page=12095 ..but not to Google News.

July 15th

OFT investigates sites that charge for free Government services | Pinsent Masons LLP http://www.out-law.com/default.aspx?page=12086&lang=en-gb

July 13th

Documents behind the press releases RT @infoforenergy: DECC's Electricity Market Reform white paper has been released: http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn11_061/pn11_061.aspx

July 12th

RT @pstainthorp: Bookmarked: 10 Privacy Tools To Browse The Web Anonymously Free and Useful Online Resources http://www.smashingapps.com/2011/07/11/10-privacy-tools-to-browse-the-web-anonymously.html

July 7th

32% don't have broadband.14% of connected have less than 2Mbps Ofcom draws up UK broadband map http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14043829 and http://maps.ofcom.org.uk/broadband/

July 4th

Silly Season seems to have started early "Pissed-off elves bombard Icelandic town with rocks" The Register http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/07/04/icelandic_bombardment/


Meetings and Seminars

Workshop: Keeping good company: quality business information on the web
Date: Thursday, 8th September, 2011
Venue: Frenchay Campus, University of the West of England
Organiser: UKeiG
Presenter: Karen Blakeman
Outline: The number of sites providing business information seems to increase daily and some are offering free access. How reliable are they, and what level of quality can you expect from them? This hands-on workshop will take you through both the key free and priced resources for tracking down information on companies, industry sectors and market research. There will be practical sessions throughout the day so that you can try out some of the sites for yourself..
URL: http://www.ukeig.org.uk/trainingevent/keeping-good-company-quality-business-information-web-karen-blakeman

Workshop: Introduction to business research
Date: Thursday, 15th September 2011
Venue: London
Organiser: TFPL
Presenter: Karen Blakeman
Outline: Starting work in a corporate information centre, whether as a solo worker or within a team, can be daunting if you have little previous experience. It will take some time before you feel comfortable dealing with clients and answering enquiries. You may be unfamiliar with the terminology and subjects or lack knowledge of information availability and sources. This course will give you a head start by providing an introduction to the many areas of business research and is an ideal starter course.
URL: http://www.tfpl.com/training/courses/coursedesc.cfm?id=TR1116


TFTTR Contact Information

Karen Blakeman, RBA Information Services
Twittername: karenblakeman (http://twitter.com/karenblakeman)
UK Tel: 0118 947 2256, Int. Tel: +44 118 947 2256
UK Fax: 020 8020 0253, Int. Fax: +44 20 8020 0253
Address: 88 Star Road, Caversham, Berks RG4 5BE, UK

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This page was last updated on 25th July 2011 Copyright © 2011 Karen Blakeman.