I recently received an email from a friend asking about whether it was acceptable for a student to cite Google as a source in their work. My friend’s instinct was to say no, but there was a problem getting beyond Google and to the original source of the answer. The student had used the Google define search option to find a definition of the term “leadership”, which Google duly did but failed to provide the source of the definition. My response to citing Google as a source is always “No” unless it is an example of how Google presents results or a comment on the quality (or lack of it) of the information that has been found. The results that appear at the top of the results, such as the definitions or the new quick answers, have been created and compiled by someone else so Google should not get the credit for it. In addition, what is displayed by Google in response to the search will vary from day to day and in creating these quick answers Google sometimes introduces errors or gets it completely wrong.
There have been several well documented instances of Google providing incorrect information in the knowledge graph to the right of search results and in the carousel that sometimes appears at the top of the page (see http://googlesystem.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/google-knowledge-graph-gets-confused.html and http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/09/23/google_henry_viii_wives_jane_seymour_reveals_search_engine_s_blind_spots.html). The same problems beset the quick answers. For a short time, a Google search on David Schaal came up with a quick answer saying that he had died on April 11th, 2003! (As far as I am aware, he is still very much alive).
No source was given nor was there any indication of where this information had come from. Many have questioned Google on how it selects information for quick answers and why it does not always give the source. Google’s response is that it doesn’t provide a link when the information is basic factual data (http://searchengineland.com/google-shows-source-credit-quick-answers-knowledge-graph-203293), but as we have seen the “basic factual data” is sometimes wrong.
Quick answers above the Google results have been around for a while. Type in the name of a Premier League football club and Google will give you the results for the most recent match as well as the scores and schedule for the current season. Not being a fan myself I would have to spend some time checking the accuracy of that data or I could, like most people, accept what Google has given me as true. Looking for flights between two destinations? Google will come up with suggestions from its Google Flights; and this is where it starts to get really messy. I’ve played around with the flights option for several destinations. Although Google gives you an idea of which airlines fly between those two airports and possible costs, the specialist travel sites and airline websites give you a far wider range of options and cheaper deals. It is when we come to health related queries, though, that I have major concerns over what Google is doing.
Try typing in a search along the lines of symptoms of [insert medical condition of your choice] and see what comes up. When I searched for symptoms of diabetes the quick answer that Google gave me was from Diabetes UK.
At least Google gives the source for this type of query so that I can click through to the site for further information and assess the quality. In this case I am happy with the information and the website. Having worked in the past for an insulin manufacturer I am familiar with the organisation and the work it does. It was a very different story for some of the other medical conditions I searched for.
A search for symptoms of wheat intolerance gave me a quick answer from an Australian site whose main purpose seemed to be the sale of books on food allergies and intolerances, and very expensive self-diagnosis food diaries. The quality of information and advice on the topic was contradictory and sometimes wrong. The source for the quick answer for this query varied day by day and the quality ranged from appalling to downright dangerous. A few days ago, it was the Daily Mail that supplied the quick answer, which actually turned to be the best of the bunch, probably because the information had been copied from an authoritative site on the topic.
Today, Google unilaterally decided that I was actually interested in gluten sensitivity and gave me information from Natural News.
I shall leave you to assess whether or not this page merits being a reliable, quick answer (the link to the page is http://www.naturalnews.com/038170_gluten_sensitivity_symptoms_intolerance.html).
Many of the sources that are used for a Google quick answer appear within the first three results for my searches and a few are listed at number four or five. This one, however, came in at number seven. Given that Google customises results one cannot really say whether or not the page’s position in the results is relevant or if Google uses some other way of determining what is used. Google does not say. In all of the medical queries I tested relevant pages from the NHS Choices website, which I expected to be a quick answer in at least a couple of queries, were number one or two in the results but they have never appeared as a quick answer.
Do not trust Google’s quick answers on medical queries, or anything else. Always click through to the website that has been used to provide the answer or, even better, work your way through the results yourself.
So what advice did I suggest my friend give their student? No, don’t cite Google. I already know who Google currently uses for its define command but a quick way to find out is to simply phrase search a chunk of the definition. That took me straight to an identical definition at Oxford Dictionaries (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/), and I hope that is the source the student cited.
I came across Turn2Us via the Paul Lewis Money blog (http://paullewismoney.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/hardship-grants-available.html) where there is an excellent overview of the service. Turn2Us is part of the Elizabeth Finn Care charity. As well as providing a useful benefits search tool there is a searchable database of over 3000 charities that distribute £288 million in grants to individuals in financial hardship every year. To find potential sources of grants in your location type in your postcode, gender and age. Some of the charities only provide grants for people who have worked for a particular company or in a particular industry, but there are many that offer support to the general population and can help with education costs, living costs or hardship in retirement.
When I typed in my postcode (Reading), age and gender it came up with a list of 72 charities. There were some that were bizarre in their specificity. The Edmund Godson Charity, for example, offers “one-off grants for people in need who wish to emigrate and who currently live in and around Woolwich, Shinfield near Reading, north east Herefordshire and Tenbury in Worcestershire”. I was also intrigued by one that provides grants and annuities for “older women in the UK who are not ‘of the artisan class'”, and was left wondering whether I would qualify.
Those idiosyncrasies aside, there is a wide range of help available here from charities that are little known and not easy to find.
These Top Ten search tips comes from an advanced workshop I recently ran for a group in Oxford. If this is the first Top Tips that you have read on this blog, a few words of explanation as to how these are generated. These are not my own personal tips but are nominated by people who have attended my full day workshops and tried out the various commands and techniques during the practical sessions.
The participants on this particular workshop were experienced, heavy duty researchers so I was keen to see what they came up with.
This is a regular in the Top Ten lists on this blog. It is an essential tool for making Google behave and forcing it to run your search the way you want it run but is well hidden. Google automatically looks for variations on your terms and sometimes drops terms from the search. To make Google carry out your search exactly as you have typed it in, first run your search, then click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above your results. In the second line of options that appears click on ‘All results’ and from the drop down menu select Verbatim. This is very useful when searching for an article by title and Google decides to ignore the double quote marks, which it sometimes does if it thinks you don’t have enough results. If you are carrying out in-depth research it is worth using Verbatim even if your “normal” Google results seem to be OK. You may see very different content in your results list.
2. site: search and -site:
Use the site: command to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:ac.uk for UK academic websites, or to search inside a large rambling site. If you prefer you can use the Advanced search screen at http://www.google.co.uk/advanced_search and fill in the site or domain box. You can also use -site: to exclude sites from your search.
Use the filetype: command to limit your research to PowerPoint for presentations, spreadsheets for data and statistics or PDF for research papers and industry/government reports.
4. Asterisk * betweem terms
Use the asterisk between two words to stand in for 1-5 words. This is useful if you want two of your keywords close to one another but suspect that there may often be one or two words separating them. For example solar * panels will find solar photovoltaic panels, solar water heating panels etc.
5. Numeric range search
This command is unique to Google. Use it for anything to do with numbers – years, temperatures, weights, distances, prices etc. Simply type in your two numbers separated by two full stops as part of your search. For example to limit your search forecasts covering a future time period.
6. Incognito/private browsing
Even if you are not signed in to a Google account, Google personalises your results according to your search and browsing behaviour using the cookies that are stored on your computer. If you want to burst out of the filter bubble, as it is often called, use a private browser window or incognito (Chrome). Google will then ignore tracking and search cookies on your machine. To call up a private browser or incognito window use the following keys:
Chrome – Ctrl+Shift+N
FireFox – Ctrl+Shift+P
Internet Explorer – Ctrl+Shift+P
7. Public Data explorer
The Public Data Explorer is one of Google’s best kept secrets. It can be found at http://www.google.com/publicdata/ and allows you to search open data sets from organisations such as the IMF, OECD, IM, Eurostat and the World Bank. You can compare the data in a number of ways and there are several charting options.
8. Repeat search terms
If you are fed up with seeing the same results for a search repeat your main search term or terms. This often changes the emphaisis of your search and the order in which the results appear.
9.Change order of terms
Changing the order in which you type in your search terms can change the order of your results. The pages that contain the terms in the order you specified in your search are usually given a higher weighting. This is another useful tip for when you are stuck in a search rut and are seeing the same results over and over again.
10. Different country versions
The country versions of Google give priority to the country’s local content, although it might be in the local language. This is a useful strategy when searching for research groups, companies and people that are active in a specific country. Use the standard ISO two letter country code, for example http://www.google.fr/ for Google France, http://www.google.it/ for Google Italy. It is also worth trying your search in Google.com. Your results may be more international orUS focussed and Google usually rolls out new search features in Google.com before launching in other country versions. If Google insists on redirecting you to your own local country version, go to the bottom right hand corner of the Google home page and you should see a link to Google.com.
Update: On further investigation the example given below is not Google rewriting
webpage titles (see the comments section). However, Google has said that they
do rewrite under certain circumstances so please let me know if you come across
any good examples.
Most of us are used to Google rewriting our searches and personalising results and know how to stop Google doing it, but Google also rewrites the titles of some pages on the results page. This is something that I and my colleagues have noticed on and off for a while but it is now official (See Google’s Matt Cutts: Why Google Will Ignore Your Page Title Tag & Write Its Own http://searchengineland.com/googles-matt-cutts-look-title-match-query-190039).
According to the article Google checks that the title of a page is relatively short, a good description of the page and relevant to the query. If the existing page title fits those criteria then Google leaves it alone. If not then Google may use other content on the page such as H1 content, anchor text links pointing to the page and/or use the Open Directory Project. The aim, Matt Cutts says, is to ensure that the title helps a user assess whether or not the page has the information they are looking for.
During a search workshop I was running last week, one of the participants came across an example of what we think was a rewritten page title. Their search was
mindfulness in school as crime prevention uk site:ac.uk. Top of the list was the home page of JournalTOCs and the title that Google gave was “Implementing mindfulness and yoga in urban schools: a…”.
This looked relevant to the search but clicking on the link took us to the home page of JournalTOCs where none of the original search terms were mentioned.
The source code of the page showed that the original title is simply JournalTOCs.
Did JournalTOCs have the keywords on an earlier version of its homepage that is currently in Google’s cache or did Google rewrite the search as well as the title of the page? When I tried to view Google’s cached copy of the page I got a 404 error!
I reran the search and applied Verbatim to it. There were four JournalTOCs pages in the first 100 results that were relevant but none matched the title that Google gave in the original results. I ran a search on that title in JournalTOCs but found nothing. Searching elsewhere I found that the article does exist. Also, the URL of the JournalTOCs page in the orginal results seems to include a reference to an article page, so I am not sure what is going on here. Did Google really rewrite the title? Or was the article once listed in JournalTOCs but no longer there and Google’s cached copies of JournalTOCs are out of date? Either way Google’s results were inaccurate, misleading and very confusing.
UPDATE: Reports of the death of Google+ may have been premature. See http://www.seroundtable.com/google-sticking-around-18465.html. There are now all sorts of stories and rumours doing the rounds so we’ll just have to wait and see.
Well, here’s a turn up for the books. It seems that Google may no longer force us to create Google+ accounts if we want to use certain Google services such as managing videos on YouTube. The full story is at http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2014/04/report-google-to-end-forced-g-integration-drastically-cut-division-resources/. This is a major change in Google’s approach to Google+ and will be welcomed by many people, including myself.
I have several Google accounts used for different purposes. I set up the first in the very early days of Google -long before even Gmail arrived on the scene – in order to manage analytics and what I then called “serious stuff” related to my business website. I subsequently used it for managing my YouTube videos. I set up a second account when Google Labs and Gmail came along and regarded that as my experimental acccount. Gradually, I used the second one more and more as my main account but kept the first for my business website applications. When Google+ came along I “upgraded” the second account and set up a profile.
Everything was fine until one day I tried to access my YouTube videos that were linked to my first, non-Google+ account. YouTube encouraged me to set up a Google+ profile for this account but I declined. YouTube responded by making my videos invisible to everyone, including myself! So I gave in and set up a second Google+ profile.
If only that had been the end of it. People started adding this new profile to their circles rather than my main one. I tried to find ways around this but in the end decided to just abandon the YouTube videos and delete the superfluous Google+ profile. It is easily done via your Google+ settings page but of course there are numerous dire warnings of all the wonderful things that you will no longer be able to enjoy (not a lot actually!). Despite what has been implied in the past deleting or what Google calls “downgrading” your Google+ account does NOT delete your ordinary Google account.
Do read the ars technica article mentioned above and also Google+ Is Walking Dead | TechCrunch. Both make an interesting read.
These are the top 10 tips from the participants of a recent workshop on Google, organised by UKeiG and held on 9th April 2014. The edited slides from the day can be found on authorSTREAM at http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/karenblakeman-2121264-making-google-behave-techniques-better-results/ and on Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/KarenBlakeman/making-google-behave-techniques-for-better-results
Use the site: command to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:nhs.uk for UK NHS websites, or to search inside a large rambling site. If you prefer you can use the Advanced search screen at http://www.google.co.uk/advanced_search and fill in the site or domain box
An essential tool for making Google behave and run your search the way you want it run. Google automatically looks for variations on your terms and sometimes drops terms from the search. To make Google run your search exactly as you have typed it in, first run your search. Then click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above your results. In the second line of options that appears click on ‘All results’ and from the drop down menu select Verbatim.
Google’s automatic synonym search can be helpful in looking for alternative terms but if you want a term to be included in your search exactly as you have typed it in then prefix the word with
intext:. For example
heron island intext:parrots caversham UK.
4. Incognito/Private browsing
Even if you are not signed in to a Google account, Google personalises your results according to your search and browsing behaviour. If you want to burst out of the filter bubble, as it is often called, use a private browser window or incognito (Chrome). Google will then ignore tracking and search cookies on your machine. To call up a private browser or incognito window use the following keys:
Chrome – Ctrl+Shift+N
FireFox – Ctrl+Shift+P
Internet Explorer – Ctrl+Shift+P
5. Reading level
This changes the emphasis of the results that you see. Run your search and from the menu above the results select ‘Search tools’, then ‘All results’, and from the drop menu ‘Reading level’. Options for switching between basic, intermediate and advanced reading levels should then appear just above the results. Click on the Advanced option to see results biased towards research.
To limit your search by date, for example the last month or year, first run your search. Then click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above the results and from the second row of options that appears click on ‘Any time’. Select your time period or a custom range from the drop down menu. Unfortunately, this does not work with Verbatim. You could use the ‘daterange:’ command instead to specify your dates and then apply Verbatim, but you first have to convert you dates to Julian format. The Julian Date Converter at http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/JulianDate.php tells you more about the format and provides a tool for converting dates. Alternatively, using something like Gmacker (http://gmacker.com/web/content/gDateRange/gdr.htm). This enables you to enter your search terms and select your dates from a calendar. It then runs your search and on the Google results page you can apply Verbatim in the usual way.
The cached option enables you to view the copy of the page that Google has in its database. This is useful when the current version of a page seems to differ signicantly from the one described in the Google search results. Click on the little green arrow next to the URL of the page on the results list and then select Cached.
Use the filetype: command to limit your research to PowerPoint for presentations, spreadsheets for data and statistics or PDF for research papers and industry/government reports. One workshop participant found it to be a great way to track down conference poster presentations by combining PDF and PowerPoint filetypes with keywords and the term ‘poster’.
9. Country versions of Google
The country versions of Google give priority to the country’s local content, although it might be in the local language. This is a useful strategy when searching for industries, companies and people that are active in a particular country. Use the standard ISO two letter country code, for example http://www.google.fr/ for Google France, http://www.google.it/ for Google Italy.
10. Books – About this magazine
Several people were interested in Google Books and in the magazine archives in particular. Google does not, though, make it easy to browse a magazine’s archives. Once you have identified a series that is of interest it would seem logical to click on “Browse all issues” to view a list of what is available.
However, it seems to list the years of the issues randomly. Selecting “About this magazine” brings up some brief information about the title and links that enable you to browse past issues by year.
This collection of Top Tips is a combined list nominated by those who attended the autumn and spring UKeiG workshops on “Anything but Google”. The participants came from all sectors and types of company, and included a couple of self employed researchers. The sessions covered both general search tools and specialist services, and the list is an interesting mix of strategies and specific sites. A big “Thank- you” to everyone who participated in the workshops.
1. Get to know the advanced search commands and options.
Google is not the only search tool that uses them and they can help focus your search, especially when using general search tools such as Bing.
2. If you are conducting serious research don’t stop with the first reasonable looking results.
Information of dubious quality can infiltrate even the most well respected of specialist websites. Put on your “skeptical goggles” as one delegate said! There are plenty of alternative tools and resources out there so get some corroboration from additional sources before acting on the information you find.
3. Allocate time for your search.
If you are carrying out in-depth research don’t leave it to the last minute. You will probably need to tweak your strategy and try different search tools to ensure that you are retrieving the best information. It can sometimes take longer than you anticipate.
4. Plan your strategy.
Think about the type of search you want to conduct and the type of information you are looking for. For example if you are carrying out a systematic review and want to use Boolean operators forget about Google; head for Bing instead. And if you need official statistics or company information go straight to specialist sites that provide that data.
5. Don’t stick with what you regularly use.
Experiment with other resources, especially if you suspect your default search tool is not telling you the whole story.
6. Country versions of search tools.
Many search tools offer country versions that give priority to the country’s local content, although that might be in the local language. This is a useful strategy when searching for industries, companies and people that are active in a particular country.
7. Learn when to try something else.
If a site’s navigation or internal search engine seems to be returning rubbish don’t struggle with it. Try another route to get to the information. Either try an alternative source of information or use the ‘site:’ command – available in Bing as well as Google – to search inside the site.
8. DuckDuckGo http://www.duckduckgo.com/.
This was recommended for its clean, straightforward layout and the range of resources it offers on a topic. A school librarian commented that the pupils at her school loved it.
9. MillionShort http://millionshort.com/.
If you are fed up with seeing the same results from Google again and again give MillionShort a try. MillionShort enables you to remove the most popular web sites from the results. Originally, as its name suggests, it removed the top 1 million but you can change the number that you want omitted. The page that best answers your question might not be well optimised for search engines or might cover a topic that is so “niche” that it never makes it into the top results in Google or Bing.
10. Carrot Search http://carrotsearch.com/
This was recommended for its clustering of results and also the visualisations of terms and concepts via the circles and “foam tree”. There is a link to the live web demo on the left hand side of the home page.
11. Microsoft academic Search – charts http://academic.research.microsoft.com/
This is a direct competitor to Google Scholar. The site can be slow to load and it sometimes assigns authors to the wrong institution. Nevertheless, the visualisations such as the co-author and citation maps can be useful in identifying who else is working in a particular area of research. The visualisations can be accessed by clicking on the Citation Graph image to the left of the search results or an author profile.
12. Creative Commons and public domain images.
Use the Bing license option (US version only) to search for images with creative commons or public domain licenses, but do go to the original webpage and check that the license is indeed associated with the image you want to use. Alternatively use one of the following:
Flickr Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons
Flickr The Commons http://www.flickr.com/commons/
Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/
13. Tineye Multicolr http://labs.tineye.com/multicolr/.
“Search 10 million Creative commons Flickr images by colour.” You can specify more than one colour and move the the dividing bar between two colours to increase/decrease their prominence within the image. Click through to the original Flickr image to double check the license.
14. Company Check http://www.companycheck.co.uk/
Company Check repackages Companies House data and provides 5 years of accounts, and graphs for some financials free of charge. It also lists the directors of a company. Click on a director’s name and you can view other current and past directorships for that person. It provides more free information than Companies House but you have to register (free) to gain full access. Additional information such as credit risk, CCJs, credit reports, and many Companies House documents are priced or available as part of a subscription.
15. Guardian Data Store http://www.guardian.co.uk/data/
For datasets and visualisations relating to stories currently in the news. As well as the graphs and interactive maps the source of the data is always given and there are links to the original datasets that are used in the articles.
16. Zanran http://zanran.com/
This is a search tool for searching information contained in charts, graphs and tables of data and within formatted documents such as PDFs, Excel spreadsheets and images. Enter your search terms and optionally limit your search by date and/or format type. One delegate said “It has changed my life!”. (We think/hope she meant her working life.)
17. Keep up to date.
Keep up to date with what the search engines are up to, changes to key resources and new sites. Identify blogs and commentators that are relevant to your research interests and subject areas, and follow them using RSS or email alerts.
My Twitter feed and other social media this morning is full of posts and updates saying that Getty Images is making all of its images freely available. It is not. Read the “Embedded Viewer” section of its Terms and Conditions at http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Corporate/Terms.aspx for what you can and cannot do.
They are making a limited selection of images available for “editorial purposes (meaning relating to events that are newsworthy or of public interest).”
“Embedded Getty Images Content may not be used: (a) for any commercial purpose (for example, in advertising, promotions or merchandising) or to suggest endorsement or sponsorship“.
Getty also reserve the right “to place advertisements in the Embedded Viewer or otherwise monetise its use without any compensation to you.”
Ignore these T&Cs at your financial peril!
As for the image associated with this article, it is not from Getty but one of my own. It is a decommissioned composting toilet at Barracks Lane Community Garden, Oxford. Please feel free to use as you wish.
Google has been automatically dropping terms from searches that give few or no results for some time. It now looks as though Bing may be doing the same. Unfortunately I cannot give the details of the search that brought this to light as it was confidential research. In general, though, what we were searching for were announcements or news articles about two companies involved in a particular project. We hadn’t found anything in Google so we tried various alternative search engines including Bing (http://www.bing.com/). The results seemed quite promising until we started looking at the individual pages. None of them had all of our terms. It is possible that the missing terms appeared in links to the pages but the content of the documents suggested that this was unlikely, and there is no reliable free tool that shows you who is linking to a specific page. So it looks as though Bing is now dropping terms in the same way that Google does.
There are two ways to stop Bing doing this. The first is to use the Boolean AND operator between all of your terms. The second is to prefix the term that must be present in a document with ‘inbody:’, for example inbody:aardvark.
Did we find anything that answered our question? No, but sometimes I don’t expect to and it is frustrating when the search engine thinks it knows best and unilaterally decides to rewrite the search strategy.
For a list of all of the Bing advanced search commands go to http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff795620.aspx