Edited highlights from my recent workshop on search tools for research information are now available. Please note that not all of the services, search tools, examples or issues covered in the workshop are included in this version.
I didn’t think Google News (http://news.google.co.uk/) could get any worse but I was wrong. The previous revamp was bad enough: no more advanced search, useless and irrelevant personalisation options, and don’t even think about trying to set up sensible alerts. Alerts were never that good at the best of times but were not improved one iota by the changes. And then they altered the structure of the RSS feed URLs so that, supposedly, your existing feeds no longer worked. I don’t know why, but my old feeds are still delivering news and contain better quality information than the new ones I set up.
In the latest incarnation, Google News has lost most of my topics, the “For You” is total rubbish as is “Local”, you can no longer manage and personalise the topics (although that didn’t really work anyway), and the RSS feed buttons have gone. I can only assume that this is all down to the real time AI/ML that Google recently announced was going to be used to organize the news. (The new Google News: AI meets human intelligence ).
Existing RSS feeds still work, though and you can create email alerts for a news search if you run it from within the general Google results page. Run your search in “All” and then click on the News link. There is a Create Alert button at the bottom of your results, but one wonders how long that will last.
Someone should put Google News out of its misery, close it down and leave news searchable via the link on the main page.
And they may as well ditch Google Finance as well. That is a shadow of its former self : no more portfolios for monitoring stocks, no more historical data for viewing and download, no more news annotations on the price charts, and the comparison option only works for two stocks at a time. If you are interested in monitoring the stock markets or researching individual companies for free get thee hence to Yahoo! Finance (https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/). There was some doubt over the future of Yahoo! Finance when Yahoo! was acquired by Verizon and became part of Oath but, charting oddities aside, there does seem to be some development going on. The new “Sustainability” tab for example shows environment, social and governance (ESG) ratings from Sustainalytics (https://www.sustainalytics.com/). There was positive feedback on it from some business librarians who attended one of my recent workshops.
So many of Google’s services are going from bad to worse to totally pointless and unusable. No wonder, then, that people are starting to look seriously at alternative resources.
So the wait is over. When it was announced that Verizon was to buy Yahoo! there was concern as to what was going to happen to Flickr. Yahoo! never did much in terms of developing Flickr and what it did do was rubbish. Trying to add the location of your photo is an interesting experience at the best of times. You might be able to pin it onto the map but the name of the place is all too often wrong. I used to spend half my time on Flickr manually changing the location – not something to be taken on lightly – but I generally don’t bother now. It’s not worth the effort.
Then there are the auto generated tags that Flickr adds to your photos without asking for confirmation. (Flickr pulls out all the stops with automatic tagging). These are sometimes relevant and it is helpful to be reminded of tags that might prove useful when searching, but the error rate is far too high to leave Flickr to its own devices when generating these. Deleting the oddballs after you have uploaded individual photos is not too onerous but checking a back catalogue of thousands of photos for rogue tags is not really feasible. It explains why Flickr search results often include photos that no way match your search terms.
It would also be nice if we could have interfaces with social media and mobile apps that actually work.
And finally, many of us are looking forward to not having to use a Yahoo! account to log in.
Unfortunately, the email that is hitting subscribers inboxes right now states:
“Nothing will change immediately with regard to your Flickr account. You will still access Flickr with your current login credentials and you will have the same Flickr experience as you do now.”
They do, though, go on to say:
“We will continue to work to make your Flickr experience even better.”
Hmm. We shall just have to see if that is going to work out. In the meantime we have until May 25th, 2018 to decide if we want our Flickr account and data transferred to SmugMug. If we don’t:
So there we have it. I shall stay with Flickr/SmugMug for the time being and see how things develop. In any case, I shall be backing up my Flickr photos as usual just in case something goes seriously awry.
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Please note: a regularly updated version of this posting is now on the main website at http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/brexit.htm
Those of us living and working in the UK are constantly bombarded with news and information of varying quality on Brexit. I regularly run workshops on sources of business information and, inevitably, these now include a section on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, commonly referred to as Brexit. One of the exercises I give those attending the workshop is to draw up their own individual list of resources that they are likely to use for keeping up to date, or as starting points for researching the topic. We then produce a combined list for the whole group. I have listed below a selection of those resources, concentrating on the more general sources rather than industry specific sites that were mentioned in some of the sessions. It is by no means a comprehensive list and this blog posting will not be updated, but I have created a separate web page Brexit – UK withdrawal from the EU, which will be added to and amended periodically.
EU referendum results
Electoral Commission EU referendum results
The Electoral Commission is the independent body that oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. This page shows the voting totals and results by region and by area within that region. You can download the results data in full as a CSV file. There are also links to results visualisations, information on grants to designated lead campaigners, the Electoral Commissions assessment of the EU referendum question and their recommended amendment, and the voting guides.
EU Referendum Results – BBC News
The BBC referendum results page and linked pages presents the same information as the Electoral Commission but in a slightly different way. There are links to the BBC news stories and videos on and around the date of the referendum.
Results of the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016 – Wikipedia
Another page showing the voting results in a variety of ways but in addition this one has links at the end to external sources reporting on the run up to the referendum and local press articles some of which show a breakdown of the results by ward.
Brexit: research and analysis – UK Parliament
“Research and analysis from Parliament’s libraries and committees on how leaving the EU will affect different policy areas in the UK”.
Brexit email alerts on updates and new content are available.
Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU – BBC News
Background information on the what has happened so far, what is happening now, what has been agreed and what needs to be agreed. There is also a long list of FAQs (frequently asked questions), many of which cannot be answered yet but some possibilities are discussed.
The Guardian – Weekly Brexit Briefing
A very useful summary and update from The Guardian newspaper on what has been happening over the past week. You can sign up to receive the briefing by weekly email and there is also a weekly Brexit Means podcast.
General News Search
If you are interested in seeing articles that represent a wider range of viewpoints and opinions, run a search on Brexit in Google News and Bing News. As well as the national and regional UK papers, these will also pick up stories appearing in the press in other countries.
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19 – UK Parliament
Use this page to monitor the progress of the Bill through Parliament and see related documents such as:
- Full text of the Bill as introduced and further versions of the Bill as it is reprinted to incorporate amendments (proposals for change) made during its passage through Parliament.
- Tracked changes versions of the Bill
- Explanatory Notes
- Full list of amendment papers relating to the Bill.
- Public Bill Committee and report stage proceedings
- House of Commons Library and House of Lords Library briefing papers
- Will write letters (Questions put to government Ministers during debates on Bills may be answered by the Minister saying ‘I will write to the Hon Member’. “Will write” replies are not published in Hansard but are placed in the Library of the House concerned and published on the Parliamentary website.)
Blog | UK Constitutional Law Association
Affiliated to the International Association of Constitutional Law. The UKCLA blog provides analysis and comment on matters of constitutional law in the UK. Not suprisingly, many of the current blog postings cover some aspect of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.
Jack of Kent blog
“News and comment on law and policy, from a liberal and critical perspective”. Written by David Allen Green who is a legal commentator at FT.com and a former legal correspondent of the New Statesman. Currently posting mainly about Brexit.
Public Law for Everyone – Professor Mark Elliott
Another source of comment and analysis on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Written by Mark Elliott, Professor of Public Law at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and Legal Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution. The views expressed on this blog are in a purely personal capacity.
Google has made a major change to search and it does not bode well. Results are now based on your current location. So what’s new? Google has always looked at your location, even down to city/town level, and changed the results accordingly. That is fine if you are travelling and want to find the nearest Thai restaurant via your mobile, for example. Presenting a list of eateries in my home town of Reading is no good to me if I’m away in Manchester and getting very hungry!
The problems start if you are researching a person, company or industry based in a country other than your own – let’s use Norway as an example – or just want the latest news from that country. The trick used to be to go to the relevant country version of Google, in this case www.google.no, run your search and Google would give preference to Norwegian content. It is a great way to get alternative viewpoints on a topic and more relevant “local” information on a subject. Now, regardless of which version of Google you go to, you will see the same results tailored for your home location.
In a blog posting Making search results more local and relevant Google says:
Today, we’ve updated the way we label country services on the mobile web, the Google app for iOS, and desktop Search and Maps. Now the choice of country service will no longer be indicated by domain. Instead, by default, you’ll be served the country service that corresponds to your location. So if you live in Australia, you’ll automatically receive the country service for Australia, but when you travel to New Zealand, your results will switch automatically to the country service for New Zealand. Upon return to Australia, you will seamlessly revert back to the Australian country service.
This confirms that mobile search is what Google is concentrating on. After all it is, one assumes, where Google makes most of its money but it does not help professional researchers.
There is a way around it but it is rather long-winded. You need to go to Settings – use either the link in the bottom right hand corner of your Google home page or the one near the top of a search results page – and click on Advanced Search .
On the Advanced Search screen scroll down to “Then narrow your results by…” and use the pull down menu in the region box to select the country.
Using the region filter and selecting Norway as the country I am given the following by Google:
Notice, though, that Google is giving me English articles or English versions of them. Google has decided that I would prefer English articles and I have to scroll down to number 10 and beyond to see pages in Norwegian. To get a broader view of what is being said in Norway about Brexit I have to go back into settings, click on Languages and choose Norwegian/Norsk.
Oh – and you get slight different results if you go through a VPN and set Norway as the country.
What worries me even more is that Google could do away with the advanced search screen and the region filter with it.
We’re confident this change will improve your Search experience, automatically providing you with the most useful information based on your search query and other context, including location.
No, Google. You have just made things more difficult for those of us who conduct serious, in-depth research. The way I feel about this change at the moment is that if you were a person I would take a baseball bat to your head!
UPDATE: In response to David Pearson’s comment and reminder below.
Including a site command e.g. site:no in the search works relatively well for this particular example (Norway) and gives good but slightly different results. It will, of course, miss Norwegian sites that are registered as .com or other international domains. The amount of overlap (or lack of it) will vary depending on the country. It’s another one to add to the list of strategies, which I am sure will become longer, for dealing with this problem.
I’m back at work from an extended break only to find that my favourite statistics portal OFFSTATS is no more 🙁 https://www.library.auckland.ac.nz/about-us/collections/decommissioned-databases
I received an email from them explaining that they no longer have the resourcing available to maintain and develop the database. Also, as much of the content can now be discovered through other approaches they felt the need for this type of search tool was not so relevant as it had been a few years ago.
A shame but understandable from their point of view. It was always a popular resource on my search workshops and often featured in the participants’ “Top Ten Tips”. It was one of the few resources of this type in which humans assessed and monitored the quality and relevance of the sites listed. Very sorry to see it go.
Voting in the UK election has finished and the results are in, but the dust has most definitely not settled. It looks as we in the UK are in for interesting times ahead. It would help those of us researching the various political parties and policies if Google could at least get the basics right, such as who is now the Member of Parliament for a particular constituency. I am in Reading East and we have switched from a Conservative MP to Labour (Matt Rodda). Out of curiosity, I tried a search in Google on Reading East constituency. This is what Google’s Knowledge Graph came up with:
I took this screenshot yesterday (Friday, 9th June) at around 8 a.m. and expected to see Rob Wilson given as the MP throughout . I was impressed, though, to see that the snippet from Wikipedia correctly gives Matt Rodda as our MP. Whoever had updated that entry was pretty quick off the mark. Possibly a Labour Party worker? The rest of the information, which is taken from Google’s database of “facts”, is either wrong, confusing or nonsensical.
“Member of Parliament: Rob Wilson” – wrong. But he was MP until around 4 a.m. on the 9th June when the result of the election in Reading East was announced, so perhaps I am expecting a little too much from Google to be that quick about updating its facts.
“Major settlement: Reading” – yes we are part of Reading but I find it strange that it is referred to as a major settlement rather than a town.
“Number of members: 1” – not sure why that is there as each constituency can only have one MP.
“Party: Conservative” – correct for Rob Wilson but the new MP is Labour.
“European Parliament constituency: South East England” – correct!
The final two lines “Replaced by:” and “Created from:” had me totally flummoxed. The entries are the same – Reading North, Reading South, Henley. Reading North and Reading South were constituencies formed by splitting the Reading constituency in 1950. They were then merged back into Reading in 1955, re-created in 1974, and in 1983 Reading East and West were formed (Yes, it’s complicated!). As for Henley, it is not even in the same county. I can only think that this comes from Caversham (now part of Reading East) being part of Oxfordshire until 1911, when it probably did fall within the Henley constituency. The “Replaced by” is wrong because Reading East has not been replaced by anything. Google can’t even blame a template that has to be filled in with information at all costs because different information appears in the Knowledge Graph depending on the constituency.
Here is the information for Aylesbury:
And the one for Guildford:
Going back to the how up to date the information is, how quickly does Google update their “facts”. Rob Wilson was still our MP mid Friday afternoon. I submitted feedback using the link that Google provides at the bottom of each Knowledge Graph but this morning (10th June) nothing had changed. I’ll update this posting when it does change.
I would hope that most people would look at the other links in the search results, in this case the latest news, but preferably a reliable authoritative source. The list of MPs on the UK Parliament website would be an obvious choice but might take a day to be updated after an election. Just don’t rely on Google to get it right.
Ok, we know that Google often does strange things with our searches but much of the time it is not obvious that something odd has happened. There are usually some “good enough” answers scattered through the first 20-30 results so that we shrug off the rest as “well, that’s Google for you”. Occasionally, though, one comes across a search that seems to break Google. One such example was reported on Twitter this morning by Rand Fishkin (@randfish). The search was
this is the best * on the internet
At the top of the first results page Google reported that it had found over a billion results but when @randfish moved to the next page Google showed just “2 of 12 results”! Whatever happened to the other billion or so?
I tried the search myself on my laptop and straightaway got three results but on repeating it that was reduced to two.
I repeated the search having logged out of my Google account, cleared cookies, used Incognito and different browsers. Same results.
I tried a phrase search and the number of hits increased to 17.
Then I removed the quotation marks, got back to my original set of two and ran Verbatim on it. Over a billion hits but, bizarrely, Google claimed to have gone straight page 2!
Note: you normally can’t see the number of results after you have run Verbatim because it is obscured by a second menu line. You can toggle between that menu and the number of hits by clicking on the Tools button.
Then I tried a phrase search followed by Verbatim: two results but different from my first set.
I could have gone on trying various advanced search commands but it is very clear that Google is having problems with this particular search. And, no, I have no idea what is going on here.
If Google messes with your search to this extent or comes back with far fewer results than you would expect don’t struggle with it; just go to another search engine. As an asterisk is used in this search to stand in for a missing word Yandex.com would be the best option. (See https://yandex.com/support/search/how-to-search/search-operators.html for a list of the main operators).
Locating images that can be re-used, modified and incorporated into commercial or non-commercial projects is always a hot topic on my search workshops. As soon as we start looking at tools that identify Creative Commons and public domain images the delegates start scribbling. Yes, Google and Bing both have tools that allow you to specify a license when conducting an image search but you still have to double check that the search engine has assigned the correct license to the image. There may be several images on a webpage or blog posting each having a different copyright status and search engines can to get it wrong. Flickr’s search also has an option to filter images by license and there are sites that only have Creative Commons photos, for example Geograph. But the problem is that you may have to trawl through several sites before you find your ideal photo.
Creative Commons has just launched a new image search tool that in theory would save a lot of time and hassle. You can find some background information on the service, which is still in beta, at Announcing the new CC Search, now in Beta. The search screen is at http://ccsearch.creativecommons.org/.
The Creative Commons collections are currently included in the search come from the Rijksmuseum, Flickr, 500px, New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can search by license type, title, creator, tags and collection.
As well as search there are social features that allow you to add tags and favourites to objects, save searches, and there is a one-click attribution button that provides you with a pre-formatted text for easy attribution. There is also a list creation option. To make use of these functions you need to register, which at present can only be done via email.
I started with a very simple search: cat
Hover over the image and you have options to Save to a list and to favourite it. It will also show you the title of the image and who created it. Click on the image and you are shown further information including tags together with a link that takes you to the original source.
So far, so good although I did think it rather odd that the image should have tags for both norwegian forest cat and nebelung but assumed that perhaps the cat was a cross between the two.
I decided to narrow down the search to norwegian forest cat, and this is where things started to go very wrong. There were a handful of cats but the rest seemed irrelevant. I put the terms inside quotation marks “norwegian forest cat”. It made no difference.
I had a look at one of the non-cat images and the reason it had been picked up was that the creator called themselves Norwegian Forest Cat! So I unticked the options on the search screen for creator and title, leaving just the tags. At least the results were now cats but most did not look anything like norwegians.
I looked at the tags for one of the short haired mogs.
It seems that this is a very special creature. It is both a domestic long haired cat and a domestic short haired cat, a norwegian forest cat and a manx, a european shorthair and an american short hair. The creator of this photo must have had a brainstorm when allocating the tags, or perhaps Flickr’s automatic tagging system had kicked in? It does sometimes come up with truly bizarre tags. I clicked through to Flickr to view the original.
The original tags were very different. The two sets had only cat, pet, and animal in common. I have no idea where the tags on the CC photo page had come from and could not find any information on how they had been assigned. This was repeated with all of the dozen images that I looked at in detail.
I decided to give up on cats and try one of my other test searches: Reading Repair Cafe. I know that there are about 75 images on Flickr that have been placed in the public domain. I know that because I took them. To make it easier on CC Search I choose to search titles and tags, and just the Flickr Collection. The results were total rubbish.
Looking at the details of the photos it became clear that CC Search is carrying out an OR search. Phrase searching did not work and using AND just created a larger collection of irrelevant images. (I confess I gave up after trawling through the first 12 pages). After the cat experience I checked the tags on a few photos but no sign of Reading Repair Cafe anywhere.
A search on Flickr and using the license filter worked a treat:
Google did a pretty good job too but to get perfect results I had to do phrase search. (Note: as this is a regular test search of mine, I signed out of my Google account and went “Incognito” to stop Google personalising the results. )
Bing also did an excellent job at finding the photos.
Admittedly, CC Image Search is a prototype and in beta so one would expect there to be a few glitches. However, glitches seem to be the norm. I ran several more tests and the main stumbling block is that it combines terms using OR. There is no other option or any commands one can use to change that. My second concern is where on earth do the tags on the CC Search photo pages come from? Most of them do not appear on the original source page and many are completely wrong. I’m afraid it is back to the drawing board for CC Search.