Articles and top tips in eLucidate

The latest eLucidate from UKeiG is now out at  and available at My contributions to this issue are Alphabet Soup (about the changes and restructuring of Google), top tips on Exploiting Google and Kicking the Google Habit.

The two “top tips” articles came out of two workshops I facilitated for UKeiG in Manchester and came from the participants themselves. I am repetaing the workshops – significantly updated following recent announcements –  next week in London; Essential non-Google Search Tools and New Google, New Challenges.  If you are interested and want to learn more, there is still time to book a place on either or both of the workshops.

Wayback Machine gets funding to rebuild and add keyword searching

The Wayback Machine (, also known as the Internet Archive,  is always a popular site on my search workshops. It is a fantastic way of discovering how web pages looked in the past and for tracking down documents that are no longer on the live web.

UKOLUG Home Page 27th April 1999

It isn’t 100% guaranteed to have what you are looking for and at present you need the URL of the web site or document in order to use it. People often ask if keyword searching is possible; it isn’t at the moment but it will be.

The Internet Archive has received support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) and will be re-building the Wayback Machine. When it is completed in 2017, the next generation Wayback Machine will have more webpages that are easier to find and will include keyword indexing of homepages.

Further details of the rebuild are on the Internet Archive blog at


Google introduces RankBrain

Original at
Original at

We’ve known for some time that Google has been buying heavily into artificial intelligence and looking at applying it not only to its robotics and driverless cars projects but also to search. Now it is official: artificial intelligence and machine learning plays a major role in processing Google queries and is, Google says,  the third most important signal in ranking results. It has been named RankBrain.

Danny Sullivan covers the story in Search Engine Land and looks at the implications for search. There is a follow up story  by Danny that goes into more detail, FAQ: All About The New Google RankBrain Algorithm, and he makes a guess at what the number 1 and 2 ranking signals are (Google won’t say!).

Both are very interesting articles on how Google is using RankBrain in search especially the FAQ,  which is a “must read” if you want to begin to understand how Google is now handling your search.

Slides from my talk given at the Anybook Oxford Libraries conference

The slides from my talk at the Anybook Oxford Libraries Conference in July 2015 are now available on Slideshare via the Bodleian Staff Development account.

Google: The Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything

As well as advanced Google search features and alternative search tools I comment on the direction Google is going in. Note that this presentation was given before the Alphabet announcement. Those of you who have attended my Google and non-Google search tool workshops should know most of what is in the slides, but they might serve as a useful reminder.

It is also available on authorSTEAM at

Google rolls out “People also ask”

There have been reports ( for several months that Google has been testing a new query refinement box called “People also ask”.  It now looks as though it has gone live. The feature suggests queries related to your search after the first few entries in your results list. It doesn’t appear for all queries and it is dependent on how you ask the question. My search on ‘what are statins’ gave me the usual, standard results list.  When I searched on ‘types of statins’ the ‘People also ask’ box popped up with “How do statins work to lower cholesterol?”, “How do statins lower cholesterol?” and “What is a statin drug?


To see further information you have to click on the downward pointing arrow next to the query but instead of a list of sites you see just an extract from a page supposedly answering the question, a bit like the Quick Answers that sometimes appear at the top of your search results. There is an option, though, to run a full search on the query you have chosen.  As with the Quick Answers, there are no clues as to how or why Google has selected a particular page to answer the query.

The queries for ‘People also ask’ are also different from the suggested queries that are listed as you type in your question into the standard Google search box.Google-Suggested-Search-queries

Those of you who have attended my talks and workshops will no doubt be waiting for me to come up with an example of a Google howler. Here it is: a search on ‘tomato blight prevention uk’ comes up with “What is potato blight?” (close, and the organism that causes late potato and tomato blight is the same) and “What is an ANEMBRYONIC pregnancy?”.


No, I don’t know what an ANEMBRYONIC  pregnancy is (why the capital letters?) but it has nothing to do with potato or tomato blight!

At present, this is not a feature that I am finding useful. For me it is a hindrance rather than a help and just clutters up the results page with superficial or irrelevant suggestions. But as my queries tend to be quite complex and often incorporate advanced search commands, which seem to disable it, I don’t expect to be seeing much of this feature.

UKeiG Article: New Google, New Challenges

From "Introducing Spot", Boston Dynamics, Introducing Spot - YouTube
From “Introducing Spot”, Boston Dynamics, Introducing Spot – YouTube

My article on major changes at Google, “New Google, New Challenges”, is now available in UKeiG’s latest issue of eLucidate at

As well as the general dumbing down and relentless removal of search options, it covers the new technologies that Google is experimenting with: artificial intelligence, driver-less cars, robotics, home environment sensors and controls. Some of this is already being integrated with search and “mobile”.

I am running  a “New Google, New Challenges” workshop for UKeiG this autumn in Manchester and London. It concentrates on search, how the changes at Google are impacting the way it manages our search and presents results, and how to use what is left of the advanced search techniques and specialist databases for more relevant research results.

UK company information now free of charge

A year ago Companies House announced that they were going to make all of their company information available free of charge to everyone. The press release was short on detail and many of us wondered what format the data would be in and how easy it would be to use. Daily files containing accounts data registered on the previous day were already available but these are huge zip files that, when unpacked, contain files with meaningless names. ( Unless you have software that can manage and search the data it is impossible to identify which files contain information on the company you are researching. Companies-House-Free-1


For most of us the files are useless.  Was this to be the format of the free service? Thankfully, no.

A new beta service at now enables you to search for companies by name or number and obtain free of charge:

  • Company overviews
  • Current and resigned officers
  • Document images
  • Mortgage charge data
  • Previous company names
  • Insolvency data


For the officers you can see what other companies they are involved with. What you cannot do at the moment is search by director name from the start. That is a “planned feature” as are disqualified directors search, company monitoring, company name availability, dissolved companies and overseas data. For those options you have to revert to the old WebCHeck service at

The new beta service is easy to use and at last we have access to UK company documents and accounts free of charge. So, does this mean the end of services such as Company Check ( and DueDil ( Not necessarily. Company Check, for example, already has an option for searching by director name and there are also useful charting, monitoring and structure options as well as access to some European companies. They also offer access to risk scores, credit reports and County Court Judgments (all priced). All of these services only allow you to search for companies one at a time: there is no multi-criteria search that you can use to find companies by turnover, number of employees, industry sector for example. Neither can you compare companies or conduct a detailed peer group analysis. For that you still have to use priced services such as BvD (

Overall, a move in the right direction and ideal if your needs are simple, for example accounts and director information for a live company. But look carefully at what features are available before you cancel your subscription service.


Business information – sources and search techniques

Business Information - sources and search techniques

I am running my full day business information, sources and search techniques workshop for the Commercial, Legal and Scientific Information Group (CLSIG).

Date: Thursday, 16 July 2015,  9:30am to 4:30pm

Venue: CILIP, 7 Ridgmount Street, WC1E 7AE London . See map: Google Maps

Cost:  CLSIG/CILIP Members £85;  Non-members  £100; Concessions £50

Contact for bookings:

For further details of the workshop content contact

Search engines, government and official information sources, and the EU regulatory environment are continually changing. All of these affect how we search and the information that is presented to us. In some cases information may be deliberately excluded from our results. This one day workshop will look at what’s new, key resources for business and official information, and how to use search tools to ensure you are picking up everything that you need. There will be time for practical sessions so that you can try some of the exercises provided, or experiment with your own searches. Lunch and refreshments are included.

Topics covered include:

  • effect of EU legislation on research and due diligence
  • increase in official open data – accessibility, quality, usability
  • changes to Google and other search tools, and their impact on research
  • starting points, evaluated listings and government sources
  • company information: official sources; free open data sources worldwide; companies that repackage official company information – pros and cons
  • news sources and alerting services
  • the value of social media and professional networks for business intelligence
  • statistics, market and industry data

Please email Marie Cannon to book your place (

Flickr messes up big time

My "abstract" cat, according to Flickr
My “abstract” cat (or possibly dog), according to Flickr

A few days ago Flickr revamped its website yet again. Flickr users have become used to changes that offer no improvements in functionality, and it rarely comes as a surprise that some aspects of the service are sometimes made worse. The most recent updates did not seem to be that significant. The layout is different; search is just as bad as ever with odd and irrelevant results popping up; and you still cannot directly edit an incorrectly, Flickr assigned location. The last is possible but it involves a somewhat Heath Robinson approach, more of which in a separate posting.

This time, though, Flickr has made a huge mistake. It has been using image recognition technology for about a year to automatically generate tags for users’ photos but, until now, those tags have been hidden from users. They are now visible. The official announcement is on the Help Forum, Updates on tags ( followed by many pages of users comments, mostly negative. Flickr’s mistake is not in making the tags visible or doing the tagging at all, but in not allowing users the option to opt-out or offering a global tag deletion tool.

The computer generated tags have been added retrospectively to everyone’s photos, so some of us now have the prospect of checking thousands of images for incorrect or irrelevant tags. My experience, so far, is that most of them are useless. I honestly cannot see how the tags “indoor” or “outdoor”, which seem to be applied to the majority of my photos, are helpful in a search. If the auto generated tags have already been used in Flickr’s search it would explain why the results are often rubbish.

It is easy to spot the difference between user and Flickr generated tags: the former are in a grey box and the latter in a white or light grey box.

Flickr user and automatically generated tags

If you want to delete a Flickr generated tag you have to do it tag by tag, photo by photo. Do not go on a tag deletion frenzy just yet, though. There are reports that the deleted tags sometimes reappear.

Oddities that I have spotted so far in my own photostream include a photo of our local polling station auto-tagged with “shop” (, and an image of a building site tagged with “snow” ( I suspect that in the latter case Flickr was confused by the amount of dust and debris surrounding what remains of the buildings.

To see the full horror of what Flickr has done, click on the Camera Roll link on your Photostream page and then Magic View. My cat has been tagged several times as a dog and once as abstract, which I suggest should be replaced by “Zen”. And to a photo of three hippos in Prague Zoo have been added animal, ape, elephant, tortoise, baby, child and people ( Note that Magic View only uses Flickr auto generated tags; we users are obviously not to be trusted!

I admit that there are a handful of instances where Flickr has reminded me of potentially relevant tags, so I might be tempted by an option whereby Flickr suggests additional tags. But I want to make the final decision as to whether to add them or not. I most certainly do not want Flickr adding, without my permission, thousands of tags to my back catalogue. And by the way, Flickr, whatever happened to my privacy setting of who can “Add notes, tags, and people:Only you”, which you have clearly breached.

It is bad enough to have to deal with the rubbish that Google dishes out, but to have to cope with Flickr’s lunacy as well is too much. Flickr, you have seriously messed up this time. Many of us do know what we are doing most of the time when we tag our photos. Carry on down this route and you won’t just annoy your users but risk losing a substantial number of them, some of whom pay for Pro accounts.

Google dumps Reading Level search filter

It seems that Google has dumped the Reading Level search filter. This was not one that I used regularly but it was very useful when I wanted more serious, in-depth, research or technically biased articles rather than consumer or retail focused pages. It often featured in the Top Tips suggested by participants of my advanced Google workshops.

It was not easy to find. To use it you had to first run your search and then 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 then appeared just above the results.

Google Reading Level comparison
Slide showing Google Reading Levels from one my search workshops

More details of how it worked are in the blog posting I wrote when it was launched in 2010 (

So another tool that helped serious researchers find relevant material bites the dust. I daren’t say what I suspect might be next but, if I’m right, its disappearance could make Google unusable for research.

News and comments on search tools and electronic resources for research