Visuwords online graphical dictionary

Visuwords ( is an online graphical dictionary based on Princeton University’s WordNet ( Type in a word and it displays definitions, related terms, synonyms and antonyms as a diagram.


The colours show whether the words are nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs and the format of the lines joining them represent the type of link between words. A broken blue line, for example, represents “also see”. Move the cursor over a word to see a definition and double click on a node to expand it. This is a great tool if you are stuck for an alternative word and prefer a visual rather than textual approach to this type of search. It was suggested by one of my European contacts who was looking for a tool to help a colleague draft documents in English.

Google search to get more personal

Google search is about to get even more personal – possibly. If you are signed in to your Google account and search, Google includes and highlights content from people in your networks. This has been available for some time but a couple of months ago Google launched a field trial that added your Gmail to the search mix, and a few days ago they added documents from Drive. You have to request to be added to the field trial and it only works on If you are interested in trying it out you can signup at

Above your results tells you how many personal and other results have been found. A head and shoulders icon next to a result indicates that it is from someone in one of your networks. Click on the number of personal results to see just those. Across to the right there are a head and shoulders and world icons. If you want to hide the personal results click on the world icon. If you have searched on a person or an organisation their Google+ profile, if they have one, is shown to the right of the screen. Above this, any messages or documents in your Gmail and Drive that match your search are displayed.

Google Field Trial - Gmail and Drive

I have mixed feelings about this. At first I was very much against the integration of personal posts and data with general search. If I want to search Google+ I’ll do it within Google+, and similarly I go into Gmail if I want to search my email. However, I would not routinely do that for research projects and during this field trial I have sometimes found useful information in my Google+ circles, giving me a very different view of the topic/person/organisation I am investigating. The question then is can I pass this on to a client or include it in a report? The answer is not straightforward. If the Google+ posting has been made public and not restricted to a circle then yes. Otherwise I would have to obtain the person’s permission to use it or pass it on. With Gmail I would have to obtain permission from all the parties concerned and I would also need to check the ownership of any documents identified within my Drive.

I can clearly see and understand the difference between public and private search results as I am sure all information professionals and many researchers can, but I do wonder about other Google users. “It’s come up in a Google search so I’m free to use it as I want”. It could be argued that you shouldn’t put anything up on Google+ unless you don’t mind it going public, even if you have restricted it to a small circle of contacts but email should remain private and be kept out of general search results. I can see legal actions looming!

This is a limited field trial, though, so not everyone who uses is seeing the Gmail and Drive results yet. If you do take part in the trial and have any concerns about how it works and potential privacy issues, there are feedback links next to the Gmail and Drive results. Use them!

Oi, Google! NO!!

I’ve been seeing what looks like a new annoying Google search “feature” for a few weeks. I have been trying to ignore it in the hope that it would go away but it hasn’t. The problem is that Google has started giving me long lists of YouTube videos for some of my queries, even though I am in web search. For example a search on comfrey compost tea came up with about a dozen videos before giving me web pages with text describing the benefits of comfrey compost, which was what I wanted. In addition, in the menus on the left hand side of the screen Google offered me options to refine my video search by duration. But, Dear Google, I did NOT want videos at all!

Google search for comfrey compost tea

It did not matter whether or not I was signed in to my Google account. The videos were still given priority. I wondered if this was just an issue with Chrome so I switched to Firefox. The list of videos disappeared and was replaced by just one entry for YouTube at the top.

Comfrey Compost Tea in Firefox and Incognito

This gave me a clue as to what might be going on. I use Chrome for most of my “personalised” search. I generally stay logged in to my account, have enabled web search history and do not clear out the search cookies. In contrast I use Firefox for “de-personalised” search. I stay logged out of Google and social networks, and cookies and history are cleared after each session. I usually watch permaculture and gardening videos in Chrome, which probably explains why YouTube was taking pride of place in many of my search results. To test the theory I paused and deleted my web search history, and cleared cookies and browsing data. I then signed out of Google, cleared cookies again and re-ran the search. The blasted videos were still there.

What if I ran the search in a Chrome incognito window? The results were identical to those when using Firefox. Back to a normal Chrome window and the videos returned. I then checked that my web history was off and deleted. It wasn’t and it steadfastly refused to go away. Then the penny dropped. All my Chrome data – bookmarks, history etc – are synced to my Google account so no matter how often I try and delete the stuff locally it will all come back down again from my account. I disconnected my Google account under Chrome’s settings and, “Hey presto”, no more videos. I reconnected and they were back. It appears that if you are using Chrome and have synced it with your Google account you will get personalised results, even if you are signed out of your account.

So, if you are a Chrome user you may think that you have switched off personalisation by logging out of your account but that may not be the case. If you are conducting serious research it is always worth running your searches in an Incognito window, using a different browser or a completely different search engine like DuckDuckGo (

Postscript: I forgot to mention that I also tried Verbatim, but to no avail. Verbatim makes sure that all your terms are in the pages/documents exactly as you have typed them in but that still gives Google plenty of leeway in presenting those results. Google still bombarded me videos although some were different from my original search.

September Tales from the Terminal Room now available

Yes, I know it’s a bit late – busy with  ‘stuff’ and, I confess, enjoying life*.

If you follow my blog you will have already seen the main articles but not the Twitter Notes which are bits and pieces I’ve picked up on Twitter. They are mostly comments and links to articles I’ve found interesting with a few slightly silly things. On the surface the Onion News Network Youtube video at may seem ‘silly’ but actually highlights how much information we divulge on social networks.

The latest Tales from the Terminal Room is now available at and features:

  • Search Strategies goes electronic
  • Million Short: unearthing stuff hidden in the dungeons of Google’s results
  • Rediscovering BananaSlug for “long tail” search
  • Top search tips from North Wales
  • Doing Business in the United Kingdom and France
  • Company information: Luxembourg and Belgium
  • Twitter Notes

* I’ve been indulging myself by attending workshops on wildlife gardening at the Five a Day Market Garden (, moss walks courtesy of the Earley Environmental Group ( and various fungus forays.

Search Strategies goes electronic

My publication “Search Strategies for the Internet” is changing and going electronic. There will be shorter articles covering specific search techniques and search engine features. In addition there will be screencasts and presentations. The new structure means that updates to the content will be easier and more frequent. Initially there will be no “book” but I may eventually combine some of the articles into a single publication.

As before, some information such as the fact sheets and Top Tips are available free of charge but the detailed information and screencasts will be available to subscribers only. See for further details. Annual individual subscription rates are £48/year (£40 + £8 VAT). Multi-user and corporate rates are available on request. If you don’t want to commit to an annual subscription some of the articles will be available separately for purchase.

“How to make Google run the search you want” is already available in the subscribers’ area and covers Verbatim, daterange, using the tilde and intext. Several topics are in preparation and to help me get an idea of what people are interested in I have set up a quick poll. It would be great if you could rank the seven topics with ‘1’ being the one you would like to see most. If there is a search topic or feature that you would like to see covered and it is not in the list use the comment box at the bottom of this posting. The topic with the most votes will be made available in the free content area.

Many thanks.

Rediscovering BananaSlug for “long tail” search

I think it must have been seeing Phil Bradley the other night that made me think of revisiting ( I don’t mean that Phil reminds me of a banana slug but he did introduce me to the search tool via his blog way back in 2005. I have been looking at ways of getting out of what I call “search ruts”. You keep seeing the same results again and again but suspect that there may be something more relevant if only you could get to it. Million Short, which I mentioned in a previous blog post (, is one way to tackle the problem. BananaSlug takes a different approach to what is known as long tail search. It adds a random term to your search and pulls up pages buried way down in the results list that you would probably never see. Just type in your search and then select a category, for example Animals, Great Ideas, Random Number, Themes from Shakespeare. BananaSlug then adds a random word from that category to your terms.

At first glance this approach to search may seem appropriate for frivolous, fun stuff only but I find that it works really well with serious research topics. Running one of my test searches zeolites "environmental remediation" through the categories pulled up information that could have taken me hours or even days to find otherwise. Bear in mind that BananaSlug uses Google so synonyms and variations of the random word will be included in the search. When I selected Colors as my category red was added to my search and Google included reddish and reds.

BananaSlug Search Results

Most of the categories came up with something useful although Random Number, inevitably for this type of search, came up with page numbers of journal articles. I didn’t think Themes from Shakespeare would work but the random word it suggested was storm and there were several interesting papers on storm water management and treatment.

Banana Slug Shakespeare Storm

This may seem a bizarre way to explore search alternatives but if you are stuck for ideas give it a go.

Note: for more information on the banana slug Ariolimax see The Pacific banana slug is the second-largest species of terrestrial slug in the world, growing up to 25 centimetres (9.8 in) long.

Million Short: unearthing stuff hidden in the dungeons of Google’s results

Fed up with seeing the same results from Google again and again? Wondering if that elusive document is buried somewhere at the bottom of Google’s 2,000,000 hits? Then get thee hence to Million Short ( Million Short runs your search and then removes the most popular web sites from the results. Originally it removed the top 1 million, as its name suggests, but the default has changed to the top 10,000. The principle remains the same, though: exclude the more popular sites and you could uncover a real gem. 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. Million Short does not say what it uses for search results or how it determines what are the most popular web sites. According to Webmonkey “Sanjay Arora, founder of Exponential Labs, tells Webmonkey that Million Short is using “the Bing API… augmented with some of our own data” for search results. What constitutes a “top site” in Million Short is determined by Alexa and Million Short’s own crawl data.” (

Using Million Short is straightforward. Type in your search and select how many sites you want to exclude (top 10K, top million, top 100). The results page includes a list of the sites that have been removed and you can opt to add one or more back in. You can also block a site using a link next to it in the results or click on “Boost!” so that pages from the site go to the top.

Million Short results

Million Short automatically tries to detect which country you are in but you can change it under “Manage Settings and Country”. I didn’t notice much difference when I changed countries but then most of the queries I pass through Million Short tend to be scientific or technical. On the same page you can manage sites that you have blocked, added or boosted.

Does it work? I would not use it instead of the existing major search engines such as Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo but as an additional tool to surface material that is not easily found in the likes of Google. As well as web search there are image and news searches, but I’m not convinced that I’d find those all that useful.

If you are interested in comparing Million Short with Google try Million Short It On at I had several goes at this and most of the results were a draw. That is no surprise as the searches I ran were very specific and I wanted to see if Million Short would pull up additional information, which it did. Million Short won outright on a couple and Google on one. The Google win was by default because Million Short did not come up with anything for comparison (the search in question was biofuels public transport carbon emissions).

There are a number of techniques that you can use to improve Google results for example changing the order of the words in your search, Verbatim, filetype or Reading Level but I would also recommend trying Million Short. The results should at least be different and may reveal vital information for your research.

Company information: Luxembourg and Belgium

I am updating the official registries section of  my business sources listings ( and there are changes to the entries for Luxembourg and Belgium.

The Registre de Commerce et des Sociétés – Accueil ( is the official register of companies and associations in Luxembourg. The search options are limited to company name or number and the interface is in German and French. Searching and company name, address and contact details are free of charge. Documents are priced.

Legilux Sociétés et Associations has more search options at and it provides a history of the documents filed by a company. This is a free service but for the documents themselves you have to go back to the Registre de Commerce et des Sociétés where there is a charge per document.

In Belgium the KBO Public Search (
enables you to search for public information on every registered active enterprise and establishment. Search by company number, name, branch number or name, address and municipality. Each record provides name, company number, activities, address, contact details and links to other sites for official documents and annual reports. The search interface is available in Dutch and French. The information is in Dutch or French and is free.

The CBSO (Central Balance Sheet Office) section of the National Bank of Belgium ( has the accounts of companies, associations and foundations active in Belgium. The search interface is available in Dutch, French, German and English and the services is free.

Many thanks to Inez de Bois for the information and updates.