Google drops the tilde operator

It seems that Google has dropped the tilde (~) synonym operator ( Although Google automatically looks for variations on your terms, placing a tilde before a word seemed to look for more variations and related terms. It meant that you didn’t have to think of all the possible permutations of a word. It was also very useful if you wanted Google to run your search exactly as you had typed it in except for one or two words. The Verbatim option tells Google to run your search without dropping terms or looking for synonyms, but sometimes you might want variations on just one of the words. That was easily fixed by placing a tilde before the word. Now we are left with the OR command, which is unreliable at the best of times.

I must admit I didn’t see this one coming. My money was on another option going first.

Many thanks to Aaron Tay (@aarontay) for the alert.

Update: @dmrussell ( has confirmed via Twitter that it was removed because it wasn’t much used and Google could not justify the cost of maintaining the index and code.

North Wales Libraries Partnership Top Tips

Cyril in the John Spalding Library

The John Spalding Library in Wrexham hosted the North Wales Libraries Partnership (NWLP) workshop “Search is more than just Google”. Delegates from public, government, academic and NHS libraries gathered together to look at the effect of mobile technologies on search, open access, getting better results from Google and alternative search tools. The consensus reached during one of the breaks was that Cyril, one of the library’s residents and pictured on the left, should have ignored Google’s nutrition advice and gone for the more authoritative sources available in the library and on the web. If only he had waited and attended the workshop he would have known exactly where to look!

There was much discussion on how mobile devices change how we can search – not always for the best – and there was concern, as usual, over how much we willingly give away about ourselves to services such as Google and Facebook. Open access was debated in the afternoon along with possible directions for academic publishing.

An edited set of the slides is available on authorSTREAM at and Slideshare at

The Top Tips that the group came up with included some of the usual advanced Google commands but others concerned cloud computing and social media. Here they are.

1. Back up your stuff. Having your data hosted in the cloud means you don’t have to worry about it disappearing when your laptop or server crashes. But what if your cloud service goes under or your account is deleted for some reason? Have you made a local backup of your essential files and treasured family photos? One of the participants mentioned the Library of Congress digital preservation toolkit for preserving family memories (

2. Private browsing for “un-personalising” search results. If you want to make sure that your results are not being influenced by past searches and browsing behaviour, find out where the private browsing option is in your browser (in Chrome it is called Incognito). This ignores all cookies and past search history and is as close as you can get to unfiltered results.

3. Change the order of your search terms to change the order in which results are listed. This is an old trick but still seems to work.

4. Use advanced search commands such as site:, filetype;, intext:, to focus your search. Some of the commands are available not just in Google but also in Bing and DuckDuckGo.

5. Create “newspapers” of articles mentioned on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or news sites by using services such as ( These can be generated from hashtags, keyword searches or your own Twitterstream. Have a look in the news stand to see if someone has already created a paper on your topic. automatically compiles the newspaper but there are other services such as Storify ( and ( that enable individuals to curate the content that appears in their personal newspaper.

6. Guardian Data Store for datasets and visualisations relating to stories in the news ( This was so popular that it was mentioned twice for inclusion in the top tips. What people liked about this is that the source of the data is always given and there are links to the original datasets.

7. Million Short If you are fed up with seeing the same results from Google again and again give Million Short a try. Million Short runs your search and then removes the most popular web sites from the results. Originally, as its name suggests, it removed the top 1 million but the default has changed to the top 10,000. 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. One person loved it because the type of research they do often pulls up pages of Amazon and eBay results in Google. Not a problem with Million Short

8. Google Reading level to change the type of results that you see. Run your search and from the menu above the results select ‘Search tools’, ‘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.

9. Beware fragmented discussions. Articles can be posted and reposted in many different places: blogs, websites, LinkedIn, Facebook etc. with the result that potentially useful and informative discussions are dotted all over the place. Learn how to locate fragmented discussions in your subject area and where they are likely to occur.

10. Try something other than Google. Take a look at the slides for a few(!) suggestions of what you could use.

Google adds nutrition facts

Google is now showing detailed nutritional facts for food. Type in the name of a food and Google brings up a side panel to the right of the standard results showing images, Calories per  100gm, levels of fat, cholesterol, carbohydrate, protein and selected vitamins and minerals.

Google Nutrition - Courgette

You can bring a specific nutritional fact to the top of the results by including it in the search, for example iron in spinach.

Iron in Spinach

Typing in just the name of a food works in most cases but for some you have to be more specific to pull up the facts. Butter and olive oil are two where you have to include additional terms, for example calories. It also does not have facts for the more unusual foods such as scorzonera and salsify.

The general description is taken from Wikipedia. The sources for the facts include USDA (US Department of Agriculture) so the figures for Daily Values may not be the same as the EU Recommended Daily Allowance.

Company Check: free UK company and director information

Company Check ( and its sister website Company Director Check are two of the more popular services on my business and search workshops. They repackage official information from Companies House and provide much of it free of charge. I first reviewed them in 2011 ( and and since then there have been many updates and additions. A recent change is that company and director information have been pulled together on the Company Check website making it easier to flip between companies and directors. Data on companies in Ireland is also now available.

Companies and directors can be searched from the same search box. You then select the appropriate entry from a list of possible matches. The company summary is free of charge and includes a business overview, data on its status and business activities, and a list of trading addresses.



Also free of charge are the accounts and list of directors but you have to register (free of charge) to view the information. There are options for logging in with your Facebook, Twitter or Google account but if you prefer you can register a user name and password.

Five years of key financials (cash at bank, net worth, total current liabilities and total current assets) are shown as graphs and more detailed information is displayed in the Company Accounts Table.



The financial statements submitted to Companies House can be downloaded free of charge as PDFs. Other documents lodged at Companies House such as “Change of director’s details” or “Allotment of securities” are listed under the Documents tab and are £2 each.

The Credit Risk information (risk score, credit limit, payment data and key factors) and Charges (mortgages and County Court Judgments) are priced. For a single company the price is £4.99 + VAT, which gives you 30 days unlimited access to all premium credit data on that company for 30 days. If you are likely to be researching more than four companies on a regular basis it is worth upgrading to the All Companies options costing £20 + VAT. This gives you 30 days unlimited access to credit data across every company and director.

Current directors and secretaries for a company are listed free of charge. Previous directors and secretaries are part of the subscription service. The free director profile includes an overview, their registered details and a summary of the companies of which they are or have been a director. This can be more informative as a way of identifying connections between companies and other directors than looking at the company records in isolation. The full director report reports are £8.99 and include credit risk, CCJs, mortgages and charges, and a summary for each current appointment with key information taken from the associated company report.


For both companies and directors you can set up free alerts and add them to a dashboard. This is an easy way to compare results for companies, with negative and positive changes in key financials shown as red or green arrows pointing up or down.


Company Check is not the only service providing free access to some of UK Companies House and Ireland company data. DueDil ( and Bizzy ( are two others that are worth looking at. I understand, though, that Company Check  is working on additional services that are due for launch in the next few months. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Google – you can say “NO!”

Picture the scene: an obviously distressed researcher is hunched over a computer screen, sobbing hysterically. All they wanted was a list of donkey sanctuaries in Surrey. How difficult is that? But Google decided that what they really wanted was a field guide to identifying buttercups. Our researcher tries all the advanced search commands and options they know but to no avail. It seems that Google has locked them into its dreaded live experiments (1) with no possibility of escape, and the information is needed NOW.

There is hope, though. There are other search engines out there. Bing may seem consumer/retail focused, but its list of advanced search commands is great at unearthing serious research information that Google buries at around the 2 millionth entry in your results list. My comparison and summary of search commands at lists the Bing commands that you are most likely to need. Or if you just want a no nonsense summary of your topic without all of Google’s personalisation and experiments look no further than DuckDuckGo. But should you even be using Google or similar, generic search engines in the first place? Think about the type of information you are looking for.

For news, RSS feeds are still a great way to pull together updates from your favourite newspapers, blogs and websites. Google Reader is about to disappear into a black hole but there are other, better RSS readers out there. I use a desktop client called RSS Owl ( but if that doesn’t suit you Phil Bradley has a list of alternatives on his blog at Or you could try a different approach: create a Twitter list of essential news sources, or use to create daily “newspapers” using keyword searches or hashtags. See my own “daily” at or the on biofuels at

Interested in statistics and open data? Try the University of Auckland’s statistics portal ( or the Guardian’s Datastore (

If you are looking for images is an obvious alternative. For photos you can re-use without fear of being dragged through the courts for copyright infringement try Geograph ( or Morguefile (

And when it comes to free search tools for tracking down open access and research information there are dozens, some of which are listed at

These and many more are covered in my workshop “Anything but Google”, which is is being held in Newcastle later this month. Further details are on the UKeiG web site at

We may not be able to avoid Google completely but there are equally good, if not better, tools available. Take the first step and say “No” to Google.

(1) Just Testing: Google Users May See Up To A Dozen Experiments

And another one bites the dust

It looks as though Google has quietly removed yet another search tool from its menus. This time it is “Sites with images”, which used to be under “Search tools”, “All results”. Like translated foreign pages I suspect it has been dropped because of low usage. I used it about once or twice a month, usually to identify a building or a landmark that I had seen whilst out and about and to find further information on the subject. I would put in a description, run the search and then apply sites with images. The results gave the usual extracts from web pages together with thumbnails of the images on those pages. It was very quick and easy to use and more reliable than the two alternative strategies.

The first option is just to run the search in images, but because I’m often looking for something along the lines of ‘hotel between Windsor and Maidenhead Thames’ there can be a significant amount of noise in the results. Also, that approach often pulls up Flickr photos, which can sometimes tell me the name of the place, but does not always provide the more in depth information I require.

The second option is to use Google’s search by image option. This enables you to upload a photo, or point to the URL of an image on the web, and look for similar images. The option can be found by clicking on the camera in the search box on the Google images search page.

Google search by image

You are then given the option to point to the URL of an existing image on the web or upload your own. This is not much help if I haven’t taken a photo of the subject, and if I had a URL I probably would not be trying to identify it. There is also the problem that if Google does not find many exact matches it looks for “visually similar” images that have similar patterns, shapes and combination of colours but which may be of a completely different subject. In the example below I uploaded my own photo and Google has found the exact copy that I had previously uploaded to Flickr. None of the visually similar images are photos of the building I am interested in.

Google visually similar images

I’m disappointed but not surprised that Google has discontinued sites with images. My money had been on one of the other search tools going before this one. As with the disappearance of translated foreign pages I can live without it, but it means I have to spend more time and effort on finding the information. At this rate there won’t be many search tools left on Google so it makes even more sense to become familiar with the alternatives.

Cue a blatant plug for my forthcoming workshop “Anything but Google”! It is being organised by UKeiG on the 27th June in Newcastle. Further details are on the UKeiG web site at