All posts by Karen Blakeman

I have worked in the information profession for over twenty years and have been a freelance consultant since 1989. My company (RBA Information Services) provides training and consultancy on the use of the Internet, and on accessing and managing information resources. Prior to setting up RBA I worked at the Colindale Central Public Health Laboratory, and then spent ten years in the Pharmaceutical and Health Care industry before moving to the International management consultancy group Strategic Planning Associates.

I edit and publish an electronic newsletter called Tales from the Terminal Room. Other publications include Search Strategies for the Internet.

I am a Fellow of CILIP: The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, an active member of the UK eInformation Group (UKeiG) and a member of the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP)

Who phoned?

Having just come back from two weeks holiday, one of my first tasks was to check the phone messages on both my land line and my mobile.A handful of callers left messages, several did not and were number ‘withheld’ or ‘International’, and a few rang without leaving a message but are known contacts in the “phone book” so their names were recorded in the log. About half of those who did not leave a message were just logged as a number and some made repeated calls.There is no point in calling most of these numbers back because you usually end up at a switchboard. Even if you do get the individual who rang they have long forgotten the purpose of their call. But I am a curious person and I like to see if I can track down the identity of mystery callers.

I first search the various contact lists on  my computer using Copernic Desktop Search. Sometimes that throws up a long forgotten contact. A straightforward Google search on the number may also work. If those fail I run the geographic numbers through a program on my desktop called CodeLook. This will tell me the area, exchange and telecoms operator but not the identity of the owner of the number. It can be enough, though, to jog my memory about a friend, relative, or customer. The program is part of a subscription service for  members of Magenta Systems’s UK Tariff Comparison web site but there is also a free online version at http://www.telecom-tariffs.co.uk/codelook.htm.

There is one type of caller that drives me mad: the call centre. They ring repeatedly, hardly ever leave a message, and often there is no-one at the other end when you do pick up. For these numbers Whocallsme is a godsend. This is a user supplied database of UK phone numbers of:

“telemarketers, non-profit organizations, charities, political surveyors, SCAM artists, and other companies that don’t leave messages, disconnect once you answer, ignore the Do-Not-Call List regulations, and simply interrupt your day.”

On this occasion, Whocallsme identified two of the repeat callers. The first was a British Gas call centre. They repeatedly phone me trying to persuade me to change my gas supply to them (I already have my electricity supplied by them). Asking them to cease and desist has no effect whatsoever so they will now be added to the automatic “Choose to refuse” list on my land line. The second was a mobile number and turned out to be Orange. I have a four month old dispute with their billing department so that number was definitely worth pursuing and following up.

All this might seem like a lot of effort to track down who phoned you but it can be worth it if only to identify and filter out the junk callers.

University Twitter

Liz Azyan is well known for her excellent lists of local government and councils using social media but now she has turned her attention to the UK Universities. The List of UK University Twitter Accounts as of 28th July 2009 has  56 accounts so far and as well as the name of the university it includes the ‘bios’. A surprising number don’t have one! In addition there is a University Twitterleague according to number of followers as of 28th July 2009. If your institution is missing from the list either email Liz at research@lizazyan.com or leave your details in the comment box to the posting.

UniversityTwitter

You might also want to check out the  List of UK Universities Fan Pages on Facebook as of 28th July 2009 sorted by number of fans. The top two, and way above the rest, are The Open University (16,913) and Oxford University (14,867). Again email Liz or leave a comment if your university is missing from the list.

Free-to-use images might not be

You may have already read that Google now includes a creative commons license filter option in its Advanced Image search screen. Creative Commons is a series of licenses that can be applied to a variety of works such as images, video and PowerPoint presentations and they specify what you can and cannot do with those works. Information on the licenses can be found on the Creative Commons web site at http://www.creativecommons.org/.

Google does not use the CC terminology but has instead generated a pull down menu with the options: labelled for reuse, labelled for commercial reuse, labelled for reuse for modification,  and labelled for commercial reuse for modification.

GoogleCCImages

There is another option at the top of the list that is the default: not filtered by license. I had to think twice about this one because my first thoughts were that this was for public domain images. It is not. The “not filtered” option is all images. I ran the license options past a few people over the past week and they all immediately assumed that the default option is for images that you can use as you want.  A couple, though, then asked how “labelled for reuse” differed from this and then they became totally confused by the whole thing. To make it worse,  the licenses as listed by Google do not cover all the possible CC license conditions, for example attribution and share alike. So once you have done your search you still have to check the full license for the image that you wish to use. Furthermore, very few people are aware that you have to cite the license and any attribution as requested by the author.

Google says in its help files:

“By returning these search results, Google isn’t making any representation that the linked content is actually or lawfully offered under a Creative Commons license. It’s up to you to verify the terms under which the content is made available and to make your own assessment as to whether these terms are lawfully applied to the content.”

The accuracy and validity of the Google implied license was raised recently in The Register: The tragedy of the Creative Commons . It comments:

“Since there’s no guarantee that the licence really allows you to use the photo as claimed, then the publisher (amateur or professional) must still perform the due diligence they had to anyway. So it’s safer (and quicker) not to use it at all.”

I disagree with that: I recommend using it as a first level filter but then check with the original web site regarding the details of the license. At least you won’t be spending hours wading through “all rights reserved” images.

If you do use the license filter you will notice that many of the photos come from Flickr, which is owned by Yahoo!. Yahoo! has had a Creative Commons filter on its Image Advanced Search screen for a long time but only on the US site, not the UK. A far better way of searching CC Yahoo images is to go straight into Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/.  This gives you a description of the different licenses and you can search images assigned that license. This assumes, of course, that the person who has uploaded the image is the owner of that image and there are stories that this is not always so. But how paranoid do you have to be? With respect to Flickr my approach is to take the photographer’s word for it unless there are serious inconsistencies in their photostream, for example the  meta data associated with the photos suggests that they were in Armenia, New Zealand and Peru on the same day!

So where do you go for images that really are free to use.  There is a trick you can use in Google  to pull up just public domain images. Carry out your search on the standard Image search screen and when the results come up add

&as_rights=cc_publicdomain

to the end of the string in your br0wser address bar, and press enter. (Thanks to Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land for this tip) . The test searches I have tried so far come up with photos from NASA, US government sites and Wikimedia Commons.  NASA is a safe bet for public domain images as are US government web pages, although there are a few exceptions but these are clearly labelled with any copyright restrictions.. A recent spat between Wikimedia Commons and the UK’s National Portrait Gallery  – National Portrait Gallery bitchslaps Wikipedia: Hands off our photos! – has thrown suspicion on the validity of CC and public domain licenses attached to its photos. This appears to have been an isolated incident, though, and the high resolution images have now been removed if you are accessing the site from the UK.

Another source of public domain images is MorgueFile, which is a small database of high resolution photos but you may have to play around with your search terms before you find exactly what you want.

If you are looking for photos of buildings or locations in the UK then head straight for Geograph.  This aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland. Anyone can upload photos provided that they adhere to the guidelines and attach a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Geograph has saved me so much time. A few months ago I was trying to find a photo of the Great Expectations pub in Reading, Berkshire. Google, Yahoo and Live (now Bing) insisted on giving me photos of people reading a copy of  Charles Dickins’s Great Expectations  while sitting in a pub in Berkshire. The image I wanted was probably somewhere in the list but I was not prepared to trawl through hundreds of results to find it. I typed in Great Expectations Reading into Geograph and I was there in a couple of seconds. Brilliant!

GeographGreatExpectations

If you are interested in finding out more about finding and using images head for JISC Digital Media – Still Images.

Ixquick becomes Startpage

Ixquick has changed its name to Startpage. The name and URL may have changed but the technology and way you use it is the same. Ixquick/Startpage is what is sometimes called a meta search engine, which I find misleading. It doesn’t search web page or document meta-data but takes your search and runs it across several tools at once and generates a single list of results. For the Web option it covers All the Web, Ask, Bing, Cuil, EntireWeb, Exalead, Gigablast, Lycos, Open Directory, Qkport, Wikipedia and Yahoo. All are automatically searched by Startpage but you can de-select individual services if you wish. Google is conspicuous by its absence.

The great thing about tools of this kind is that it presents you with a single list gleaned from all of the search tools in the list. The disadvantage is that you cannot always use the advanced features of the individual services, although Startpage does have a go at addressing this. On the home page the Power Search option takes you to a page where there are boxes for “at least one of the words” (OR), “all the words”, “exact phrase” and “without the words”. There is also an expert search link that adds options for text in the title or URL, “at this domain name” (site search), pages “with links to this domain name”, and type of domain name (but only .com, .edu, .gov, .net, .org). Note that there is no filetype search. You can bring this screen up by default when you connect to Startpage by going to My Settings and selecting Expert Search as Homepage search mode.

The site search seems to work well but the link option returns just a fraction of the true results and only displays the top 10. To find pages that link to a domain or specific page, searching direct on Yahoo or Exalead gives far better results.

As well as Web Startpage does video search, which is powered by Blinkx.com, and allows you to restrict your search to categories such as business, news, sport and entertainment. The Pictures (image) option is disappointing and there is no information on which search engines are used to compile the results. The phone number option varies depending on the country you select but again there does not appear to any information on which telephone directories are used. Oddly, there is a “reverse” option to find a name from a telephone number even if you select the UK as a country. When you click on search, though, Startpage says the combination is not valid. Hardly surprising since reverse lookup is not available for public use in the UK.

I don’t generally use tools such as Ixquick/Startpage or Dogpile. If I want to search quickly across multiple search engines I prefer to use something like Zuula or Browsys Advanced Finder and click through the tabs for each tool one by one. There are many people who do use them, though, and Ixquick has often been named as a favourite by people on my Advanced Search workshops. It is all down to what suits you and what works for your type of searches.  From the feedback that I have had over the years Startpage is definitely worth trying.

Google lets you turn off SearchWiki.

At long last Google now lets you turn off SearchWiki. If you don’t know what that is see my posting Begone Searchwiki. You first of all need to be logged into the Google account on which you enabled SearchWiki. Then go to Preferences and tick the SearchWiki box that says “Hide the ability to share, promote, remove, comment, or add your own results.” That’s the good news.

The bad news is that if you have promoted, demoted or deleted results from a search your changes will remain in place every time you log in to your Google account and run a search. You will have to re-enable SearchWiki, run a search and at the bottom of the results page click on “See all my SearchWiki notes”. From there you can undo all of your changes. Then go back into Preferences and disable SearchWiki.

For more details see Search engine land’s Google SearchWiki: You Can ‘Check Out,’ But Your Results Don’t Leave

Bing UK Round Table Meeting

Hashtag: #meetbing

Twelve bloggers, including myself and Phil Bradley, were invited to the round table meeting with Microsoft Bing in London on the evening of June 29th. The aim of the event, according to the email correspondence that preceded it, was to outline Microsoft’s plans for Bing in the UK and to obtain feedback and opinions from us. It wasn’t so much ’round table’ as around several tables. Laptops, netbooks and iphones came out at the start of the meeting and we all jostled for positions near power sockets. We were actively encouraged to tweet and blog before, during and after the event to our respective communities in order to spread the word and to elicit feedback from colleagues and friends. And we were provided with free wi-fi. This was definitely a step in the right direction and very different from similar search engine events that I have attended where you do not get through the door unless you have signed a non-disclosure agreement in blood, and you end up in a room that turns out to be a Faraday cage. So full marks to Microsoft on this aspect of the meeting.

The plan was to have a presentation followed by a break, then another session with, I think, questions and feedback throughout. It started off according to timetable with an outline of what Microsoft is doing with Bing. As many UK searchers had already noticed the US version of Bing is very different from the one we have in the UK, which is still in beta. Microsoft wanted to “get traction” in the US first before developing the other country versions further. For example, they hope to be rolling out spell checking of queries in a few weeks.

They then produced some statistics, one of which stated that only 1 in 4 searches delivers a successful result. I questioned where this data had come from and was told it had been collected from MSN search and the toolbar in IE. This then raised the question of how valid their data really is. It was soon after this that the programme fell apart as the questions started to flow fast and furious.

One question was about the size of the Bing index. The Microsoft people dod not seem too sure about this but came up with a figure of approximately 10 billion pages. This surprised me as there have been several occasions when Live, Bing’s predecessor, has come up with unique pages that were not in either Google’s or Yahoo’s index. The index may be smaller, they said, but they are concentrating on quality – although no clues as to how they are doing that – and using humans and neural networks for “training” the ranking algorithms. They believe they will provide search results as relevant to Google in the UK in a few months. One piece of jargon that went completely over my head was tweeted by @leggetter: Microsoft are using NDCG to determine their search result relevance. If like me you haven’t a clue what that is, take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NDCG. In practice, people don’t care about the technology behind the results they just want relevant stuff on that first page and that is what is going to convince people that Bing is worth using.

Microsoft confirmed that they are concentrating on the consumer market, which is obvious from the “verticals” that they are promoting in the US, for example suggesting hotels, comparing airline flight prices, comparing prices for various products. When I asked if they were going to provide a proper advanced search screen, they repeated their mantra of “concentrating on the consumer market” the implication being that “consumers” don’t need advanced search. I beg to differ. Google and Yahoo’s main audience is the consumer market. That is where they make  their money, but they still have a decent advanced search screen. Yes, you can do advanced search on Bing such as restricting to filetype but you have to know the commands. Most people acquire their searching preferences and skills at school, university, work or in the public library. If you get stuck you ask a colleague, the librarian or someone in the information centre what to do next. They may suggest a different search tool or show you how to use the advanced search screen boxes on Google or Yahoo. Filling in boxes is far easier for many people than having to remember and type in command line prefixes. And what people learn and find useful at school or in the workplace they continue to use when they search at home.

It was around this point in the discussion that Phil Bradley said  “Nothing new here, nothing that excites me, nothing that is innovative”. And I have to agree with him. UK Bing at present is simply a rebadged version of Live.com. The Microsoft people admitted that it is not as good as it  should be but affirmed their commitment to its development long term. We shall have to wait and see. The UK team obviously passionately believes in the product but Microsoft does not have a good track record when it comes to following through on new initiatives. Academic Live was far superior to Google Scholar and its Live Books had content and advanced search features that Google Books did not. Both services were axed in May 2008.

And finally there is the issue of censorship. Phil Bradley has repeatedly raised this with Bing directly, via his blog and on Twitter but so far has had no satisfactory response, and the Bing people at the meeting did not seem to know what is going on. For background on this see Phil’s blog postings The Microsoft Bing MeetingBing: excluding results from UK version? and More on Bing removing UK content.

Overall, I am not sure what to make of the meeting. I suspect that Bing were expecting to be able do a straightforward sales pitch with a few easy questions from a tame audience, which we most definitely were not! I must congratulate the Bing people, though, for the cool way in which they handled the meeting. There was a lot of scribbling of notes on their side and promises to look into our concerns and questions. I had received several questions and comments from friends and colleagues but there was not enough time to raise them at the meeting itself.  Apart from the ridiculously short amount of time available to us  – we had two and a half hours  – there was a mixture of web developers, web 2.0 gurus and serious web searchers (Phil Bradley and myself) at the event and most of us had long lists of questions. I would definitely attend a second meeting but it would be more productive if they had separate events for developers and searchers.

So would I recommend Bing as a search tool? Yes, but purely because I have always included Live.com in my list of essential search engines and Live now redirects to Bing. Bing is different from Live in the way it handles results but for some of my business searches it still sometimes pulls up unique results. (I will look at Bing search results in more detail in a separate posting). Is it a Google beater? I would love to see Bing give Google a run for its money but I can’t see it happening at present.

Other blog postings on the meeting include The Microsoft Bing Meeting, Phil Leggetter – Microsoft Bing.com round table thoughts, Bing Roundtable: Where was the innovation? : David Stuart, Web Reflection: UK Bing Roundtable – Just My Opinion. Apologies if I have missed anyone.

UK Mobile Phone Directory

Update: February 4th, 2010. This directory is no longer available

UK mobile phone numbers are now available in an online directory at http://www.118800.co.uk/, which claims to have 15m numbers in its database. 118 800 obtains the numbers from market research companies who contact individuals and ask if they would be prepared to allow their numbers to be used for commercial purposes, from online businesses who ask customers to opt in their numbers during the course of online transactions, and from brokers who buy and sell lists of phone numbers. To search for a number you just type the name and location of the person into the 118800 website. You may be asked to supply further address details to confirm the identity of the person you wish to contact. 118800 then texts the person you wish to contact asking them if they are prepared to accept the call. The service costs £1.

There have been serious concerns raised about this service and its potential use by spammers, and also about the accuracy of the data. See the BBC web site at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/working_lunch/8091621.stm and also 118 800: First UK mobile phone directory doesn’t connect with us – Crave at CNET UK

If you wish to be ex-directory, go to http://www.118800.co.uk/ then click on ‘Ex Directory’ at top right hand side of the page. You will be asked for your mobile number and to type in letters from a CAPTCHA (those horrible distorted letters and numbers that take at least three attempts before you get it right). You should then receive a text message from 118 800 with a number that you have to type into the 118 800 web site to complete your opt-out. The FAQ says that it can take up to 4 weeks to make you ex-directory (why so long?)

Thanks to Bert Washington, membership secretary of CLSIG (Commercial Legal and Scientific Information Group), for circulating a reminder about the directory.

Meeting with Microsoft Bing

I am attending a round table discussion with Microsoft on Monday 29th June to discuss their new search tool Bing. Phil Bradley will be attending as will other Web 2.0 and Internet commentators. If you have any comments or feedback on Bing, or would like me to ask a question on your behalf, do please let me know.

We are being encouraged to blog, tweet etc the event so set your twitter search, alerting services or whatever to monitor the tag #meetbing

UK Historical Directories and Newspapers

Someone has just contacted me via Facebook asking how they could track down a company in London. Not a difficult piece of research you might say but the time period was the 1890s!

One resource that immediately sprang to mind was the Historical Directories at http://www.historicaldirectories.org/. This is a digital library, maintained by the University of Leicester, of local and trade directories for England and Wales, from 1750 to 1919. It does not attempt to publish every directory available between 1750 and 1919 but what they do have makes fascinating reading.

I first reviewed it in July 2004 and my initial interest was on the business side as I am sometimes asked how to find information on small, local companies going back 50 to 100 years. I quickly discovered, though, that for my own location (Caversham in Berkshire) the Kelly’s directories for 1914 and 1915 included residential listings. I ended up spending hours researching who had lived in my house, who the neighbours had been and their occupations.

There are several search options including a keywords option that lets you search by any combination of location, decade, key name (directory name e.g. Kelly), your own keywords, and with fuzzy logic on or off (off is the default). For my own searches I found it easier to identify directories in my location and then search them individually, but one of the alternative search options may suit you better. For Berkshire I found Kelly’s, Slater’s and Webster’s directories and there is a “Post Office”  directory for Berkshire, Northamptonshire,  Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Huntingdonshire for 1854!

Historical Directories

For each directory there is a Fact File containing bibliographic information and links to the main chapter headings. When you view the pages that match your search criteria your search terms are highlighted.

The site also supports seriously advanced search options (see http://www.historicaldirectories.org/hd/howto/howto7.asp#detailed for details). For a phrase just type in the words next to one another, for example Star Road. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a person their name may appear as surname, middle name(s), first name. For this type of search there is a “within” operator, for example George w/3 Bloggs will look for George within three words of Bloggs in any order. The wildcard is a question mark (?) and replaces a single character. The asterisk replaces 0 or more characters. Wildcards can be used at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a word.

For information on who was hitting the headlines in your town in the 1890s you could try the recently launched British Newspapers 1800-1900 at http://newspapers.bl.uk/blcs/. This covers two million pages of 49 local and national 19th century newspapers. There is a basic search option on the home page but the advanced search enable you to search by keyword, publication date(s), place of publication, section (e.g. people, business), publication frequency and language (English or Welsh).

The problems start with the publications that are covered – only 49. Nothing in Berkshire so this is a non-starter for my own local search. Note also that you have to pay to view most of the articles. A 24 hour pass costs £6.99 and allows you to view up to 100 articles. A seven day pass costs £9.99 and gives you 200 article views.

I could not find out what the buzz was in Reading and Caverhsam in the 1800s from the British Library newspaper archive  (perhaps there wasn’t any!),  but what do the directories have to say? According to the 1854 Post Office directory:

“BERKSHIRE, sometimes called Barkshire, and for shortness Berks or Barks, is a southern inland shire, on the south or left bank of the navigable Thames, which forms its northern boundmark, and in the valley of which it lies, approaching within twenty miles of London, and in the middle between the mouth of the Thames at the North Sea and the Bristol Channel. The shire is of very irregular shape…”

And who did live in my house in 1914/1915? Number 88 Star Road, or number 6 Webb’s Cottages as it then was, was home to Charles Herbert and his wife Mary who was a shopkeeper. Neighbours included a wheelwright, carpenter, window cleaner, builder, two pub landlords and an insurance agent. Apart from the wheelwright, not very different from today’s residents!