Tag Archives: Bing

Don’t expect advanced search features to exist forever

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the problems I was having with Google Verbatim (Google Verbatim on the way out?). This morning I ran through a checklist of commands that I am demonstrating in a webinar and it seems that Verbatim is back working as it should. Don’t hold your breath, though. Three times this year I have seen Google Verbatim disappear or do strange things and a couple weeks later return to normal. Verbatim may be here to stay or it may not, but you cannot depend on many advanced search commands to always work as you expect. So either learn different ways of making Google treat your search in the way you require or use a different search engine.

Unfortunately, disappearing or unreliable functionality is not confined to just Google. Bing used to have a very useful proximity command that allowed you to specify how close you wanted your words to be to one another. The “near:n”  operator is still listed in Bing’s list of advanced search commands and, although it seems to do something and reduce the number of results, it does not behave as described.

There is also the endangered list such as DuckDuckGo’s sort by date option. In fact all of DuckDuckGo’s web search options will probably soon change or disappear as it is currently powered by Yahoo! which has been bought by Verizon. Who will DuckDuckGo turn to if Verizon does combine Yahoo with AOL as has been stated in the press?

Get to know several different search tools really well and, for the ones that you use regularly, find out how they work and who provides the search results.


Searching for the height of Ben Nevis – how hard can it be?

If you have attended one of my recent search workshops, or glanced through the slides, you will have noticed that I have a new test query: the height of Ben Nevis. It didn’t start out as a test search but as a genuine query from me.  A straightforward search, I thought, even for Google.

I typed in the query ‘height of ben nevis’ and across the top of the screen Google emblazoned the answer: 1345 metres.  That sort of rang a bell and sounded about right, but as with many of Google’s Quick Answers there was no source and I do like to double or even triple check anything that Google comes up with.


To the right of the screen was a Google Knowledge Graph with an extract from Wikipedia telling me that Ben Nevis stands at not 1345 but 1346 metres above sea level. Additional information below that says the mountain has an elevation of 1345 metres and a prominence of 1344 metres (no sources given). I know have three different heights – and what is ‘prominence’?


After a little more research I discovered that prominence is not the same as elevation, but I shall leave  you to investigate that for yourselves if you are interested. The main issue for me was that Google was giving me at least three slightly different answers for the height of Ben Nevis, so it was time to read some of the results in full.

Before I got around to clicking on the first of the two articles at the top of the results, alarm bells started ringing.  One of the metres to feet conversions in the snippets did not look right.

Height of Ben Nevis search results 3

So I ran my own conversions for both sets of metres to feet and in the other direction (feet to metres):

1344m = 4409.499ft, rounded down to 4409ft

4406ft = 1342.949m, rounded up to 1343m

1346m = 4416.01ft, rounded down to 4416ft

4414ft = 1345.387m, rounded down to 1345m

As if finding three different heights was not bad enough, it seems that the contributors to the top two articles are incapable of carry out simple ft/m conversions, but I suspect that  a rounding up and rounding down of the figures before the calculations were carried out is the cause of the discrepancies.

The above results came from a search on Google.co.uk. Google.com gave me similar results but with a Quick Answer in feet, not metres.


We still do not have a reliable answer regarding the height of Ben Nevis.

Three articles below the top two results were from BBC News, The Guardian and Ordnance Survey – the most relevant and authoritative for this query –  and were about the height of Ben Nevis having been remeasured earlier this year using GPS. The height on the existing Ordnance Survey maps had been given as 1344m but the more accurate GPS measurements came out at 1344.527m or 4411ft 2in. The original Ordnance Survey article explains that this is only a few centimetres different from the earlier 1949 assessment but it means that the final number has had to be rounded up rather than down. The official height on OS maps has therefore been increased from 1344m to 1345m.  So Google’s Quick Answer at the top of the results page was indeed correct.

Why make a fuss about what are, after all, relatively small variations in the figures? Because there is one official height for the mountain and one of the three figures that Google was giving me (1346m) was neither the current nor the previous height. Looking at the commentary behind the Wikipedia article, which gave 1346m, it seems that the contributors were trying to reconcile the height in metres with the height in feet but carrying out the conversion using rounded up or rounded down figures. As one of my science teachers taught me long ago, you should always carry forward to the next stage of your calculations as many figures after the decimal point as possible. Only when you get to the end do you round up or down, if it is appropriate to do so. And imagine if your Pub Quiz team lost the local championship because you had correctly answered 1345m  to this question but the MC  had 1346m down as the correct figure? There’d be a riot if not all out war!

That’s what Google gave us. How did Bing fare?

The US and UK versions of Bing gave results that looked very similar to Google’s but  with two different quick answers in feet, and neither gave sources:

Bing UK


Bing US


I won’t bore you with all of the other search tools that I tried except for Wolfram Alpha. This gave me 1343 meters or 4406 ft. At least the conversion is correct but there is no direct information on where the data has been taken from.


The sources link was of no help whatsoever and referred me to the home pages of the sites and not the Ben Nevis specific data. On some of the sites, when I did find the Ben Nevis pages, the figures were different from those shown by Wolfram Alpha so I have no idea how Wolfram arrived at 1343 meters.

So, the answer to my question “How high is Ben Nevis?” is 1344.527m rounded up on OS maps to 1345m.

And the main lessons from this exercise are:

  1. Never trust the quick answers or knowledge graphs from any of the search engines, especially if no source is given. But you knew that anyway, didn’t you?
  2. If you are seeing even small variations in the figures, and there are calculations or conversions involved, double check them yourself.
  3. Don’t skim read the results and use information highlighted in the snippets – read the full articles and from more than one source.
  4. Make sure that the articles you use are not just copying what others have said.
  5. Try and find the most relevant and authoritative source for your query, and ideally a primary source. In this case it was Ordnance Survey. GB officially taller – Ben Nevis  https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/about/news/2016/gb-officially-taller-ben-nevis.html

Bing extends date search option

Bing has at last extended its date search options. Until recently one could only limit results to the past 24 hours, past week or the past month, and then only in Bing US.  Bing has now added a custom range on a par with Google.


The UK version of Bing has not had a date option until now but bizarrely has added the old, limited US selection.

Bing-Date-UK-2It seems very strange that they haven’t implemented the full US list. One can but hope that it will happen soon rather than in several years time, which is how long it has taken for this version to appear in Bing UK.

Is Bing dropping search terms?

Google has been automatically dropping terms from searches that give few or no results for some time. It now looks as though Bing may be doing the same. Unfortunately I cannot give the details of the search that brought this to light as it was confidential research. In general, though, what we were searching for were announcements or news articles about two companies involved in a particular project. We hadn’t found anything in Google so we tried various alternative search engines including Bing (http://www.bing.com/). The results seemed quite promising until we started looking at the individual pages. None of them had all of our terms. It is possible that the missing terms appeared in links to the pages but the content of the documents suggested that this was unlikely, and there is no reliable free tool that shows you who is linking to a specific page. So it looks as though Bing is now dropping terms in the same way that Google does.

There are two ways to stop Bing doing this. The first is to use the Boolean AND operator between all of your terms. The second is to prefix the term that must be present in a document with ‘inbody:’, for example inbody:aardvark.

Did we find anything that answered our question? No, but sometimes I don’t expect to and it is frustrating when the search engine thinks it knows best and unilaterally decides to rewrite the search strategy.

For a list of all of the Bing advanced search commands go to http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff795620.aspx

Compare Google and Bing results with Bingiton

Bingiton comparison results

Just over a year ago Bing launched a website called Bingiton (http://www.bingiton.com/), which enabled you to compare search results from Google and Bing side by side and then decide which set was best. You had to run five searches and then Bingiton told you which search engine you had chosen for each. After a couple of weeks the site was restricted to US users but it has now been relaunched in the UK.

The principle remains the same: you type in five searches, Bingiton displays the two sets of results side by side, and you decide which you prefer or go for the draw option (“can’t decide”).

I ran several batches of searches through Bingiton and Google won 4 of the rounds. The fifth, which consisted of searches for cake and jam recipes, was a draw with me being unable to decide. Two other rounds had to be declared null and void because “Scholarly articles” links (Google Scholar) appeared at the top of one set of results indicating that they were from Google. Another included what was obviously a Google map!


For me Bing seemed to be better at recipes and shopping enquiries than research oriented queries. Google consistently came out on top for local information and current news. Phil Bradley has also blogged about Bingiton (http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2013/10/bings-bing-it-on-challenge-returns-to-the-uk.html) and invited people to comment on their own results. It is an interesting mix and Google does not always win or win outright. Take the Bingiton challenge yourself at http://www.bingiton.com/.

Bing adds Creative Commons search to images

Bing has added public domain and Creative Commons options to its image search but only if it thinks you are in the US. This is a feature that Google has long offered as part of its image advanced search but Bing have only recently added it as an option. If you are looking for an image to include in a presentation, article or promotional literature you have to make sure that the copyright license allows you to do that. Get it wrong and you could be on the wrong end of a very expensive law suit (Bloggers Beware: You CAN Get Sued For Using Pics on Your Blog http://www.roniloren.com/blog/2012/7/20/bloggers-beware-you-can-get-sued-for-using-pics-on-your-blog.html). Images that are in the public domain give you free rein to do whatever you want with them but it can be difficult to find photos that match your requirements. You may have more luck with Creative Commons images.

Bing image search now has an option to restrict your search to a specific license, but only if you are using the US version of the search engine. For those of us outside of the US we have to change our ‘country/region’. Bing frequently introduces new search options that are only available on the US version. They obviously think that the rest of the world is irrelevant.


On Bing’s home page you should see in the upper right hand corner of the screen a ‘Sign in’ option and a cog wheel. Click on the wheel to go to the settings page where you will see an option to change your location. Click on ‘Change your country/region” and select ‘United States- English’. Then head off to Bing images.

Run your search and running across the top of the results page you should see a menu with ‘License’ at the end of it. Click on this and a drop down menu will appear with options such as ‘Public domain’, ‘Free to share and use’, ‘Free to modify, share and use commercially’.


Select the license you need and only images with that license will be included in the results. In the example below I have run a search on Caversham, which is where I live, and selected the ‘Free to share and use’ license. The results include one of my own Flickr photos of Queen Anne’s school.


I have a major problem with the terminology used by Bing to describe some of the licenses, and it is also a problem with Google. Misunderstanding the terms of the license could land you in serious trouble and both Bing’s and Google’s descriptions can be confusing and misleading. ‘Free to modify, share and use commercially’ is straightforward. You can modify the image, share it and even use it as part of commercial publication, brochure, website or whatever. But what about ‘Free to share and use’? I often run this one past people in my workshops and seminars, many of whom are not familiar with copyright. Usually, their immediate response is that they can share and use it however they want, even commercially. Then there might be a pause and someone will ask “What’s the difference between that license and ‘Free to modify, share and use commercially”. A great deal, and a substantial dent in your finances if someone decides to sue you for copyright infringement, but to most people it is not obvious. It wasn’t obvious to me the first time I saw the options! ‘Free to share and use’ is only allowed for non-commercial purposes. Is it so difficult to add ‘non-commercial’ to the description?

Always click through to the original source of the image. If it is a Flickr photo the copyright license will be clear. My photo of Queen Anne’s school is indeed Creative Commons free to share and use, but non-commercially and with attribution (you are required to credit me as the photographer). You may also find that the license that Bing or Google indicates is associated with an image may not be correct. On many occasions I have identified, via Google, an appropriately licensed image for a presentation or paper only to discover that it was ‘all rights reserved’ and that the Creative Commons license referred to another image on the page. If in doubt, ask. And if you cannot identify who is responsible, or they do not respond to your emails then do not use it.

If you are wondering where Google’s image license options are, they are on the advanced search screen. You first have to run your search in Google images and then click on the cog wheel in the upper right hand area of the results page.


Select ‘Advanced search’ and on the next screen go down to almost the bottom of the page and ‘Usage rights’. Click on the downward pointing arrow next to ‘not filtered by license’ and select the license you require. By the way, ‘not filtered by license’  does not mean public domain – it covers every image that Google has indexed regardless of whether it is all rights reserved or completely free to use.


And finally, if the perfect image for your project is all rights reserved do not despair. Contact the owner of the photo. If it is a worthy project or a local community cause they may give you a free license.

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 (http://millionshort.com/). 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.” (http://www.webmonkey.com/2012/05/million-short-a-search-engine-for-the-very-long-tail/).

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 http://www.millionshortiton.com/index.html. 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.

Presentation: Search Turns Social – Resistance is Futile

The presentation I gave to CILIP in Hants & Wight yesterday (Search Turns Social – Resistance is Futile) is now available on authorSTREAM at http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/karenblakeman-1392940-search-turns-social-resistance-futile/

It is also available on Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/KarenBlakeman/search-turns-social-resistance-is-futile and temporarily on my web site at http://www.rba.co.uk/as/

Bing becomes more like Google and personalises

So you thought you could escape filtering and personalisation of search results by fleeing Google and running into the arms of Bing? Afraid not. Bing has announced that it is rolling out a new personalisation feature called adaptive search. Details are on Bing’s blog Adapting Search to You (http://www.bing.com/community/site_blogs/b/search/archive/2011/09/14/adapting-search-to-you.aspx). According to Bing the “more you search, the more Bing can learn”.

The feature is being rolled out first in the US and is cookie based. The cookie and personalisation lasts for 28 days if you are not signed in to Bing and 18 months if you are. You can clear and turn off your search history at any time.

Bing seems to be trying to be more and more like Google all the time. I tried one of my test searches on Hewish mild and Bing did a Google on me by unilaterally deciding to include results for Jewish mild in my results. Placing a plus sign before Hewish did force an exact match but the related searches it offered me all involved Jewish – Jewish Chronicle, Jewish jokes, Jewish festivals etc. Yahoo does exactly the same, which is not surprising since it uses the Bing database and search algorithms.


Google Images rolls out (very slowly) Bing-like results

Google has rolled out Bing style results for its image search. If you have never used Bing Image search take a look now. Several people in my latest search workshop loved it so much that they included it in their top search tips (http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2010/07/16/top-search-tips-14th-july-2010-workshop/). Bing Images results do not do page by page results: Bing Images does continuous scroll. As you move down through the results more images are loaded, and more, and more. There is no click “next page” to distract you. And now Google has copied the style… sort of.

I have several problems with Google’s new image results layout. The first thing that struck me was that the images are all crammed in side by side to neatly fill the rows. Have the images been cropped to obtain the desired effect or have they been selected by dimensions, rather than relevance, to fill the ‘mosaic’? Bing has four images in each row regardless of their relative dimensions so there is more white space between the images, which is easier on the eye. Google’s display makes me feel as though I’m in a jam-packed standard class commuter train carriage: Bing is the more spacious, relaxed first class.

Neither Google nor Bing display by default image information, but you only need to hover over the image in which you are interested to see further details. The information is almost the same in both but Bing has an additional option to look for more sizes. The size option is great if you want to use an image but do not want to have the trouble of re-scaling it for your particular application. But not all images are available in ‘more sizes’. It depends on whether or not other web pages have reproduced the image with different dimensions. If you own a particular image with strict copyright protection and you know you have only posted a specific size on one page, this can be a useful tool in tracking down copyright violations.

When it comes to scrolling down through your results, Google seems to have lost the plot. Work your way down through the results on Bing and the display smoothly unfolds. Google’s is stop start stop…….start, stop. And it is so sloooooooow. I can almost hear the cog wheels clanking. Another distraction in Google is that batches of images are separated by the text  ‘page 2’, ‘page 3’, ‘page 4’ etc. Why? The whole point of continuous scrolling of results is that there are no pages of results.

As a comparison, here are Google’s results for an image search of Blackpool Tower:

Google Images Rfesults New Display

Here are Bing’s results:

Bing Image Results Display

Bing is so much faster, smoother and slicker.

When it comes to clicking through on an image Google almost wins. Google gives you a background of the web page and superimposed upon that is the full size image. To the right is information about the image with the warning “This image may be subject to copyright”.

Google Images Display

Bing’s does not have the same initial impact, but it does display a scrollable list of thumbnails of your search results to the left of the screen. This is very useful if the image you have selected turns out not to be exactly what you need and you want to review the alternatives.

Bing Images Display

Who wins? It has to be Bing. It is much faster, easier on the eye, has equally relevant results and  has an extra ‘more sizes’ option. And finally… it just feels right.