Tag Archives: Google

Google’s ‘daterange:’ command gone for good

It looks as though Google’s daterange: command really has gone for good. Over the last 6 months it has been a case of “now it works, now it doesn’t” but I’ve been testing it regularly over the past couple of months and it seems to have permanently stopped working . People have been reporting the problem in various forums since the start of this year.

So why bother using “daterange:” instead of the date/time option under Search tools? Because the latter does not work with Verbatim. It doesn’t happen often but there are occasions when I need Google to search using my terms exactly as I have typed them without any omissions or variations AND limit the search to a specified time period. The only way to do that was to first run the search with the daterange included in the string and then apply Verbatim to the results.

It is getting to the point where  Google is totally useless for advanced, focussed research. What will be next for the chop? filetype? site? If you haven’t done so already, it is time to learn how to use the alternative search tools. Cue blatant plug for my September workshop with UKeiG : Essential non-Google search tools !

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.

Ben_Nevis_1

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’?

Ben-Nevis-3

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.

Ben-Nevis-4

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

Ben-Nevis-Bing-UK

Bing US

Bing-Ben-Nevis-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.

Ben-Nevis-WA

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

Advanced Google workshop – Top Tips

This collection of Top Tips is a combined list nominated by those who attended the UKeiG workshop on “New Google, New Challenges”. The next UKeiG Google workshop will be run on 8th September 2016.

1. Do not trust Google’s facts and answers
Google tries to provide facts and quick answers to your queries at the top and to the right of your results. These are computer generated extracts from pages and several different sources may be used to produce an “answer”. They are sometimes misleading or completely wrong. At the time of writing, the answer provided for a search on frugivore is an excellent example. (It explains why your cat is so fussy over its food – it is obviously craving its 5 a Day!) Always go to the original source to double check the information, but this is not always provided by Google.

2. Country versions of Google and /ncr
Country versions of Google give priority to the local content. This is a useful strategy when searching for research groups, companies and people that are active or working in a particular country. Use the standard ISO two letter country code, for example http://www.google.fr/ for Google France, http://www.google.it/ for Google Italy.

It is also worth trying your search in Google.com. Your results will probably be more international or US focused but you may see new search features or layouts in Google.com that are not yet available elsewhere. If Google insists on redirecting you to your own country version, go to the bottom right hand corner of the Google home page and you should see a link to Google.com. If there is no link then add ‘/ncr’ to the Google URL, for example http://www.google.com/ncr .

The downside of using country versions of any search tool is that the prioritised information is likely to be in the local language.

3. Search history
Your search history, which is recorded and available for you to view if you are signed in to your Google account, is used by Google to help personalise your results but it can also be useful as a record of past searches. If a user comes back to you having forgotten or lost the search and documents you gave them your search history should be able to help you find both. On any search results page click on the cog wheel in the upper right hand area of the screen and select History. You can then browse your history or select a date from the calendar (upper right and area of the History screen).

4. Verbatim
This is an essential tool for making Google carry out your search the way you want it run. Google automatically looks for variations on your terms and sometimes drops terms from your search, which is not always helpful. To use Verbatim, first run your search. Then click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu that runs across the top of your results page. A second row of options should appear. Click on ‘All results’ and from the drop down menu select Verbatim. Google will then search for your terms without any variations or omissions. Note that Google will search for documents and pages in which the words appear in any order. If you are searching on the title of a paper place the title within double quote marks to force an exact phrase match. If Google still alters your search then run Verbatim. 

Verbatim-Factsheet
If you are carrying out in-depth research it is worth trying out Verbatim even if the “normal” Google results seem OK. You may see very different and possibly more relevant content.

5. filetype: command.
An important advanced search command that is available not only in Google but in many alternative search tools. Use the filetype: command to limit your research to PowerPoint for presentations, spreadsheets for data and statistics, or PDF for research papers and industry/government reports.

For example:

plasmonic nanoparticles filetype:ppt

The command must be all lower case and there must be no spaces between the colon and the command or the file extension, otherwise Google will treat the command as a searchable word. Also you must search for pre and post Office 2007 file extensions separately as Google does not automatically pick up both.

For example

plasmonic nanoparticles filetype:ppt OR filetype:pptx

Note that Google’s Advanced Search screen pull down menu for filetype: only searches for pre Office 2007 extensions.

6. Minus sign to exclude information
Use the minus sign immediately before a term to exclude documents containing that term, but use with care as you may lose valuable information. It can also be used with commands to exclude file formats or websites from your search.

For example:

occupational asthma UK site:gov.uk -site:hse.gov.uk
-site:nationalarchives.gov.uk

7. Combine search commands
Combine multiple commands such as filetype: and site: to focus your search. Use the OR command to search for alternatives, for example:

occupational asthma UK site:ac.uk filetype:ppt OR filetype:pptx

8.Personalise Google News
Personalise Google News (http://news.google.co.uk) page when signed in to your account  and change what content is automatically displayed or add your own searches. Click on the Personalise button at the top of the right hand column. 

9. Google Scholar Cite feature
Click on the Cite link under a reference in Google Scholar and Google will give you options to import a citation in MLA, APA, Chicago, Harvard or Vancouver style into BibTex, EndNote, RefMan or RefWorks. Note that if the article is only available online you may need to add a doi or a URL, and the date of access.

10. Use Google site: search on Google scholar
This is one I had not thought of but was recommended by one of the delegates as a way of using Google’s advanced search commands on Google Scholar instead of Scholar’s own. (I have not had time to test this one out myself).

Google advanced search – get it right!

When running advanced search workshops, and especially Google sessions, I prefer not to dwell on commands and search options that are no longer supported. They are gone and that is that, and it is far better to concentrate on how to get the best out of what is left. Of course it is unavoidable when your slides have been prepared several days before the event and  Google decides to pull the plug on one of your favourite search features just before you start! Similarly I tend not to show “this is how NOT to use….” a command  or incorrect syntax. It is often the incorrect format that one remembers.  Recently, though, I have added slides  to my presentations that cover both defunct commands and errors in syntax and format.

The problem is that not only are many people unaware that some search options are no longer available but also some fact sheets and articles covering advanced search are getting it wrong. The recent Guardian article on top search tips for Google almost got it right  but referred to the tilde, which was dropped in 2013, and did not really understand how Google automatically looks for synonyms and variations on a term (see my earlier blog posting Guardian’s top search tips for Google not quite tiptop). I have also seen a couple of recently produced Google  fact sheets riddled with mistakes.

The wonderful thing about Google is that it can take the most tortuous and error ridden search string and still come back with something that is sensible – most of the time.  The downside of this is that one assumes the search query has worked as intended when in fact Google has totally rewritten the search for you.  At some point, though, Google will rewrite the search in such a way that it brings back rubbish. So, it is important to know what commands are available and how they should be used.

Let’s get started.

Plus (+) sign before a word to force an exact match.

This was discontinued in October 2011 because Google intended to use it as a way to search for Google+ pages. That has been abandoned and it is now a searchable character.  If you want to force an exact match search on a term precede the term with intext: for example intext:agriculture.

I have also seen examples claiming that a plus sign between words acts as a Boolean AND. No, it doesn’t.  If you do get different results when using + it is because Google is searching for that as well as your terms.

Tilde  (~) for synonyms

This was withdrawn in  June 2013  because not many people used it and it was no longer needed. Google now looks for synonyms by default.

thesaurus: for alternative terms

‘thesaurus:’ sort of works because Google treats ‘thesaurus’, having ignored the colon,  as a search term. So ‘thesaurus:eclectic’ will give you links to pages and websites of dictionaries and definitions that give synonyms for eclectic. It does not give you a straightforward list of alternatives in the same way that ‘define’ does. If you use thesaurus  you have to go the websites in turn to view the synonyms.

eclectic-thesaurus

eclectic-define

The asterisk *

The asterisk (*) is a placeholder for terms between two words e.g. solar * panels finds solar photovoltaic panels, solar PV panels, solar thermal panels. It is NOT a truncation symbol. Again, you might think it is because Google ignores the asterisk and automatically looks for  words that begin with the letters you have typed in.

The example I gave in my earlier blog posting was a search on phenobarb*. I expected Google to pick up references to phenobarbitone. It picked up 76,000 results including phenobarbital but there was no mention of phenobarbitone in the first 100.  Phenobarb without the asterisk picked up the exact same results.  A search on phenobarbitone, with and without the asterisk came up with 241,000 results. I have no idea how or when Google decides to stop looking for variations on your string but it is obvious from the above example that the asterisk is not a truncation symbol.

Do NOT capitalise the first letter of commands, and NO spaces

Commands such as intitle:, intext:, filetype: and site: must be all lower case and NO spaces between the colon and the search term. Capitalise the first letter or add a space after the colon or both and Google treats the command as an ordinary searchable word.

The correct format for an intitle: search is, for example, intitle:caversham and finds the following:

Google_Intitle_Correct

Capitalise the first letter of the command or insert a space or both and you find:

Google_Intitle_WrongI do understand why so many fact sheets, and presentations, show commands with an initial capital letter. You spend ages preparing your information and when you have sent off your slides for printing or converted your document to a PDF you discover that Microsoft Office has changed the format of the command. Because your search example is on a separate line with the command at the start Office, bless it, decides to auto-correct and capitalise the first letter. I know, it has happened to me! So, please, check and double check your support materials.

Google searches for all of your terms by default

Not always. If your search, as it stands, finds zero or a low number of results then Google will drop one or more terms that are usually shown as strikethroughs.  In the above screenshot you can see that the third entry in the results has a “Missing: caversham” at the end of the snippet.

If Google is dropping a term that is essential to your search then prefix it with intext:, for example intext:caversham. If you want all of your terms to be included, and without any variations, then use the Verbatim search option.  If you are using a desktop or laptop run your search and then click on the Search tools option at top of your results. A second line of options will appear. Click on All results and select Verbatim.  The layout and location of Verbatim on mobile devices will usually be different.

Double quotation marks around phrases

Double quotation marks around phrases, titles of papers, song titles, famous sayings etc. works most of the time. But, again, if Google finds zero or only a handful of results it will ignore the marks. Google may also alter the spelling of one or more words within the double quotation marks. Use Verbatim if you are sure that the phrase is correct and you want to bring Google to heel.

Full nested Boolean search

Google has NEVER supported full nested Boolean search. I still meet people who are adamant that Google does, but when pushed they admit that they often get unexpected results.  You can , though, use OR for alternative terms and the minus sign before a term to exclude documents containing that term.

This is how Google interprets the search (confectionery OR chocolate) AND (production OR manufacture) AND (france OR Germany OR UK OR switzerland) NOT belgium

Google_Boolean

Note that pages containing Belgium are included rather than excluded.

Remove the ‘NOT Belgium’ and this is what we see:

Google_Boolean_2

Add ‘-belgium’ to the end of the search instead of ‘NOT belgium’ and we get:

Google_Boolean_3

Running Verbatim on our original Boolean search shows that Google is treating AND and NOT as lower case, searchable words:

Google_Boolean_Verbatim

If you really want to use full Boolean, then get thee hence to Bing.

If you want to learn more about Google search Dan Russell, who works at Google,  is currently running an online course on Power Searching with Google.  Alternatively, if you want a more business or academic research and UK/European oriented workshop on what Google can do I am running an advanced Google workshop with UKeiG on April 13th, 2016.

Google’s Knowledge Graph a total fruitcake

Many thanks to Emily Scott who alerted me on Twitter to a priceless example of Google Knowledge Graph getting it totally wrong.

For those of you who don’t know what the Knowledge Graph is, it is the box that sometimes appears on the right hand side of your results, which pulls together information on your topic from a variety of sources.  To quote Search Engine Land it is “a system that Google launched in May 2012 that understands facts about people, places and things and how these entities are all connected“. The problem is that Google quite often gets it wrong, although usually it is just one fact that is incorrect. One of the more well know examples is when Google decided that the American author Robert Greene was born in 1959 but died in 1592. It had confused him with the the 16th century English writer of the same name. As I always say in my Google workshops, never trust the information that appears in the Knowledge Graph.  The data comes from different sources that may be referring to entities that are not related at all.

The example that Emily encountered, though, is in a league of its own. She was searching for frugivores (fruit eaters) and this is what Google’s Knowledge Graph suggested:

Google_Frugivore

As far as I am aware fruit is not the preferred food of wolves, cats or lions.  Clicking on the “View 45+more” option for representative species we see that Google is under the impression that cheetahs, killer whales, polar bears and leopards are also frugivores.

Google_Frugivore_2

I’ll allow raccoons although I wouldn’t say that fruit is their preferred food. But, hey, what do I know about raccoons other than that my US friends tell me the little s***s raid trash cans and will eat anything they can get their paws on.

No doubt someone has already reported the error via the feedback link and someone at Google is busy correcting it. Enjoy and take screenshots while it is still there.

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  http://www.slideshare.net/BodStaffDev/karen-blakeman

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 http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/karenblakeman-2553775-google-answer-life-universe-everything/

UKeiG Article: New Google, New Challenges

From "Introducing Spot", Boston Dynamics, Introducing Spot - YouTube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8YjvHYbZ9w
From “Introducing Spot”, Boston Dynamics, Introducing Spot – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8YjvHYbZ9w

My article on major changes at Google, “New Google, New Challenges”, is now available in UKeiG’s latest issue of eLucidate at http://www.cilip.org.uk/uk-einformation-group/elucidate-ukeigs-journal/elucidate-current-issue/new-google-new-challenges

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.

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 (http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2010/12/13/x-factor-web-pages-are-advanced-says-googles-reading-level/).

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.

And you thought Google couldn’t get any worse

We’ve all come across examples of how Google can get things wrong: incorrect supermarket opening hours (http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2015/01/02/google-gets-it-wrong-again/), false information and dubious sources used in Quick Answers (http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2014/12/08/the-quality-of-googles-results-is-becoming-more-strained/), authors who die 400 years before they are born (http://googlesystem.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/google-knowledge-graph-gets-confused.html), a photo of the actress Jane Seymour ending up in a carousel of Henry VIII’s wives (http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/09/23/google_henry_viii_wives_jane_seymour_reveals_search_engine_s_blind_spots.html) and many more. What is concerning is that in many cases no source is given. According to Search Engine Land (http://searchengineland.com/google-shows-source-credit-quick-answers-knowledge-graph-203293) Google doesn’t provide a source link when the information is basic factual data and can be found in many places. But what if the basic factual data is wrong? It is worrying enough that incorrect or poor quality information is being presented in the Quick Answers at the top of our results and in the Knowledge Graph to the right, but the rot could spread to the main results.

An article in New Scientist (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22530102.600-google-wants-to-rank-websites-based-on-facts-not-links.html) suggests that Google may be looking at significantly changing the way in which it ranks websites by counting the number of false facts in a source and ranking by “truthfulness”. The article cites a paper by Google employees that has appeared in arXiv (http://arxiv.org/abs/1502.03519) “Knowledge-Based Trust: Estimating the Trustworthiness of Web Sources”. It is heavy going so you may prefer to stick with just abstract:

“The quality of web sources has been traditionally evaluated using exogenous signals such as the hyperlink structure of the graph. We propose a new approach that relies on endogenous signals, namely, the correctness of factual information provided by the source. A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy. The facts are automatically extracted from each source by information extraction methods commonly used to construct knowledge bases. We propose a way to distinguish errors made in the extraction process from factual errors in the web source per se, by using joint inference in a novel multi-layer probabilistic model. We call the trustworthiness score we computed Knowledge-Based Trust (KBT). On synthetic data, we show that our method can reliably compute the true trustworthiness levels of the sources. We then apply it to a database of 2.8B facts extracted from the web, and thereby estimate the trustworthiness of 119M webpages. Manual evaluation of a subset of the results confirms the effectiveness of the method.”

If this is implemented in some way, and based on Google’s track record so far, I dread to think how much more time we shall have to spend on assessing each and every source that appears in our results. It implies that if enough people repeat something on the web it will deemed to be true and trustworthy, and that pages containing contradictory information may fall down in the rankings. The former is of concern because it is so easy to spread and duplicate mis-information throughout the web and social media. The latter is of concern because a good scientific review on a topic will present all points of view and inevitably contain multiple examples of contradictory information. How will Google allow for that?

It will all end in tears – ours, not Google’s.

Google gets it wrong again

Yesterday, on New Year’s Day, I came across yet another example of Google getting its Knowledge Graph wrong. I wanted to double check which local shops were open and the first one on the list was Waitrose. I vaguely recalled seeing somewhere that the supermarket would be closed on January 1st but a Google search on waitrose opening hours caversham suggested otherwise. Google told me in its Knowledge Graph to the right of the search results that Waitrose was in fact open.

Waitrose New Years Day Opening according to Google

Knowing that Google often gets things wrong in its Quick Answers and Knowledge Graph I checked the Waitrose website. Sure enough, it said “Thursday 01 Jan: CLOSED”.

Waitrose New Year opening hours according to Waitrose

If you look at the above screenshot of the opening times you will see that there are two tabs: Standard and Seasonal. Google obviously used the Standard tab for its Knowledge Graph.

I was at home working from my laptop but had I been out and about I would have used my mobile, so I checked what that would have shown me. Taking up nearly all of the  screen was a map showing the supermarket’s location and the times 8:00 am – 9:00 pm. I had to scroll down to see the link to the Waitrose site so I might have been tempted to rely on what Google told me on the first screen. But I know better. Never trust Google’s Quick Answers or Knowledge Graph.