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.
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.
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.
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.
These Top Ten search tips comes from an advanced workshop I recently ran for a group in Oxford. If this is the first Top Tips that you have read on this blog, a few words of explanation as to how these are generated. These are not my own personal tips but are nominated by people who have attended my full day workshops and tried out the various commands and techniques during the practical sessions.
The participants on this particular workshop were experienced, heavy duty researchers so I was keen to see what they came up with.
This is a regular in the Top Ten lists on this blog. It is an essential tool for making Google behave and forcing it to run your search the way you want it run but is well hidden. Google automatically looks for variations on your terms and sometimes drops terms from the search. To make Google carry out your search exactly as you have typed it in, first run your search, then click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above your results. In the second line of options that appears click on ‘All results’ and from the drop down menu select Verbatim. This is very useful when searching for an article by title and Google decides to ignore the double quote marks, which it sometimes does if it thinks you don’t have enough results. If you are carrying out in-depth research it is worth using Verbatim even if your “normal” Google results seem to be OK. You may see very different content in your results list.
2. site: search and -site:
Use the site: command to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:ac.uk for UK academic websites, or to search inside a large rambling site. If you prefer you can use the Advanced search screen at http://www.google.co.uk/advanced_search and fill in the site or domain box. You can also use -site: to exclude sites from your search.
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.
4. Asterisk * betweem terms
Use the asterisk between two words to stand in for 1-5 words. This is useful if you want two of your keywords close to one another but suspect that there may often be one or two words separating them. For example solar * panels will find solar photovoltaic panels, solar water heating panels etc.
5. Numeric range search
This command is unique to Google. Use it for anything to do with numbers – years, temperatures, weights, distances, prices etc. Simply type in your two numbers separated by two full stops as part of your search. For example to limit your search forecasts covering a future time period.
6. Incognito/private browsing
Even if you are not signed in to a Google account, Google personalises your results according to your search and browsing behaviour using the cookies that are stored on your computer. If you want to burst out of the filter bubble, as it is often called, use a private browser window or incognito (Chrome). Google will then ignore tracking and search cookies on your machine. To call up a private browser or incognito window use the following keys:
Chrome – Ctrl+Shift+N
FireFox – Ctrl+Shift+P
Internet Explorer – Ctrl+Shift+P
7. Public Data explorer The Public Data Explorer is one of Google’s best kept secrets. It can be found at http://www.google.com/publicdata/ and allows you to search open data sets from organisations such as the IMF, OECD, IM, Eurostat and the World Bank. You can compare the data in a number of ways and there are several charting options.
8. Repeat search terms
If you are fed up with seeing the same results for a search repeat your main search term or terms. This often changes the emphasis of your search and the order in which the results appear.
9.Change order of terms
Changing the order in which you type in your search terms can change the order of your results. The pages that contain the terms in the order you specified in your search are usually given a higher weighting. This is another useful tip for when you are stuck in a search rut and are seeing the same results over and over again.
10. Different country versions
The country versions of Google give priority to the country’s local content, although it might be in the local language. This is a useful strategy when searching for research groups, companies and people that are active in a specific 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 may be more international or US focused and Google usually rolls out new search features in Google.com before launching in other country versions. If Google insists on redirecting you to your own local country version, go to the bottom right hand corner of the Google home page and you should see a link to Google.com.
This collection of Top Tips is a combined list nominated by those who attended the autumn and spring UKeiG workshops on “Anything but Google”. The participants came from all sectors and types of company, and included a couple of self employed researchers. The sessions covered both general search tools and specialist services, and the list is an interesting mix of strategies and specific sites. A big “Thank- you” to everyone who participated in the workshops.
1. Get to know the advanced search commands and options.
Google is not the only search tool that uses them and they can help focus your search, especially when using general search tools such as Bing.
2. If you are conducting serious research don’t stop with the first reasonable looking results.
Information of dubious quality can infiltrate even the most well respected of specialist websites. Put on your “skeptical goggles” as one delegate said! There are plenty of alternative tools and resources out there so get some corroboration from additional sources before acting on the information you find.
3. Allocate time for your search.
If you are carrying out in-depth research don’t leave it to the last minute. You will probably need to tweak your strategy and try different search tools to ensure that you are retrieving the best information. It can sometimes take longer than you anticipate.
4. Plan your strategy.
Think about the type of search you want to conduct and the type of information you are looking for. For example if you are carrying out a systematic review and want to use Boolean operators forget about Google; head for Bing instead. And if you need official statistics or company information go straight to specialist sites that provide that data.
5. Don’t stick with what you regularly use.
Experiment with other resources, especially if you suspect your default search tool is not telling you the whole story.
6. Country versions of search tools.
Many search tools offer country versions that give priority to the country’s local content, although that might be in the local language. This is a useful strategy when searching for industries, companies and people that are active in a particular country.
7. Learn when to try something else.
If a site’s navigation or internal search engine seems to be returning rubbish don’t struggle with it. Try another route to get to the information. Either try an alternative source of information or use the ‘site:’ command – available in Bing as well as Google – to search inside the site.
This was recommended for its clean, straightforward layout and the range of resources it offers on a topic. A school librarian commented that the pupils at her school loved it.
If you are fed up with seeing the same results from Google again and again give MillionShort a try. MillionShort enables you to remove the most popular web sites from the results. Originally, as its name suggests, it removed the top 1 million but you can change the number that you want omitted. 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.
This was recommended for its clustering of results and also the visualisations of terms and concepts via the circles and “foam tree”. There is a link to the live web demo on the left hand side of the home page.
11. Microsoft academic Search – chartshttp://academic.research.microsoft.com/
This is a direct competitor to Google Scholar. The site can be slow to load and it sometimes assigns authors to the wrong institution. Nevertheless, the visualisations such as the co-author and citation maps can be useful in identifying who else is working in a particular area of research. The visualisations can be accessed by clicking on the Citation Graph image to the left of the search results or an author profile.
12. Creative Commons and public domain images.
Use the Bing license option (US version only) to search for images with creative commons or public domain licenses, but do go to the original webpage and check that the license is indeed associated with the image you want to use. Alternatively use one of the following:
13. Tineye Multicolrhttp://labs.tineye.com/multicolr/.
“Search 10 million Creative commons Flickr images by colour.” You can specify more than one colour and move the the dividing bar between two colours to increase/decrease their prominence within the image. Click through to the original Flickr image to double check the license.
14. Company Checkhttp://www.companycheck.co.uk/
Company Check repackages Companies House data and provides 5 years of accounts, and graphs for some financials free of charge. It also lists the directors of a company. Click on a director’s name and you can view other current and past directorships for that person. It provides more free information than Companies House but you have to register (free) to gain full access. Additional information such as credit risk, CCJs, credit reports, and many Companies House documents are priced or available as part of a subscription.
15. Guardian Data Storehttp://www.guardian.co.uk/data/
For datasets and visualisations relating to stories currently in the news. As well as the graphs and interactive maps the source of the data is always given and there are links to the original datasets that are used in the articles.
This is a search tool for searching information contained in charts, graphs and tables of data and within formatted documents such as PDFs, Excel spreadsheets and images. Enter your search terms and optionally limit your search by date and/or format type. One delegate said “It has changed my life!”. (We think/hope she meant her working life.)
17. Keep up to date.
Keep up to date with what the search engines are up to, changes to key resources and new sites. Identify blogs and commentators that are relevant to your research interests and subject areas, and follow them using RSS or email alerts.
Last week’s workshop on Google had a wonderful mix of participants from the academic, government, public, NHS and legal sectors. And true to form, Google decided to change a few things on the day. The link to the Google News advanced search completely disappeared (it wasn’t that good anyway!) but now seems to have reappeared. The search options that appear at the top of the results pages had changed compared with screen shots that I had taken 2 days previously; they options now seem to change according to the type of query so we suspect that this is an example of Hummingbird (Google’s new algorithm). The Google custom search engine interface has changed yet again and presented challenges to even those of us who are regular users. And then there was the new Google log-out/log-in interface which had us all flummoxed until the end of the day. (That merits a separate blog rant).
In the time honoured tradition, at the end of the day the group was asked to come up with their top 10 tips for searching Google. Here is what they came up with.
Verbatim Several people shouted out this one as the number 1 tip for searching Google. Google automatically looks for variations on your search terms and sometimes drops terms from your search without telling or asking you. To make Google run your search exactly as you have typed it in, first run your search. Then click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above your results, in the second line of options that appears click on ‘All results’ and from the drop down menu select Verbatim.
site: command Use the site: command to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:ac.uk, or to search inside a large rambling site. You can also use -site: to exclude sites from your search.
Advanced search commands and search options Learn how to use the search commands (for example intext:, filetype: and site:), Many of these can be used on the advanced search screen that can usually be found under the cog wheel in the upper right hand area of the screen, but that link sometimes disappears so learning the commands is a better bet. A list of the more useful Google commands is at http://www.rba.co.uk/search/SelectedGoogleCommands.shtml
intext: Google’s automatic synonym search can be helpful in looking for alternative terms but if you want a term to be included in your search exactly as you have typed it in then prefix the word with intext:.
Country versions of Google. The country versions of Google give priority to the country’s local content, although it might be in the local language. This is a useful strategy when searching for industries, companies and people that are active in a particular country. Use Google followed by the standard ISO two letter country code, for example http://www.google.de/ for Google Germany, http://www.google.no/ for Google Norway.
Google.com Apart from presenting your search results in a different order Google.com is where Google launches new features and search options first. As well as seeing pages that may not be highly ranked in Google.co.uk you will get an idea of how Google search may look in the UK version in the future. It also has some unique search options such as recipes!
Click on the link to see the full list, which might include free or open access copies of the paper.
Search by image Click on the camera icon in the image search bar to upload a photo or link to an image on the web. Google will then try and find similar images. There were comments from some of the workshop participants that this does not seem to always work as well as it used to, which reflects my own recent experience of the option. It is still worth a go, though, if you want to find different versions of an image.
Hummingbird Keep an eye out for new layouts and ways of searching that are now appearing since Hummingbird was launched. For example, you can now compare the properties of two similar items: compare cabbage with spinach will show a table comparing the nutritional value of the two vegetables.
Google Custom Search Engines (CSE) Several of the participants had a go at setting up their own CSE. Ideal for bringing together websites that you search individually on a regular basis.
I recently co-presented a webinar on researching legal information. The event was organised by TFPL, and Alan Blanchard and myself reviewed free and paid for resources together with key search techniques.
Throughout the session we polled the audience on a number of issues, the first question being “Does price guarantee quality when you are purchasing information?”. Surprisingly, given the topic of the webinar, 70% voted ‘No’ with the remaining 30% opting for ‘I don’t know’ rather than ‘Yes’. When we asked about their opinions on free information, though, 79% said they would need a result from a free source to be validated with a paid resource.
The audience could not qualify their answers – it was a simple yes/no/don’t know – but there were some interesting discussions on the issues after the event. The priced services certainly have to work hard to prove value for money and they cannot assume that their users will automatically renew each year. Free information has a big part to play in legal and business research but it is vital that one is aware of the limitations of free. For example, do you know how up to date legislation.gov.uk is and if it carries revised legislation? (See http://www.legislation.gov.uk/help#aboutRevDate for the answer). And then there is the issue of making Google run your search the way you want it run, without personalisation or deviation.
I am running two public access workshops this autumn for TFPL that look at free versus fee resources for business and legal information. The first, on 19th September 2013, is Business information: key web resources and covers:
The presentation was part of a day looking at “Providing Effective Information Services for Generation Y”. Many of the slides probably won’t mean much on their own but feel free to take a look and share.
Towards the end of June I headed off to Swansea Central Library to facilitate a workshop on search tools and techniques for finding business information and statistics. The session was organised for the libraries of the wonderfully named SWAMP – South West and Mid Wales Partnership.
We had fantastic views from the library of the sea and shore line so they did very well to remain focused on the work in hand. The top tips that the group suggested at the end of the day were a mixture of search techniques and business information sites.
Don’t give up and don’t get stuck in a rut. If your first attempts fail to produce anything useful try a different approach to your search. Try some of the tips mentioned below: use advanced search commands, a different search tool or go direct to a website that covers your subject area or type of information.
Google automatically looks for variations on your search terms and sometimes drops terms from your search without telling or asking you. To beat Google into submission and make it run your search exactly as you have typed it in, click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above your results, then click on the arrow next to ‘All results’ and from the drop down menu select Verbatim.
3. Private Browsing.
To stop search engines personalising your results according to your previous 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.
Short cuts to private browsing in the main browsers are:
Chrome – Ctrl+Shift+N
FireFox – Ctrl+Shift+P
Internet Explorer – Ctrl+Shift+P
Opera – Ctrl+Shift+N
Safari – click on Safari next to the Apple symbol in the menu bar, select Private Browsing and then click on OK.
4. The site: command.
Include the site: command in your search to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:ac.uk, or to search inside a large rambling site. You can also use -site: to exclude sites from your search. For example, if you are searching for information on Wales and Australian websites mentioning New South Wales keep coming up include -site:au in your search.
5. The filetype: command.
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. Note that in Google filetype:ppt and filetype:xls will notpick up the newer .pptx and xlsx formats so you will need to incorporate both into your strategy, for example filetype:ppt OR filetype:pptx, or run separate searches for each one. In Bing.com, though, filetype:pptx will pick up both .ppt and .pptx files.
6. Guardian Data Store (http://www.guardian.co.uk/data/)
For datasets and visualisations relating to stories in the news. This is proving to be a very popular site on both the public and in-house workshops. As well as the graphs and interactive maps the source of the data is always given and there are links to the original datasets that are used in the articles.
7.Company Check (http://www.companycheck.co.uk/)
Company Check repackages Companies House data and provides 5 years of figures and graphs for Cash at Bank, Net Worth, Total Liabilities and Total Current Liabilities free of charge. It also lists the directors of a company. Click on a director’s name and you can view other current and past directorships for that person.
10. Keep up to date Keep up to date with what the search engines are up to, changes to key resources and new sites. Identify blogs and commentators that are relevant to your research interests and subject areas and follow them using RSS or email alerts.
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.
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 (http://www.digitalpreservation.gov/personalarchiving/).
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 Paper.li (http://paper.li/). These can be generated from hashtags, keyword searches or your own Twitterstream. Have a look in the Paper.li news stand to see if someone has already created a paper on your topic. Paper.li automatically compiles the newspaper but there are other services such as Storify (http://storify.com/) and Scoop.it (http://www.scoop.it/) 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 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/data). 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 Shorthttp://millionshort.com/. 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.
News and comments on search tools and electronic resources for research