Tag Archives: search tools

Anything but Google – Top Tips

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.

8. DuckDuckGo http://www.duckduckgo.com/.
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.

9. MillionShort  http://millionshort.com/.
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.

10. Carrot Search http://carrotsearch.com/

Carrot-Search
Carrot Search foam tree

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  – charts http://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:

Flickr  Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons
Flickr The Commons http://www.flickr.com/commons/
Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/
MorgueFile.com  http://www.morguefile.com/
Geograph http://www.geograph.org.uk/
Nasa http://www.nasa.gov/

13. Tineye Multicolr http://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 Check http://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 Store http://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.

16. Zanran http://zanran.com/
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.

Top search tips from Exeter and Bristol

A couple of weeks ago I was in Exeter and Bristol leading workshops for NHS South West on “Google & Beyond”. We covered advanced Google commands, Google Scholar and alternatives to Google. Below are the combined top tips from the two sessions. I may have missed a couple from the list as I could not read my writing, so if you attended one of the workshops let me know if I’ve omitted your suggested tip.

  1. Verbatim Yet again, this has topped the list of useful Google search options. 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.
  2. Be aware of personalisation. Even if you are not signed in to a Google account Google personalises your results according to your search and browsing behaviour. Personalisation is not necessarily a bad thing but if your 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 and will not personalise your results. 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

  1. site: Use the site: command to focus your search on particular types of site, for example site:nhs.uk, or to search inside a large, rambling site. You can also use -site: to exclude sites from your search.
  2. intext: Google’s automatic synonym search can be helpful when looking for alternative terms, but if you want a term to be included in your search exactly as you have typed it then prefix the word with intext:.
  3. filetype: 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 not pick up the newer .pptx and xlsx formats so you will need to include those in 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Combine advanced search commands. Practise combining the advanced search commands for a more precise, focused set of results.
  6. Google Reading level. This changes 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. Google does not give much away as to how it calculates the reading level and it has nothing to do with the reading age that publishers assign to publications. It seems to involve an analysis of sentence structure, the length of sentences, the length of the document and whether scientific or industry specific terminology appears in the page.
  7. Numeric range. 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. This is a good way of limiting your search, for example, to forecasts over the few years.
  8. Limiting your search by date. To limit your search by date, for example the last month or year, first run your search. Then click on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above the results and from the second row of options that appears click on ‘Any time’. Select your time period or a custom range from the drop down menu.Google date
  9. Use the minus sign to exclude documents containing a word. If you do not want documents containing a specific word prefix that word term with a minus sign. The minus sign can also be used with commands such as site: and filetype: to remove an individual site or type of document from your results.
  10. Million Short http://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 you can choose to remove the most popular web sites from the results. Originally, as its name suggests, it automatically removed the top 1 million but now you can choose to remove the most popular 100, 1000, 10k, 100k or million sites. 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.
  11. Creative commons searches for images. Rather than search for images and go through them individually to find one that you can legally use in your document or presentation, use advanced search options or tools that allow you to select the appropriate license from the start. In Google, use the usage rights menu on the image advanced search screen to search for images with the license you need. The US version of Bing images includes a license option in the menu at the top of your results.

Bing Image License option
Double check the license of the photo on the website or blog hosting it. The license you need may be associated with a different image and yours could, for example, be ‘all rights reserved’.Flickr has a page where you can search for images with a specific Creative Commons license at http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons.

  1. Compare in Google. This is not a Google command but if you type in a search such as compare carrots with cabbage Google will create a table comparing the properties of the two items. Google has been known to get some of the data wrong, though, so it’s worth double checking the figures before you use them.
  2. Web archives. Want to see what was on a website a few years ago or trying to track down a document that seems to have vanished from the web? Try the Internet Archive Wayback Machine at http://www.archive.org/. Enter the URL of the website or document and you should then see a calendar of the snapshots that the archive has of the site or document. Choose a date from the calendar to view the page. The archive does not have everything but it is worth a try. See also the UK National Archives of old government websites and pages at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/webarchive/ and the UK Web Archive at http://www.webarchive.org.uk/ukwa/.
  3. Statistics sites. Although you can often find statistics via Google, you may find dedicated official statistics sites quicker and more reliable. Some of the sites we covered during the workshops were:

    NHS Statistics Links http://www.nhs.uk/Pages/LinkListing.aspx?CategoryId=Statistics
    UK National Statistics Publication Hub http://www.statistics.gov.uk/
    Office for National Statistics http://www.ons.gov.uk/
    Welsh Government Statistics http://wales.gov.uk/topics/statistics/
    Welsh Assembly Government StatsWales http://statswales.wales.gov.uk/
    UK Open data http://data.gov.uk/
    Eurostat http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/
    European Union Open Data Portal http://open-dat.europa.eu/en/
    Zanran http://www.zanran.com/

North Wales Libraries Partnership Top Tips

Cyril in the John Spalding Library

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

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

An edited set of the slides is available on authorSTREAM at http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/karenblakeman-1856150-search-google/ and Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/karenblakeman1/search-is-more-than-just-google.

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 Short http://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.

Google – you can say “NO!”

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

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

For news, RSS feeds are still a great way to pull together updates from your favourite newspapers, blogs and websites. Google Reader is about to disappear into a black hole but there are other, better RSS readers out there. I use a desktop client called RSS Owl (http://www.rssowl.org/) but if that doesn’t suit you Phil Bradley has a list of alternatives on his blog at http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/2013/03/20-alternatives-to-google-reader.html. Or you could try a different approach: create a Twitter list of essential news sources, or use Paper.li to create daily “newspapers” using keyword searches or hashtags. See my own “daily” at http://paper.li/karenblakeman or the paper.li on biofuels at http://paper.li/karenblakeman/1321447614

Interested in statistics and open data? Try the University of Auckland’s statistics portal (http://www.offstats.auckland.ac.nz/) or the Guardian’s Datastore (http://www.guardian.co.uk/data).

If you are looking for images Flickr.com is an obvious alternative. For photos you can re-use without fear of being dragged through the courts for copyright infringement try Geograph (http://www.geograph.org.uk/) or Morguefile (http://www.morguefile.com/).

And when it comes to free search tools for tracking down open access and research information there are dozens, some of which are listed at http://www.rba.co.uk/search/links.shtml#research.

These and many more are covered in my workshop “Anything but Google”, which is is being held in Newcastle later this month. Further details are on the UKeiG web site at http://www.ukeig.org.uk/trainingevent/anything-google-karen-blakeman.

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

(1) Just Testing: Google Users May See Up To A Dozen Experiments http://searchengineland.com/just-testing-google-searchers-may-see-up-to-a-dozen-experiments-141570

Google drops translated foreign pages

Update 18th May 2013: Google has now confirmed that translated foreign pages has gone.

“The translate foreign pages feature is no longer offered. Removing features always involves tough choices, but we do think very hard about each decision and its implications for our users. You can still translate entire pages in Chrome. Streamlining enables us to focus on creating beautiful technology that will improve people’s lives.”

While the press were busy reviewing the new Google maps and reporting on the Google I/O event Google quietly dropped translated foreign pages from its search tools menu. Translated foreign pages was a great way of searching for information in a language other than your own. It was invaluable when researching individuals or companies based in another country, or for news and legislation in a language other than your own. You ran your search in Google as normal and then clicked on ‘Search tools’ in the menu above your results followed by ‘All results’ and ‘Translated foreign pages’. If you included a country in your search Google would assume that you wanted information from pages in that country’s language. It would translate your search into that language and then translate the pages it found into your own language. If you did not mention a country in your search it would list the most commonly used languages. This would sometimes change according to your previous choice of languages but you could also add languages to the list.

 Googel translated foreign pages

It wasn’t perfect but it was a great way of finding local content, which is often in a foreign language.

The option disappeared from the search tools menu earlier this week. There was no announcement from Google, which is not unusual, and it was not until a question about it was posted in a Google Groups forum that someone from Google said they would investigate. The answer they came back with does not bode well:

“This feature is currently unavailable, but we’d like to bring the functionality back in the future. I’ll give you updates as I receive them, but for now there’s no time frame for when that will happen.”

There have been similar responses to enquiries about vanishing search features in the past. The Wonderwheel is just one example. All too often Google later admits that the options have been permanently axed. It does seem strange, though, that Dan Russell, who works at Google, recently highlighted translated foreign pages in his blog at http://searchresearch1.blogspot.com/2013/04/ramong-writes-in-with-great-question-i.html

Is there an alternative? Sort of, but it is not as slick.

1. Use Google Translate (http://translate.google.com/) to translate your search into the required language.

2. Copy the translated search and paste it into Google search.

3. If you are using Google Chrome and have enabled the translate option under advanced search settings Chrome will offer to translate the page of results for you. Alternatively, or if you are using a different browser, click on the ‘Translate this page’ link next to a result to view a translation of just that page.

Google translate this page

Of course, you have to repeat the procedure for each language you want to use but at least it can be done. All too often there is no alternative at all to search tools and commands that have been banished. Many of us are wondering which one will be next – it is inevitable that there will be a ‘next’ – and what impact it will have on the quality of search results. At present there are still techniques we can use to force Google to run a search the way we want it run but it is getting perilously close to becoming useless as a serious research tool. Time to start investigating other search tools in depth.

Search tools for research information – Kindle version

At last! I’ve managed to convert my article on “Free search tools for research information”  into a Kindle version (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00C11XLVQ). It took me four attempts to get it right (and I hope it is indeed OK). The Amazon instructions are here, there and everywhere. Amazon’s general guide on producing a Kindle version is OK, but it’s the detailed stuff that is hard to find. The link I have given takes you to Amazon.com. If your “local” Amazon is different you’ll need to search for either the title or my name in the Kindle store.

Top tips for finding research information

Free Search Tools for Finding Research Information

This week I was in Canterbury leading a workshop and discussion on Google and Google Scholar for finding research information. Although the emphasis was on Google we also covered other specialist tools designed to search for scientific and research information. We also had an interesting discussion on h-index, other citation indices and services such as ORCID and ResearchGate. The slides for the session are available on authorSTREAM (http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/karenblakeman-1706478-google-scholar-research-information/), Slideshare (http://www.slideshare.net/KarenBlakeman/scholar-research-information) and temporarily at http://www.rba.co.uk/as/.

Anyone who has attended one of my workshops knows that I ask the group to propose at the end of the session their top tips. These are the Canterbury group’s top 10 tips.

1. What’s going on?
Try and find out what’s going on behind the scenes and how the different search tools work. For example, Google and Google Scholar are quite different in the way they manage your search. Understanding how they operate means that you can adapt your search strategy accordingly and also manage your expectations; for example Google Scholar does not use the publishers’ meta data so author and date search are unreliable.

2. Personalisation and ‘unpersonalisation’
Google personalises your search based on past activity, who is in your social networks,and a whole host of other ‘stuff’. You can quickly ‘unpersonalise’ your results by using a separate browser window that does not use cookies or your web history as part of the search algorithm.

If you use Chrome as your browser, open what is called an incognito window. In the top right hand corner of your screen there is an icon with three lines. Click on it and from the drop down menu select New incognito window. Alternatively press the Ctrl Shift N keys on your keyboard

If you use Firefox, from the menu at the top of the screen select Tools followed by Start Private Browsing.

In Internet Explorer select Tools followed by InPrivate Browsing. If you cannot see InPrivate under Tools try looking under the Safety option.

3. Advanced search commands
Use Google advanced commands  such as filetype: to focus on PDFs, presentations, spreadsheets containing data and site: to look for information on just one site or a range of sites such as UK government. Although the advanced search screen has boxes for you to fill in for the commands the file format or filetype option is limited. It does not include options for the newer Microsoft Office formats such as .pptx and xlsx. Use filetype: as part of your search strategy, for example:

nasa dark energy dark matter filetype:pptx

Google Scholar commands are more limited – see slide 28 of the presentation.

4. intext:
Google automatically looks for variations on your terms and sometimes omits words from your search if it thinks the number of results is too low. Prefixing a term with intext: tells Google that it must be included in your search and exactly as you have typed it in. For example:

UK public transport intext:biodiesel statistics

tells Google that biodiesel must be included in the search and exactly as typed in.

5. Reading Level
Use Reading level if Google is failing to return any research oriented documents for a query. Run the search and from the menu above the results select Search toolsAll results and then from the drop menu Reading level. Options for switching between basic, intermediate and advanced reading levels should then appear just above the results. Google does not give much away as to how it calculates the reading level and it has nothing to do with the reading age that publishers assign to publications. It seems to involve an analysis of sentence structure, the length of sentences, the length of the document and whether scientific or industry specific terminology appears in the page.

6. Date options
In Google web search, use the date options in the menus at the top of the results page to restrict your results to information that has been published within the last hour, day, week, month, year or your own date range. Click on Search tools, then Any time and select an option. This works best with news, discussion boards, and blogs and web sites that use blogging software  to generate pages but Google is getting better at identifying the correct date of a web page.

Google Scholar handles publication dates differently. On the results page you can select a date range from the menu on the left hand of the page. Alternatively, you can run a Google advanced search and enter your publication years. However, Google Scholar looks for publication years in the area of the document where the date is most likely to be. As a result it may identify a page number or part of an author’s address as a year!

7. Google Scholar alerts
To be used with caution as the searches periodically stop without warning, and so have to be set up again, and they sometimes include documents that are several years old. Whatever your search you can set up an alert by selecting Create alert from the menu on the left hand side of the results page.

If the author has created a profile on Google Scholar, from their profile page you can follow new articles and/or new citations for that author. From past experience I warn you that this is not entirely reliable.

Google Scholar Follow Author

8. Metrics – top publications
Although it claims to search all scholarly literature Google Scholar does not always cover all of the key journals in a subject area. There is no complete source list but there is a top publications for subjects and languages under the ‘Metrics’ link in the upper right hand corner of the Scholar home page.

9. Microsoft Academic Search – visualisations
Microsoft Academic Search (http://academic.research.microsoft.com/) is a direct competitor to Google Scholar. The site is sometimes slow to load and it often 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 author profile.

Microsoft academic search citation graph
Author Citation Graph


10. Mednar visual
Deep Web Technologies has developed in conjunction with various institutions a number of science and research specific portals, some of which are publicly available. The sources that they cover are different but they all have similar search and display options. Results are automatically ranked by relevance but this can be changed to date, title or author. In addition to the standard relevance ranked list of results the portals create clusters of topics on the left hand side of the screen. The topics include broad subject headings, authors, publications, publishers, and year of publication and are a useful tool for narrowing down a search. Some of the portals, such as Mednar (http://mednar.com/), offer a clickable ‘visual’ of topics and sub-topics.

Mednar Macular Degeneration Visual

Rediscovering BananaSlug for “long tail” search

I think it must have been seeing Phil Bradley the other night that made me think of revisiting BananaSlug.com (http://bananaslug.com/). I don’t mean that Phil reminds me of a banana slug but he did introduce me to the search tool via his blog way back in 2005. I have been looking at ways of getting out of what I call “search ruts”. You keep seeing the same results again and again but suspect that there may be something more relevant if only you could get to it. Million Short, which I mentioned in a previous blog post (http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2012/10/04/million-short-unearthing-stuff-hidden-in-the-dungeons-of-googles-results/), is one way to tackle the problem. BananaSlug takes a different approach to what is known as long tail search. It adds a random term to your search and pulls up pages buried way down in the results list that you would probably never see. Just type in your search and then select a category, for example Animals, Great Ideas, Random Number, Themes from Shakespeare. BananaSlug then adds a random word from that category to your terms.

At first glance this approach to search may seem appropriate for frivolous, fun stuff only but I find that it works really well with serious research topics. Running one of my test searches zeolites "environmental remediation" through the categories pulled up information that could have taken me hours or even days to find otherwise. Bear in mind that BananaSlug uses Google so synonyms and variations of the random word will be included in the search. When I selected Colors as my category red was added to my search and Google included reddish and reds.

BananaSlug Search Results

Most of the categories came up with something useful although Random Number, inevitably for this type of search, came up with page numbers of journal articles. I didn’t think Themes from Shakespeare would work but the random word it suggested was storm and there were several interesting papers on storm water management and treatment.

Banana Slug Shakespeare Storm

This may seem a bizarre way to explore search alternatives but if you are stuck for ideas give it a go.

Note: for more information on the banana slug Ariolimax see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_slug. The Pacific banana slug is the second-largest species of terrestrial slug in the world, growing up to 25 centimetres (9.8 in) long.

Top search tips from North Wales

August is usually a quiet month for me with respect to work. Time for a holiday away and then a couple of weeks ambling along the Thames Path or pottering around the garden. This year, though, as soon as I was I back from my travels I was knuckling down and updating my notes for two search workshops in North Wales. Both were for the North Wales Library Partnership (NWLP), the first taking place at Coleg Menai in Bangor and the second at Deeside College. Both venues had excellent training facilities and IT, which meant we could concentrate on getting to grips with what Google is doing with search and experiment with different approaches to making Google do what we want it to do.

At the end of the workshops both groups were asked to come up with a list of  Top 10 Tips. I’ve combined the two lists and removed the duplicates to generate the list of 16 tips below.

  1. Repeat one or more of your search terms one or more times
    Fed up with seeing the same results for your search?  Repeat your main search term or terms to change the order of your results.
  2. Menus on left hand side of Google results pages
    Use the menus on the left hand side of the results page to focus your search and see extra search features. To see all of the options click on the ‘More’ and ‘More search tools’ links. The content of the menus changes with the type of search you are running, for example Image search has a colour option.
  3. Verbatim
    Google automatically looks for variations of your terms and no longer looks for all of your terms in a document. If you want Google to run your search exactly as you have typed it in, click on the ‘More search tools’ options at the bottom of the left hand menu on your results page and then on Verbatim at the bottom of the extended menu that appears.
  4. intext:
    Google’s automatic synonym search can be helpful in looking for alternative terms but if you want just one term to be included in your search exactly as you typed it in then prefix the word with intext:. For example carbon emissions buses intext:biofuels flintshire. The command sometimes has the effect of prioritizing pages where your term is the main focus of the article.
  5. Advanced search screen and search commands
    Use the options on the advanced search screen  or the search commands (for example filetype: and site:) in the standard search box to narrow down your search. A link to the advanced searchscreen can usually be found under the cog wheel in the  upper right hand area of the screen. If you can’t see a cog wheel or the link has disappeared from the menu go to http://www.google.co.uk/advanced_search. A list of the more useful Google commands is at http://www.rba.co.uk/search/SelectedGoogleCommands.shtml
  6. Try something different
    Get a fresh perspective by trying something different. Two most popular during these two workshops seemed to be DuckDuckGo (http://duckduckgo.com/) and Millionshort (http://millionshort.com). Other search engines to try include Bing (http://www.bing.com/) and Blekko (http://blekko.com/).
  7. Use the country versions of Google for information that is country specific
    This will ensure that the country’s local content will be given priority, although it might be in the local language. Useful for companies and people who are based in or especially active in a particular country, or to research holiday destinations. Use Google followed by the standard ISO two letter country code, for example http://www.google.de/ for Google Germany or http://www.google.no/ for Google Norway.
  8.  Filetype to search for document formats or types of information
    For example PowerPoint for experts or presentations, spreadsheets for data and statistics, or PDF for research papers and industry/government reports. Note that filetype:ppt will not pick up the newer .pptx so you will need to include both in your search, for example filetype:ppt OR filetype:pptx. You will also need to look for .xlsx if you are searching for Excel spreadsheets and .docx for Word documents. The Advanced Search screen file type box does not search for the newer Microsoft Office extensions.
  9. Clear cookies
    Even if you are logged out of your Google account when you search, information on your activity is stored in cookies on your computer. These can personalise your results according to your past search and browsing history. Many organisations have set up their IT systems so that these tracking cookies are automatically deleted at least once a day or whenever a person logs in or out of their computer account. At home, your anti-virus/firewall software may perform the same function. If you want to make sure that cookies are deleted or want to control them manually How to delete cookies at http://aboutcookies.org/Default.aspx?page=2 has instructions on how to do this for most browsers.
  10. Looking for research papers? Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com/) is one place to look but there may be additional material hidden somewhere on an academic institution’s web site. Include advanced search commands, for example filetype:pdf site:ac.uk, in your search.
  11. For the latest news, comments and analysis on what is happening in an industry or research area carry out a  Google blog search and limit your search by date. Simply run your search as usual in the standard Google search box. On the results page click on Blogs in the menu on the left hand side of the screen and then select the appropriate time option.
  12. site: and -site:
    Use the site:command to search within a single site or type of site.For example:2011 carbon emissions public transport site:statistics.gov.uk to search just the UK official statistics web siteasthma prevalence wales site:gov.uk OR site:nhs.ukto search all UK government and NHS web sites

    If you are fed up with a site dominating your results use -site: to exclude it from your search.

    For example:

    Dylan Thomas -site:bbc.co.uk

  13. Reading level – from tourism to research
    Use this to option in the menus on the left had side of your results page to change the type of information. For example run a search on copper mines north wales. Then click on Reading Level in the left hand menus. Selecting “Basic” from the options that appear at the top of the results gives you pages on tourism and holiday attractions. “Advanced” gives you research papers, journal articles and mineral databases. Google does not give much away as to how it calculates the reading level and it has nothing to do with the reading age that publishers assign to books. It could involve sentence structure, grammar, the length of sentences on a web page, the length of the document, the terminology used and doubtless many other criteria.
  14. Google.com
    Apart from presenting your search results in a different order Google.com is where Google tries out new features. 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.
  15. Numeric range search
    Use this for anything to do with numbers – years, temperatures, weights, distances, prices etc. Use the boxes on the Advanced Search screen or just type in your two numbers separated by two full stops as part of your search.For example:world oil demand forecasts 2015..2030
  16. An understanding of copyright is important if you intend to re-use information found in the web and absolutely essential if you are going to use images. Creative Commons licences clearly state what you can and can’t do with an image but they are not all the same. The list at Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/licenses/ outlines the terms and conditions. “FAQs – Copyright – University of Reading” at http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/imps/Copyright/imps_copyrightfaqs.aspx gives some guidance on copyright but if in doubt always ask! An example of what can happen if you get it wrong is demonstrated by “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.

 

Workshop: Getting the best out of Google (Reading)

Having problems with Google? Fed up with it ignoring your search terms and giving you something completely different? Or confused by irrelevant postings from complete strangers appearing in your results? Personalisation, localisation, social networks and semantic search are all being used by Google in an attempt to “enhance” your results but it can go horribly wrong. Austria suddenly becomes Australia and Google decides that buttercups are really goats! There are many tricks that we can use to make Google return better results and this workshop will look in detail at what is available.

Topics will include:

  • how Google works – what Google tells us and what we have to guess
  • recent developments and their impact on search results
  • how Google customises your results and can you stop it?
  • how to focus your search and control Google
  • Google’s specialist tools and databases
  • what Google is good at and when you should consider alternatives

You will have ample opportunity to experiment and try out the techniques for yourself. Exercises will be provided to help you test out the search features but you are free to explore and try out searches of your own.

This workshop is suitable for all levels of experience. The techniques and approaches covered can be applied to all subject areas.

The workshop leader is Karen Blakeman.

Date: Thursday, 28th June 2012, 9.30 – 16.30
Venue: Agriculture Building, Reading University, Reading, UK
Cost: £150 +VAT (Total £180). A limited number of places for unwaged and students are available; please contact karen.blakeman@rba.co.uk for further details.
Further details: http://www.rba.co.uk/training/Google.htm