Tag Archives: UKeiG

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

Advanced Google workshop – change of venue

The advanced Google workshop that I am running for UKeiG (How to make Google behave) has a new venue. It is still being held in Manchester but will now be in the 4th Floor Teaching Suite, Main Library, University of Manchester M13 9PP. The date remains unchanged (April 30th, 2013).

We shall be looking at what goes on “underneath the bonnet” and covering Google’s advanced commands and search options in detail. We’ll also be reviewing Google’s specialist tools including the Public Data Explorer, Scholar and many more. As usual with my workshops there will be time allocated for practical sessions so that you can try out the techniques for yourself. Further details and booking information are available on the UKeiG website at http://www.ukeig.org.uk/trainingevent/make-google-behave-techniques-better-results-karen-blakeman

Top search tips from UKeiG Google workshop

UKeiG organised a workshop on Google, which was held on 8th February 2012 and hosted by Birimngham University. (My slides for the day can be found on authorSTREAM and on Slideshare). Twenty-two people from a variety of backgrounds and sectors attended the event and their combined Top 10 Tips are listed below.

1. An understanding of how Google works and is messing up “improving” search is vital. Minor changes in functionality and ranking algorithms can cause havoc and are impossible to counter unless you know what is going on. Google’s various official blogs are a starting point but they don’t tell you everything. Identify and monitor blogs from searchers and organisations that monitor what Google and other search engines are up to. (A selection are listed on the final slide of the presentation).

2. “Google assumes that all searchers are stupid and don’t know how to search” said one workshop participant! It takes far too many decisions on their behalf: automatically corrects what it thinks are typographical errors, excludes and adds terms to the search without asking, changes results according to past searching behaviour, and gives priority to network connections. To bring Google to heel, learn how to use advanced search commands and the options available in the menus on the left hand side of the results pages.

3. If you have a Google account investigate your Dashboard (http://www.google.com/dashboard/). This contains all of the information you have given Google about yourself plus data that Google has collected from your various accounts such as Gmail and Google Reader. Clear out anything you don’t need or use (you won’t be able to do this for everything) and make sure you are not sharing anything that you want kept private, for example docs and maps.

4. Order matters. Changing the order in which you type in your search terms will 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. Also keep an eye on any oddities when combining advanced search commands. For example the search allintitle:diabetic retinopathy site:ac.uk comes up with sensible results. Switch the order to site:ac.uk allintitle:diabetic retinopathy and Google totally loses the plot.

Site and Allintitle commands combined in the wrong order


5. Be aware that Google no longer searches for all of your terms all of the time. It now does what it calls a ‘soft AND’. See the first comment to my blog posting on this issue at http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2011/11/08/dear-google-stop-messing-with-my-search/#comments. If you want all of your terms to appear in your documents exactly as you typed them in then you have to use….

6. Verbatim. This tells Google to carry out an exact match search. Run your search as normal and then use Verbatim in the menu on the left hand side of your results page. It is normally hidden from view so click on ‘More search tools’ at the bottom of the menu and Verbatim is right at the bottom. It appears that you can use advanced search commands such as filetype:, site:, and the tilde (~) with Verbatim but it cannot be combined with the date options or ‘Pages from the UK’ in the results page menus.

7. Public Data Explorer is one of Google’s many well kept secrets. It can be found at http://www.google.com/publicdata/ and allows you to search data sets from organisations such as the IMF, OECD and World Bank. You can compare the data in various ways and there are several chart options.

8. Google has a habit of hiding and moving links to resources and tools such as the Public data Explorer, Advanced Search and Language Tools. Bookmark them so that you can always find them (unless, of course, Google decides to remove them altogether).

9. Three tools that are intended for people maintaining websites can also be useful to searchers in identifying trends, alternative search terms, and research into key players and competitors in a sector.

Google Trends http://www.google.com/trends/ – can be used to view search trends over time and to compare multiple search terms

Google Trends for Websites http://trends.google.com/websites – looks at search trends for individual websites or you can compare several websites. In addition it shows what people  ‘Also visited’ and ‘Also searched for’.

Google Insights for Search http://www.google.com/insights/search/ – advanced options for identifying search trends including countries and categories.

If you are responsible for content on your web pages these tools can help identify terms that could increase traffic to your site.

10. If you have had enough of Google and do not feel secure with the way it monitors your activity and personalises results try DuckDuckGo (http://duckduckgo.com/) as an alternative. DDG does not track, filter or personalise and several people found some of the results to be better than Google’s. Many of the workshop participants had tried Bing but there was little enthusiasm for it. They had found that the results were not as relevant as Google’s and there was concern over Bing’s links with Facebook, personalisation and what it calls “adaptive search”. Google is so often considered the bad guy because of the amount of personal information it gathers but it does at least show users a lot of what has been collected about them. The same cannot be said for Bing.


Workshop (Birmingham): How to make Google behave

Well, the proverbial has hit the fan with Google search getting really personal (Official Google Blog: Search, plus Your World http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/search-plus-your-world.html). Good news or bad news? A bit of both. It’s great for tracking down information or a comment made by someone within your personal social networks but a disaster if you are conducting serious, global research. And Google has made so many other changes: dumping the ‘+’ symbol as a way to enforce an exact match search and no longer ‘ANDing’ terms are just two. The results are here, there and everywhere but not necessarily where you want them. Changing your default search engine is one solution but there are times when Google’s extensive coverage is required. There are ways of switching off Google’s improvements and options that you can use to improve results.

I am running a workshop for UKeiG on how to make Google behave  – at least some of the time! – in Birmingham on February 8th. The areas we’ll be covering 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 use existing and new features to focus your search and control Google
  • how and when to use Google’s specialist tools and databases
  • what Google is good at and when you should consider alternatives

There will be time 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.

If you are interested further details and a booking form are available on the UKeiG web site at http://www.ukeig.org.uk/trainingevent/how-make-google-behave-techniques-better-results-karen-blakeman

Business Information: Top Ten Tips from Bristol

The University of the West of England (UWE) hosted the UKeiG 8th September workshop on business information. The list of participants included people from academic libraries, public libraries, the legal sector and freelance researchers. The day got off to an interesting start with one of the participants telling me that a colleague of theirs thought there wasn’t any quality business information on the web! I hope I proved them wrong. Some of the materials provided on the day can be found on my web site at http://www.rba.co.uk/bi/. Please note that SocialMention, which is mentioned in the latter part of the PowerPoint presentation, has been down for nearly five days and we have to assume that it is “no more”. [Update 10th September: after nearly a week offline SocialMention is now back online].

Those of you who have attended my Google, general search or business information workshops will know that towards the end of the afternoon I always ask the group to come up with a list of top ten tips. These can be useful sites that they have discovered during the day, essential services that they already use or commands that help focus the search. A combined list of tips from previous business information workshops is at http://www.rba.co.uk/bi/TopBusInfoSearchTips.pdf. Below, in no particular order, are the new tips from the 8th September workshop.

Top Business Search Tips UWE

1. Biznar http://www.biznar.com/ Biznar is a federated search engine that runs your search in real-time in about 80 resources. There is a list on the Advanced Search screen where you can deselect individual or groups of resources. Many of the workshop participants de-selected Google Groups, which seemed to their dominate results, and some went as far as to exclude the whole Blogs and Social Networks group. The results are combined into a single list and on the left hand side of the scree are organised into folders such as Topics, Authors, Publications, Publishers and Dates. These are computer generated but can help you narrow down your search.

2. Export.gov http://export.gov/“Helping U.S. companies export”. Information on markets and doing business outside of the US. As the strap line of the web site suggest this is aimed at US companies but the reports contain information that is relevant to anyone looking at external markets.

3. Guardian Data Store http://www.guardian.co.uk/data Visualizations and mashups of data relating to major stories in the news. Links to the original datasets are provided so that you can download the raw data.

4. Company Check http://www.companycheck.co.uk/and Company Director Check http://company-director-check.co.uk/. Both services use Companies House data. Company Check provides 6 years of figures and graphs for Cash at Bank, Net Worth, Total Liabilities and Total Current Liabilities free of charge and lists the directors of a company. Click on a director’s name and you are taken to the Company Directory Check – launched last week – where you can view other current and past directorships for that person.

5. Companies House http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/. The official registry for UK companies. Services such as Company Check and Bizzy (http://bizzy.co.uk/) may provide more information free of charge but it is always worth double checking with Companies House to see if there is more up to date information. The list of documents available for a company in combination with the free services may be enough for you to make a decision on whether or not to do business with that company. Use the free WebCHeck service to locate the company in the register and then click on “Order information for this company”. You will then see a list of available documents: titles such as “Struck off and dissolved” followed by “Application for administrative restoration” might suggest that you should run a mile!

6. Zanran http://zanran.com/ This was recommended for identifying charts, graphs and tables of data in PDFs and Excel spreadsheets. Run your search and Zanran comes up with PDF and spreadsheet files that match your criteria. Hover over the file icon in your results list and you will see a preview of the page that contains your data. We did come across a few oddities: my test search on gin vodka sales uk came up with the bar menu for the Time & Space Restaurant at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The Zanran “About us” page tells you more about what they do (http://zanran.com/help/about_us)

7. Applegate directories http://www.applegate.co.uk/ A collection of business directories for electronics, engineering, plastics, rubber, chemical, oil, gas and recruitment services covering the UK. Recommended for generating lists of companies by location.

8. Kompass http://www.kompass.com/. Well established directory with world-wide coverage (some of us can remember the black, hard copy volumes!) Search is free and some results are free. Pay as you go options are reasonably priced and there is extensive country and industry coverage.

9. Public libraries’ databases and resources. A reminder from the public libraries contingent that you can access their resources free of charge for personal use from your desktop using the identification on your library card, for example NewsUK and the The Times Digital Archive. Some library authorities also provide access to business databases.

10. Google Advanced Search Use the advanced search screen or commands to help focus your search on statistics and market research. For example use the ‘filetype:’ command to search for spreadsheets containing statistics or PDFs of industry/government reports. Use ‘site:” to focus your search on academic or government sources, for example site:ac.uk.


Business Information Workshops – September

There is a lot happening in the UK business information sector at the moment. From two of my earlier postings on company information you will probably have gathered that competition between the providers is hotting up. And if you need statistics then the open data initiatives provide direct access to raw data – possibly.

If you are interested in business information and want to get up to speed with current developments I am running a UKeiG workshop on the topic on Thursday, 8th  September. It is being held in Bristol at the Frenchay Campus of the University of the West of England. Further details are on the UKeiG web site at http://www.ukeig.org.uk/trainingevent/keeping-good-company-quality-business-information-web-karen-blakeman. The emphasis will be on free and pay per view services. Please note that you do not have to be a member of UKeiG to attend, and the workshop will be relevant to all types of organisations.

If you are new to business information I am also running a workshop entitled “Introduction to Business Research” for TFPL on 15th September in London (http://www.tfpl.com/training/courses/coursedesc.cfm?id=TR1116&cid=rs)


Google workshop (Newcastle, March)

I am running a workshop “All about  Google” for UKeiG in Newcastle on March 31st. Details and booking forms are available on the UKeiG web site at http://www.ukeig.org.uk/trainingevent/all-about-google-regain-control-search-karen-blakeman

I wrote the title and description a few months ago before Google really started going to town with messing up search results, so the subtitle “regain control of search” now seems a tad over-optimistic! Readers of this blog and Phil Bradley’s  (http://philbradley.typepad.com/phil_bradleys_weblog/) will know what I mean. Just search on Google in both for recent news and comments on what Google is currently up to.  Nevertheless, I will be going through the key search features, types of search, and recent developments in Google search – there will probably be even more changes by the end of March – and there will be plenty of time for you to try out ‘stuff’ for yourselves.

A reminder that I also run in-house workshops so if you have several members of staff you would like trained, let me know. I can come to you.

Workshop: Statistics and Market Research

If you need to track down statistics and market research via the web I am running a hands-on workshop under the UKeiG banner in Newcastle on Wednesday 21st April. The venue is the Netskills Training Suite, University of Newcastle. Further details of the workshop and a booking form are available on the UKeiG web site at http://www.ukeig.org.uk/training/2010/StatsApril.html

Top Search Tips

I ran another advanced search workshop (Google and Beyond) for UKeiG on June 11th, this time in London. Twenty people attended the event and came up with the following list of top search tips at the end of the day.

1. Use the Advanced Search screen. There are lots of goodies to be found on the advanced search screens: options for focussing your search by file format (e.g. xls for data and statistics, ppt for expert presentations, pdf for industry or government reports); site and domain search to limit your search to just one web site or a type of organisation (e.g. UK government, US academic); and in Google there is a numeric range search.

2. Google Custom Search Engines (Google CSE) at http://www.google.com/coop/cse/. This made its first appearance in the Top Tips from the Liverpool workshop earlier this year. Ideal for building collections of sites that you regularly search, to create a searchable subject list, or to offer your users a more focused search option.

3. See what Google does with your search string.

a) If you use the default search box and Google comes back with odd results, click on Advanced Search to see what it has done with your search terms.

b) If you use the Advanced Search screen and fill in the boxes, see how Google formats the search strategy by looking the search box at the top of the results page. By learning the commands and prefixes you can build more specific searches more quickly on the default search page.

4. Cached copies. Look at the search engines cached copy of a web page if you can’t find your search terms in the document or if the page is nothing like the description in the results list. You will see the version of the page that has been used by the search engine for indexing and with your terms highlighted.

5. Use tools such as Intelways and Zuula for quick and easy access to a wide range of search tools covering different types of information. Enter your search once, click on the tab for the type of resource for which you are searching (video, images, reference, news etc.), and then work your way through the list of search engines.

6. Alacrawiki. The Alacra Spotlights section is a good starting point for evaluated sites and information on industry sectors. It is also a good example of what to look for when assessing the quality of a wiki and how easy it is for anyone to edit the pages. In the Spotlights sections there is no edit option , not even if you register for an account and login. Only the Alacra editors can edit the pages.

7. Open access journals. Google Scholar sometimes leads you to copies of journal articles in institutional repositories and open access journals, but there are also directories of open access journals. For example: http://www.doaj.org/ , http://www.wsis-si.org/oa-journals.html, http://www.abc.chemistry.bsu.by/current/fulltext.htm . This is not my area of expertise so comments on other directories are welcome.

8. Social bookmarking sites. Try social bookmarking sites, not only for creating your evaluated lists of sites but for searching other peoples. For example FURL, Del.icio.us, Connotea, 2Collab . Connotea (owned by the Nature Publishing Group) and 2Collab (owned by Elsevier) are aimed at researchers and scientists.

9. Search results visualisation. Try out some of the newer search tools that present results and search options in a different way. For example Cluuz, Kartoo, Kvisu, Quintura. [Some of the participants specifically mentioned Cluuz and Kvisu].

10. The Internet Archive (Wayback Machine) at http://www.archive.org/ for pages, sites and documents that have disappeared. Ideal for tracking down lost documents, seeing how organisations presented themselves on the Web in the past, and for collecting evidence for a legal case (e.g. ‘passing off’, copyright infringement).