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January 09, 2011

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David Haynes

Phil,
I'm not sure why I'm so excited by your discovery - maybe it's a hankering for the days of Dialog.

I tried a couple of searches of my own and first of all found it almost impossible to use AROUND()with Google Instant switched on.

My results were as follows:

privacy internet 1,620,000,000 hits

privacy AROUND(10) internet 272,000,000 hits
all the way down to ...
privacy AROUND(0) internet 250,000,000 hits
not much difference between 10 and adjacency, and much higher than the two string searches below:

"privacy internet" 200,000 hits
picks up lists where the words happen to be adjacent or categorisations of software such as: privacy - Internet etc.

"internet privacy" 1,060,000

So for this search it seems that the quotes narrow the number of hits by a factor of 1,000.

I look forward to trying this feature out on some other topics - it might work better for more unusual topics where searching for a string between quotes is too specific.

Thanks for a thought-provoking blog.

Arthur Weiss

I always understood the asterisk to be equivalent to AROUND - but without the possibility of specifying the number of words i.e. National * Orchestra was the same as National **** Orchestra. (I read / heard once that the * meant that words could be up to 10 words apart). It's possible that duplicating the * has the same sort of impact as a search for "national orchestra" "national orchestra" i.e. duplicating the search terms gives a different result.

Phil Bradley

Arthur - when the * was introduced it was supposed to stand for a word, so ** would mean up to two words in between and ***** would be up to five, but that's gone by the board now. I believe that as a consequence they are two different functions, but with Google as inept as they are, who knows?

PaulOnBooks

The reason they don't publicise the around facility is the same as for a few other Google tricks - it's computationally much more expensive than simple searches.

Judy Koren

My experience is the same as Phil's - the * originally meant one word (and ** meant two words etc) BUT it pretty soon came to mean just NEAR and several of us figured out it was actually doing w/para (within the same paragraph) since we regularly got (and still get) up to 25-30 words between the two terms, including the end of one sentence and start of the next. It's possible that more than one * (e.g. **) defaults to the original "one word per star" meaning but it's more likely IMO that it's no longer supported and therefore disregarded. Google's Help (which doesn't often say enough) says that * is treated as "a placeholder for any unknown term(s)" - which is how it works at least by me.

I'm excited about AROUND() too - and am not surprised that the minimum is AROUND(1) i.e. that (0) doesn't work.

OK, let's try my favorite subroutine for finding the names of "key opinion leaders" who have been quoted on a topic I'm researching: in Lexis it's ((said w/2 (dr or prof!)) - together with the topic of course. So I plug into Google:
heart-disease * said AROUND(2)(dr. OR prof. OR professor) and do a news search and whaddaya know, it actually works pretty well. It even interpreted the OR clause right (as AROUND(2) DR OR AROUND(2) prof... etc). EUREKA!

Steve Simofi

Very strange!

However I've confirmed it works the way you've described - at least for the firs few results.

Searching for the following;
apartment AROUND(1) galt
thru
apartment AROUND(5) galt

Yields a consistent first result in which they have highlighted the searched term, correctly bolding the appropriate number of terms between the search terms.

However, searching using the *, asterisk yields completely different results.

It will be interesting to follow up on where this goes, and I can't image it's been around 5 years with any accuracy making it worth using - or publishing.

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