Where librarians and the internet meet: internet searching, Web 2.0 resources, search engines and their development. These are my personal views and not those of CILIP or any other organisation I may be associated with.
Google produces a Google Transparency Report which shows us what requests it has had from the government to pull content from its databases or YouTube. These cover things such as privacy and security, defamation, violence, hate speech and government criticism for example. While you can't get a great deal of data on the actual content itself, Google does explain what it has done, and if its removed content or not. It's very far from perfect, but it's interesting to take a look at. Of course, it does lead one to wonder if there's stuff that they have removed which doesn't appear on the lists they make public, but at this point we're verging into the area of tin foil hats.
Google doesn't want you to search; it wants to tell you. This is a point that I often make on courses that I run, and one of the best examples of this is the way in which they are continuing to downgrade the advanced search function. Once, a very long time ago, when you opened the Google search home page, you got a direct link to the Advanced search function to the right of the search box:
However, in recent years they have made it more difficult to find the advanced search function, by removing it from the area of the search box - you either needed to know that it was hidden under the cog in the top right hand corner:
or you could simply scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the 'Advanced search' option:
Now however that's gone as well. If you scroll to the bottom of the page now, that option has gone entirely:
No Advanced Search option anywhere. To be honest, I can't say that I'm surprised. In their continual rush to tell us what we want to find when we're searching, having an Advanced search option - which implies that Google can't cut it at when it tries - is just an embarassment for it. Besides, it costs money to keep a function like this going - it's not as though it's a multi billion pound company that's made a name in the area of search, is it?
However, it's disappointing, and I'm pushing Advanced search right towards the top of my list of the next Google functionality to disappear.
I won't pretend for a second that this is in any way scientific. However, I have added up all of the results from the 'Bing it on' blog post, and many of you were kind enough to post your results. So, with no further ado, 10 results were regarded by you as draws, 14 went the way of Bing, and 28 went to Google. If you want to look at the results in terms of the set of 5 results, it's even worse for Bing - 1 draw, 2 victories for Bing, and 9 for Google.
So whichever way you look at it - Bing is very firmly trounced by Google. I really don't think that their claims are holding up that much.
Unfortunately - for my blood pressure - I came across an article the other day called "Do Your Students Know How To Search?" from a website called Edudemic and it was written by Holly Clark who is also on Twitter as @hollyedtechdiva. She's referring to some points that the esteemed Helene Blowers makes about a new digital divide. I take two quotes from her article: "There is a new digital divide on the horizon" and "Helene Blowers has come up with seven ideas about the new digital divide".
I read the article with interest - there was a fair amount of information about how to search Google, which is all well and good. We should be teaching "phrase searching", how to -exclude from a search and a few others. Nothing wrong with that of course, but what it doesn't say is what interests me rather more. Such as 'what about other search engines?' If you want to teach people about filter bubbles, primary sources and country searching, how about teaching them about it properly, which means - y'know - talking about search engines that do the whole thing rather BETTER than Google? How about talking about validation and authority? Comparing the relative merits of Google and other search engines? Pulling up examples of search engines that focus on the news, or on social media? Because, Ms Clark THAT is what teaching students how to search is all about. It's not about rehashing basic Google concepts (important though they are) it's a far bigger and more complex process than that.
Ask anyone who teaches search - and in fact you dear reader, may well be one of them - and you'll know that a quick overview of a couple of basic Google commands is about as much use to students as a chocolate teapot. Probably less, actually, since they could eat the chocolate!
However - and this is where it gets really amusing - if you cast your minds back to the two quotes that I used - there is a very clear emphasis this is something new. In actual fact, this digital divide is something that Ms Blowers was writing about back in 2010. Yup - 3 years old, Ms Clark - three years old. How about this for an idea - how about teaching students how to evaluate content, and check it for currency? This is just an embarassment.
Some time ago in the dim and distant past, Bing put together a 'Bing it on' challenge. You typed in a search and got two sets of results, you chose the one you liked the best, repeated 5 times and then it told you if you preferred Bing or Google results. This worked for a couple of days, then for reasons that they never explained, they withdrew it from the UK. Now they have brought it back, so you can try the test yourself. This was my result:
Sorry Bing - but Google won 4 out of 5 rounds.
The results are interesting, with UK users preferred Bing 53% of the time, while Google was chosen
34%, with 13% who couldn't make up their minds. That's the overall result, but if you look at the data in a little more detail, with results from each individual search, Bing comes out on top 39%, with Google coming in a little behind at 32% with the don't knows at 29%. Now, if you're raising your eyebrows at this, you might want to have a look at an interesting critique of the Bing figures from Freakonomics.
I'm keen to see what my blog readers think. So, if you've got approximately 3 minutes to spare, take the challenge yourself, and post your result in the comments.
Need to know how to get from point A to point B and you don't want to faff around with Google maps? Now you don't have to. In the normal search box, just type in <place A> to <place B> and Google will pull up a directions card for you, and you can then click it that to expand the driving directions, or click on the map to go to the usual map directions.
Hashtags - the wonderful concept that allows people to create their own controlled vocabulary to emphasis what they want to say or to refer to a general concept (usually on Twitter) is now going to be embraced by Google search. However, as with all things Google - there's a catch. They're only going to show up if the hashtag has been used in Google+ rather than something like Twitter. The idea is fairly obvious - results will appear, you'll click on them and lo and behold you'll end up looking through content at G+ rather than Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else.
It's going to look like this:
I had to borrow the screenshot from a very good Makeuseof article on the subject because it's a US option only at the moment.
Quite frankly, it's a shame. Google is continually trying to force its hand over search, and far from getting 'everything' - we're being limited more and more to just what Google thinks we should see - and that's always only going to be for their benefit, not the searchers. Just remember folks - Google is not your friend.
As you're probably aware, Google spends a lot of time tweaking results to attempt to make them better and more relevant. It does this several hundred times a year, but mostly it's on really subtle things, so virtually no-one notices it. Every now and then however, Google does a really big update, which changes a lot of results, and can cause real headaches for people, since the results you got yesterday are not the same as the results that you get today. Particularly a problem if you rely on Google to put your company name front and centre for specific searches!
Google gives this major updates names - a bit like we do with hurricanes. The last one was Panda, and the one before that was Caffeine in June 2010. So the short answer to the question 'What is Google Hummingbird?' is that it's a major change in the way in which Google interprets and returns search results. However, in more depth - Hummingbird is working with the Google Knowledge Graph results to try and provide you with more detail on concepts, rather than simple searches. So a search for Henry VIII will not only return you webpages, but it'll also provide you with basic factual information, details on his wives and so on.
Hummingbird works particularly well with mobile search - if you do a search for 'tell me about impressionist artists' for example, Google will provide some examples of them, as well as detailing webpages. If you ask Google for 'Pictures of Big Ben' it will find them, and if you then go on to ask 'how tall is it?' Google will assume that you're referring to Big Ben, rather than running a search for the phrase "how tall is it?" (Be aware though, if you try this using the web based version on a desk/laptop, that IS what Google will do.) However, depending on the search that you ask, Google is getting more intelligent. If you do a search asking to compare butter and olive oil Google will pull up some facts and figures for you - in a similar way that Wolfram|Alpha works.
What other changes can we expect? I was talking to Karen Blakeman, and we both agreed that we simply don't know yet. It's really far to early to tell what's going to happen in the longer term. Just be aware that if you run the same search regularly - if there's a sudden shift in the results that you get, it could well be Hummingbird working in the background.
Proof that Google isn't a search company, it's an advertising company! I have had many times - to the point of tedium - that Google isn't out there to make your life easier, or to find things for you, it's there to make money. Aaron Harris, who is CEO of Tutorspree has done some really interesting number crunching. A search on the words 'auto mechanic' led to results that shows that only 13% of the page real estate was given to what are called 'organic results' - which is to say the pages that Google has found in its index that match the search term. 14% of the page was given over to the navigation bar, Google adwords take a whopping 29%, a Google map takes 7%. You can see his graphic below:
If you look at the results themselves the top one (as is so often the case) is a Wikipedia result, followed by 2 results from Yelp. It's rather different in my case because 'above the fold' I don't get any organic results at all:
To be fair, I'm not getting too much by the way of direct advertising, but I'd still question the validity of the content that I'm getting - especially if I want to know about auto mechanics! Indeed, it's worth making the point (which Aaron does as well) which is that the local results are 'local' as defined by Google. If I walked around the area physically, I can rest assured that I'll find many more auto mechanics than Google is showing me here. We'll increasingly see that when Google decides to do a local search for you (it chooses, obviously, you're just the searcher, so what do you know?) it's going to be full of results from Google+ local businesses. So Google is still making money without giving us a quality service in return. In fact, we're getting NO service in return.
I blogged a while ago that Google was playing around with limiting the number of search results that I was getting, and in January last year I also reported that my Google results page was ALL advertising! So unfortunately this doesn't come as any sort of surprise at all, merely as confirmation that Google intends to prostitute search results for as long as it possibly can, and if it thinks it can get away with giving us a second rate set or results, it most certainly will do.
"Yes, it's been deprecated. Why? Because too few people were using it to
make it worth the time, money, and energy to maintain. In truth,
although I sometimes disagree with the operator changes, I happen to
agree with this one. Maintaining ALL of the synonyms takes real time and
costs us real money. Supporting this operator also increases the
complexity of the code base. By dropping support for it we can free up a
bunch of resources that can be used for other, more globally powerful
So let's break this down a bit. If too few people were using it, why didn't Google promote it rather more? That's a very weak argument. Google is happy to promote other things that they do, but oddly enough, when it comes to search functionality they're very, very quiet. It would be easy for them to suggest its use - when they do the basic synonym search or a 'did you mean' they could very easily have slipped in a suggestion to use it.
It takes time, energy and money to maintain it. Google earned $50 billion in 2012. They really can't use the argument 'we can't afford it', particularly when search is key to much of what they do. On the other hand of course, if they make it harder to find stuff when you search, and there's a useful little advert on the side, which will make them money, it's going to be hard to improve search in organic rankings, and therefore lose the opportunity to add to that $50 billion. Or am I merely being overly cynical here?
Maintaining a search function costs them money. Here's the nub of it, and it shows just how money grabbing Google is. I get that they're there to make money, I have no issue with that. However, there comes a point when, if they continue to degrade search functionality people WILL go elsewhere. But I think they are hoping that people are just far too lazy to do that, and they'll accept whatever junk Google throws at them. The point is - when the bottom line is money over the ease of use of the search engine, or the better results for the searcher, they're going to go for money every single time.
Increasing the complexity of the code base. How many coders does Google have? And isn't it fair to expect that they'll have some of the very best in the world? Ah, but that comes at a price doesn't it, and Google's already pointed out how important that is to them.
As for the other global changes, I'd be interested to see how Google is using their coders on other stuff, and while they're at it, I'd be fascinated to know just how much they're saving by removing this search function.
In short, as I have said before, and will say again, Google is not a search engine company, it's an advertising company. While I'm at it, a librarian is there to help you, Google is there to make money.