Thursday, 1 December 2011

Online 2011 - Introduction and Beating Google into Submission

Yesterday I attended the Online Information 2011 exhibition. Described by itself as “the largest event dedicated to the information industry” and by colleagues as an excellent source of boiled sweets and other freebies. The trade fair element of the event did seem to feature a lot of people trying to lure customers with free pens (and very occasionally sweets). RSC Publishing offered free coffee though which was quite clever of them.

The event also features a programme of free seminars on various topics. These were my main motivation for going. To prove I didn’t spend the whole day wondering around picking up sweets and pens I'm going to blog my notes on the talks I attended.

Beating Google into Submission

This presentation and further information is available at

Karen Blakeman’s talk was all about making Google do what you want it to. This is easier said then done because Google is increasingly trying to second guess what you ‘really’ mean. She gave some great examples. Most dramatically trying to find out what two birds in her garden were up to led to confusion between ‘coots’ and ‘lions’. ‘Coots mating behaviour’ turned into ‘Lions mating behaviour’. She assumes that Google decided ‘coots’ was meant to be ‘cats’ but we can’t be sure and that’s part of her point. It’s hard to know exactly what Google is doing with your search terms.

Apparently Google insiders have told her that the search engine is second guessing us more because more people are using it via mobile devices and it’s hard to type correctly on those.

There is a ‘verbatim’ option but you have to run a normal search first and then select ‘verbatim’ from the menu on the left hand side of the results page.

Alternatively you could try repeating a search term i.e. ‘coot coot mating behaviour’ or playing with the order of your search terms. These approaches are a bit hit and miss though.

You’ve probably heard that the + sign no longer works. Apparently the reasoning was that they want to use it to search for Google+ profiles.

In theory you can still use quote marks but in practice if Google doesn’t think it’s found enough results it will panic and throw in stuff that doesn’t quite fit your search.

Second guessing isn’t the only problem. Google has also started to include results from your social media contacts and their contacts. All very well if everyone in your networks (and all their friends) are experts but how likely is that?

Naturally she ran through the Advanced Search features and the essential commands. See her presentation for details. It also includes useful blogs and websites for staying up to date with Google and internet searching generally.

From a librarian perspective perhaps the main problem with all this is that when we are trying to teach people how to search effectively they won’t necessarily be getting the same results as us. That is something we should think about.

Watch this space for notes on the other talks that I attended.

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