December 2006 Archive
I've been reading some criticism of Google's promotion of its own services on top of other search results. Blake Ross posts Trust is Hard to Gain, Easy to Lose and Phil Bradley says Google Admits It's Failing. Both criticize the "tips" that Google has introduced recently hawking Blogger, Picasa, and Calendar above regular results (but after the top ads, if there are any). One example that Blake uses seems especially egregious. A search for blogs.ca brings up that Canadian free blogging site, but right above it is Google's self-promoting "tip" to try Blogger.
Maybe it is just the type of searches I run, but today I had yet another example of the lack of overlap at the major search engines. I was searching for more information about someone for whom I only had their AIM screen name. Searching that screen name at Ask, Exalead, Gigablast, Google, Live, and Yahoo! (although not in that order), I found one page, that actually had the information I wanted -- the person's name. The one page was found by only one of the six search engines. All the rest found zero results.
On some top search results, Google adds additional links below the extract that point to subsections of the top ranked Web site. The official name from Google for these subsite links is Sitelinks. See below for a screen shot of Sitelinks for ALA.
From Technology Review comes this comparison, What's the Best Q&A Site?. The article rates the sites based on a couple of questions and gives points. The search engines compared are Askville, AnswerBag, Live QnA, Wondir, Yedda Answers, and Yahoo! Answers. There are plenty of other services, but I found the ratings interesting, with Yahoo! Answers coming out at the top. Here are the rankings and the number of points each received.
- 11 Yahoo Answers
- 7 Live QnA
- 6 Askville
- 4 AnswerBag, Wondir, and Yedda Answers
It's important to realize that the social Q&A sites are intended as much for the entertainment and aggrandizement of the answerers as for the education of the questioners. The site that gives answerers the most exposure, therefore, is likely to be the one that thrives the longest.
Walt Crawford gives an extensive overview in his Open Content Archive (OCA) and Google Book Search update. It is an excellent summary of other comments and discussions over the past several months. Of course, as soon as he publishes this, stating "The Internet Archive includes 35,000 books scanned as part of OCA (as of early December)," the OCA adds a whole new collection and announces passing the 100,000 volume mark.
Wednesday, I came across an AP article about book searching, "Google Book-Scanning Efforts Spark Debate." It mentions a "$1 million grant to the Internet Archive, a leader in the Open Content Alliance, to help pay for digital copies of collections owned by the Boston Public Library, the Getty Research Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art." The article also discusses concerns with Google's project. As interesting as this article is, it lead to an even more fascinating (to me, at least) comparison of news sources and news search engines.
Earlier this month, Yahoo! changed their "more" menu. Recently Google has been expanding theirs. A week or two ago I noticed that on my campus, Scholar had suddenly appeared in the
more >> menu. I've checked that frequently, and it was never their or above the search box previously. Other campuses (and even certain other organizations) have reported that a Scholar link was above the search box, but it had not been available to me. It is still not showing up above the search box, but at least it is under
Ask has a very nice, new, experimental user interface (UI) called Ask X which has a definite Web 2.0 look and feel, but it also has many attractive and useful new features. First seen two days ago at ReadWriteWeb, their AskX - New UI for Ask.com Secretly Launched post details many of the changes. While I have seen many UI tests at Google, and some at Yahoo!, Ask has not been as active with experimental UIs. With the Ask X experiment, anyone can try it (which is a pleasant change from Google's approach where it is only determined by the luck of the draw). Gary also has an extensive description posted.
OK, here's an unusual Google search result. With my preferences set to display 100 results at a time, I ran a search
powells books to see if it would use the plus box. Google only displayed the first four of about 962,000 (a wildly inaccurate number, but certainly there should be more than 4). So what happened? I changed the number to be displayed to ten, and Google gave ten results. When I switched back to display 100, I more than quadrupled my retrieval with 18! Switching from Firefox 2 to IE 7 to avoid cookie effects, I still just got 18.
Using scanning technology from Google Books, yesterday Google has launched a new searchable database of U.S. patents at google.com/patents. The blog post has been updated to note some problems with printing and saving, but this is an impressive collection of 7 million patents from the 1790s through to the middle of 2006, with plans to add more recent patents. While there have been many other free patent databases for well over a decade, Google's popularity may help push their version. It has few of the features that a professional patent search might want, but it can help the rest of us dig into the patent literature. Unlike some other Google databases, Patents starts out with an advanced interface for searching a few of the specific fields like
It also includes some specialized prefixes, listed on the about page, such as
patent: (for patent number searching). Date limits for issue and filing date are available.
Last Tuesday, Microsoft announced the launch of Live Search Books. Consisting of copyright-free works, Live Search Books launches with a considerable collection. I have a more in-depth review in Information Today's NewsBreaks. In working on this story, I came across an interesting example of how some books may only be found at one service or the other.
It looks like Google has rolled out a new feature within their general Web results. When a result is connected with a local business with a known address, a "plus box" will appear next to an address in blue after the snippet extract. Click the plus box to see the map, the address and phone, and a link to a larger map and directions. See Matt Cutts' example and screen shot in his explanatory blog post. It only covers the United States at this point.
Yahoo! has made a major change to the links to databases above the search box. For the past several months since Yahoo!'s major redesign to their home page, the options above the search box included Web, Images, Video, Audio, Directory, Local, News, Shopping, and More. The More was not terribly helpful, leading to the Yahoo! Tools page with lists of various Yahoo! services but not other Yahoo! databases. I found it frustrating if I was trying to transfer a search to their people or subscriptions search.
With Google's change so that their "more" brought up a new menu with a few additions, Yahoo! has followed suit, although I like their design a bit better. Now, the choices above the search box have narrowed to Web, Images, Video, Local, and Shopping. News, Audio, Directory are gone. However, click the More and a drop down menu provides News, Audio, Directory, Jobs, and Answers. It also has a link to "All Search Services" which is a list of searchable databases rather than all sorts of Tools like the old link. I think this is a positive change, though I'd rather see News and Directory on the top rather than Video or Shopping. I also wish that a Maps search (rather than just Local) was available from the new drop down menu. If you prefer the old interface, just use the search.yahoo.com version instead.
Ask has re-done their local search and re-launched it as AskCity. It is designed to integrate four searches: Business and Services, Events, Movies, and Maps and Directions. It is pulling local information from Citysearch, Ticketmaster, OpenTable, Tripadvisor, and more. Other than going directly to AskCity, it should be available in the Search Tools bar on the right (unless you've customized that). It is not (yet) available in the links above the search box after running a search, even when city names are included in the search. The maps have a variety of drawing tools and snapshot boxes below the map. The left panel has the Business, Events, Movies, and Maps choices in drop down panes.