April 2011 Archive
Back in December, when Google first introduced its reading level limit on the advanced search page, I thought it strange that it appeared there and not in the "search tools" section of the sidebar since most of the new advanced search features were showing up there and not on the advanced search page. So after complaining about the reading level limit not being in the sidebar at last month's Computers in Libraries conference, and then discussing it with Tasha Bergson-Michelson (a Search Education Curriculum Fellow at Google), I was pleased to see the addition of the reading level limits to the sidebar today. First noticed last Friday at Google OS, it seems to be rolled out to all of the computers and browsers that I'm using.
It has been interesting to watch much of the coverage today, by many who think that the option is new. I guess that does reinforce my opinion that few people notice the options in the advanced search. At least a few more seem to notice it when it is in the sidebar, even though searchers still need to click on the "More search tools" link to see them.
If you've not used the reading level limits previously, just run a search, click on the "More search tools" in the left sidebar, and clicking "Reading Level." This will have the same result as using the advanced search page and choosing "Annotate results with reading level." It will display a percentage analysis of the results divided into basic, intermediate, and advanced levels and tag each result just below the title with a note identifying the reading level of that page. To limit results to just one of the reading levels, click the the level by the bar graph at the top.
Wondering why some Wikipedia articles show up as "advanced" while some university pages are labeled "basic?" Take a look at Daniel Russell's (a Google developer) explanation
Along with the new Reading Level search tool, Google has also added a "Dictionary" search tool. Google has had a long history of connecting search words to dictionary definitions. Searchers used to be able to click on their search terms in the now-gone blue bar at the top. The words (or the definition link) went to dictionary.com and then in 2005 to Answers.com. By the end of 2009, Google was using its own definitions, including automatically generated ones from the web. Now, the new dictionary search tool may retrieve information in these various sections:
- Definitions (probably from Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English)
- Web definitions
- Usage examples
- Related phrases
- Related languages
The fine print at the bottom states that "The usage examples, images and web definitions on this page were selected automatically by a computer program." The Web definitions seem to match the results searchers can get from using the define: operator (compare define:library with the new results). Of course, the librarian in me would like to know where all the other sections originate, and it would be even better to have citations to the sources on the page. For someone looking for usage and definitions, this is a useful source, but if it is a student that needs to cite the source, it is a problem, especially since Google might change it at any time.
The older Google Dictionary which used to be available at http://www.google.com/dictionary seems to be gone (redirecting to the new service), except in a Google cache copy for now and in this screenshot. I'll be curious to see how long the new Google Dictionary lasts.
About a year ago, Google killed off its SearchWiki experiment (not long after Jimmy Wales' WikiaSearch was scuttled) and introduced the ability to star results. SearchWiki let users block results, comment on results, and raise or lower rankings for specific pages. With the reintroduction of blocking, the continued use of stars, and the new +1 option, many of the SearchWiki features are back. Will more searchers use these new capabilities than used SearchWiki, and will they last any longer?
Promoting Results: +1
Last week Google introduced a new Google Labs Experimental Search option call +1. Read and see more about it on Google's +1 page, but for now at least, you must jump through several hoops to even see this option:
- Log in to a Google Account
- Be sure you have an upgraded Google Profile set up (according to the blog post)
- Go to Experimental Search and Join the +1 button experiment
- Then search Google and you should (may) see the +1 button after each result
According to Google, +1 is "browser-specific. . . . Also, it may take a while before you see the button in search results, and it may occasionally disappear as we make improvements." While the +1s are potentially going to be public, I have yet to see signs of that. If you have a Google Profile, you can see what pages you have added as +1s in the Profile. But it is very much still experimental. I first +1ed several of my sites from an account in Firefox, after joining the experiment as seen in the screenshot below. The "You Shared This" is separate, coming from sites in my Profile that I set up rather than from +1. If a page is +1ed but not in the profile, it will say "You +1'd this."
Stars and Browser Variance
Today, when I logged into the same account in IE9 (again after joining the +1 experiment), instead of seeing +1, the three sites showed up as starred results and there are no +1 buttons. Clicking the "Starred results for. . . " did not give me a list of any of these sites in my Google Bookmarks, although when I check my Profile, I could see that the +1s were listed, even in IE.
Also, note that while the star appears for the site which I clicked a +1, it does not appear for the next hit. So stars are still not showing up in search results, and you'll need to use another way to add Google Bookmarks. The stars for unbookmarked sites are gone for me in Chrome, Firefox, and IE, and the +1 works in Firefox and Chrome (at least today).
As to the blocking, kudos to Mary Ellen Bates from whose March InfoTip I finally figured out how to consistently find the blocking option. You first have to click on a search result and then go back to the Google search engine results page (and be logged in to Google). Google actually stated as much in its initial announcement, "when you click a result and then return to Google, you'll find a new link next to "Cached" that reads "Block all example.com results," but many of us missed that part, myself included. Remember that you add pages to the block list by going direct to the Manage Blocked Sites page without first running a search.
When blocking a site after running a search (on all three browsers) I sometimes see the little explosion cloud that also used to be featured in SearchWiki.
I still do not always see the "Block all . . . " link even after visiting the site and returning, but it appears most of the time. Nor does it appear for a site that I visited recently. In other words, if I click on the first hit, go back to the results, then click on the second hit, and go back to the results, I only get an option to block the second, not the first.
Who Will Use These Features?
Given all the requirements to even use most of these resurrected SearchWiki features (log in, join the experiment, have a Google Profile), my hunch is that (like SearchWiki) only a small minority of searchers will ever even see these options and fewer yet will choose to use them. There is a small portion of users that will at least try these features, as I have, and I hope they find them easier to use than I do. But after trying them, blocking a few very annoying sites and adding a +1 to some favorites, what is the incentive to continue to use features. Danny makes a great case that the +1 is Google's answer to Facebook's like button, but I think that Google needs to find even more compelling reasons to get searchers to use these. Time will tell!