Is Google feeding confirmation bias?

In its ongoing effort to answer the world’s questions (and sell ads), Google has been putting increased emphasis on its “featured snippets” – the little boxes of text extracted from whatever source Google has calculated to be most relevant. If I want to see whether my dogs can catch the flu, I can quickly see that, yes, it’s possible.

However, a recent Wall Street Journal article (“Google Has Picked an Answer for You—Too Bad It’s Often Wrong“) looked at the increased frequency of these quick answers that appear at the top of search results. (Note that these are not the Knowledge Panels, which are sourced from Wikipedia and other neutral sources.)

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Mining the Ngram Viewer

Google Books Ngram Viewer is a nifty tool that analyzes all the text of all the books Google has digitized (over 25 million and counting) and lets you see the relative frequency of words going back to the 1600s.

What isn’t immediately obvious to most people is what you can do with Ngram Viewer — what kinds of insights you can glean from analyzing the text within books.

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Do you trust that news?

In its ongoing efforts to address the scourge of misleading and false news, Google recently announced a new feature that helps readers evaluate a news source they may not be familiar with. Now,  when you search for a particular publication, the Knowledge Panel – that preformatted answers box that often appears at the top of search results – includes information about that publisher.

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For Google, it’s location, location, location

I know… all Google is trying to do is help you get “better”, or at least more relevant, results from a search. And Google has assumed that you are your location — that where you are searching from really matters. Much of the time, that’s great. But for us professional searchers who search outside our own country, Google has just made a change that will significantly affect our search strategies.

Until now, if you wanted to focus your search on results from the UK and you were located in the US, you would go to the UK version of Google at google.co.uk. And yes, you’d always get different results than when you ran the identical search in google.com. However, according to a recent Google blog post, this trick will no longer work.

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Super searching tips

I just got back from Internet Librarian 2017 (in beautiful Monterey, CA — tough assignment). Among the insights I’ve brought back are:

Google Image search is focused more on matching meaning than matching images. If you want to search for instances of an image (to watch for usage of your organization’s images or to find mentions of a chart or graph in a report or article, say), you’re better off using a reverse-image search tool like TinEye instead.

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Using Google Trends for CI

On Nov. 25, the Wall Street Journal had an article about finding the best “door-buster” items for Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend sales. A graphic accompanying the article caught my eye – it showed dramatic spikes in Google search activity for a particular brand of women’s boots every year at the end of November… just around Black Friday.

This graph was generated by Google Trends and, while it wasn’t the focus of the article, it got me thinking about the usefulness of Google Trends in identifying marketing opportunities. Imagine what you would learn if you searched for your key products or services, or those of your competitors. If you learned that your customers were looking for information about a competing product during a predictable time period, wouldn’t you want to time your communications to be talking with your market right then?

See more Google search tricks, features and bugs.

Time for Librarians to Fight Dirty

I recently saw a posting on a librarians’ discussion list for a professional position at a public library at a small community near me. It’s a lovely town and I’m sure that is part of the appeal of the job. However, the salary being offered was $16 to $20/hour for a part-time job [in an area where apartments cost at least $1,200/month]. I was horrified – that’s what I pay someone to mow my yard or walk my dogs. This is not the salary for a position that requires a graduate degree; it’s a salary appropriate for a position that requires no more than a high school education.

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More super-searcher tips

searchingIt’s the beginning of conference season for us public speakers… along with the daffodils appear boarding passes and PowerPoint slides. One of my favorite conferences is Computers in Libraries, and I will be leading the Searcher Academy pre-conference workshop as well as giving a regular presentation on super searcher tips.

I have more tips than I could fit into a blog post; here are a few of my favorites that I will be sharing at Computers in Libraries:
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Super-searcher secrets

I am a business researcher and analyst by training, and I’m always on the lookout for new and creative ways to find the more “hidden” information about companies and individuals. Here are a few of my latest favorites.

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