Online 2011: Search Engine Update

This session featured three speakers each covering a different aspect of the current search engine landscape. First up was Marydee Ojala, with a talk entitled “So many search engines, so little time”.

People equate both “search” and “online” with “google”. However, Google’s relevancy is declining: they have no more commitment to advanced search options, and are cutting options that information professionals appreciate. Using alternatives to google can give you an edge.


  • Has advanced search as refinement option – that actually works!
  • Most innovations start in the US, and don’t always reach rest of world – so you won’t always see their newest, most advanced options
  • Field searching – more extensive than google
  • Now powers yahoo search in most countries

Country-specific search engines:


  • No spam, no content farms
  • Custom search
  • User created, crowdsourced
  • Use slashtags to customize your search, monitor subjects

Duck Duck Go

  • Privacy – doesn’t save searches
  • Crowdsourced, user generated content

Google search options

  • E.g. Blog search, Scholar, Images, etc. Amazing how many people don’t know about the separate databases within Google
  • Be wary of Google News – your results are filtered
  • Google Scholar – useful for academic articles, but we have no idea what coverage is like! Google won’t tell us.

Image and video search

Paid search tools are still the best option. They offer transparency, precision, repeatable results, consistency, no SEO manipulation. This all gives info pros an edge over those who think they can find everything on the open web.

Where will innovations come from?

  • Only google will kill google! They are losing track of their original mission
  • Innovation happens in the margins, not big search engines
  • Algorithms change all the time. Results you see one day may not be there the next
  • Semantic search – not new, but not mainstream. Main potential is in enterprise search.

To sum up, Marydee stressed that the most important thing to remember is to keep up with changes, and to choose the right search engine for the job at hand – don’t just use one search engine for everything. And be prepared to ditch an old favourite if it isn’t really working for you any more, or if you can find something else that works better.

Next up was Arthur Weiss, on specialist search – finding people, news and numerical data. This should be simple, but isn’t. Optimized search is not helpful for specialised data, as it is optimized for what the majority want: based in keywords, not content. Ordinary search engines struggle to classify what is a name, what numbers mean, what counts as news.

News search:

Numeric and structured data

  • Statistical data – Google Public Data (allows visual presentation), offstats (run by Auckland University), Open Data Directory (some very odd content! Government and local authority sources )
  • Wolfram Alpha – structured data. Good for quick calculations but doesn’t give source details, so you don’t know where the data is coming from, or how old it is.
  • Zanran.com


  • Go to LinkedIn first! Very powerful, but does rely on people having entered profiles and kept them up to date
  • Xing is like LinkedIn but much smaller. Good for German-speaking areas
  • Jigsaw doesn’t have the same depth as LinkedIn, but is good for stats/numbers (e.g. how many sales people at certain company)
  • Various people search engines, usually not very accurate. Yatedo, ZoomInfo, pipl, 192, yasni, etc. Better to go directly to LinkedIn etc.

The final speaker was Karen Blakeman, on what search engines know about us. She promised we’d all be very paranoid by the end of the session!

Recommendations, personalised ads, personalized search results are all commonplace – all major search engines and shopping sites do this. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can cause privacy concerns – and can mess up your search results! Most sites can tell a great deal about you from your browser – try Panopticlick to find out what information you are giving away.

Geolocation – Google and other services can generally tell where you are, which can be very useful for finding local services etc. However, this is less helpful if you’re doing professional search, e.g. researching the distribution of a certain company across the whole of the country. You can use location search proactively if you’re looking into industries/services in a particular country or region – try using the specific country version of a search engine.

Search engines and social networks know what you’ve searched before, what you’ve clicked on and what you’ve “liked”, shared, etc. Your web history will alter your search results in Google whether you are signed in to your Google account or not. This will be used not only to filter your search results but also to show you targeted adverts. You can see what google thinks you are interested in on their preferences page – you can also edit your preferences or opt out entirely from this page.

You can’t completely block out all personalisation, but some “damage limitation” is possible. For example, make sure you are logged out of your Google/Facebook/Bing/etc accounts while you are not using them. Regularly check your privacy settings on all accounts – Facebook in particular has a nasty habit of changing them without warning! Delete your browser history if you don’t need it, and regularly review things like your Google ad preferences and dashboard. Remember though that personalisation is not always a bad thing – you need to weigh up how useful it might be to you, versus how much information you want to give away.


4 comments on “Online 2011: Search Engine Update

  1. Great recap! This caught my attention: “However, Google’s relevancy is declining: they have no more commitment to advanced search options, and are cutting options that information professionals appreciate. Using alternatives to google can give you an edge.”

    I would add that in addition to other search engines, you might consider a platform geared specifically designed for information professionals so they can efficiently deliver relevant information to individuals instead of asking them to blindly search for it.

    Check out this positon paper form Attensa CEO Charlie Davidson:
    The 21st Century Information Professional and the Opportunity of Abundance http://www.attensa.com/position-paper/

    Reach out if I can be of help.
    Happy Holidays,
    Mark Evertz at Attensa http://www.attensa.com

    • Thanks for the comment Mark. I agree that paid-for resources are always better to use than free search engines – I think the idea behind this session was more along the lines of if you *need* to use a free search tool, which are the best to use.

      Funnily enough, my workplace is actually looking at a trial of Attensa’s RSS tool at the moment! The position paper you’ve linked to looks interesting – unfortunately, the form to request a copy doesn’t seem to be working in either Chrome or IE7 (the only 2 browsers I have access to at work). Is there a direct download link for it somewhere?

  2. Thanks Mark!
    P.S. Your comments got caught by my spam filter for some reason, so I have deleted the duplicate comment you left.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: