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July 27, 2012 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Get More Out Of Google — in a recent study on student research skills, 3 out of 4 students couldn't perform a "well executed search" on Google. When the success of your term paper hangs in the balance, using Google effectively is crucial, but most students surprisingly just don't know how. Get that and more at Hack College, where you'll get 10 Tips from a Senior to an Incoming Freshman.
posted by netbros (72 comments total) 178 users marked this as a favorite

 
A lot of my students have no idea that you can search books or Google scholar separately. Or, to be honest, that Google has a page 2 of search results which might contain useful information not on the first page. And don't get me started on issues with search terminology or limiting the search to certain domain names...
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:35 PM on July 27, 2012


And right at the moment I am trying to design an assignment that teaches you how to search the net effectively. It's not going that well, sadly.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:37 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those 10 tips are perfectly conventional. Why not just one tip to replace them all: Listen to your mother.
posted by etc. at 3:37 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, a lot of the current undergrads (3rd years and 4th years) I've taught in a major US university don't seem to have a good grasp of how to use search engines or Wikipedia
posted by Bwithh at 3:38 PM on July 27, 2012


I'm all for sharing information on how to get information, but the focus on Hack College seems a bit strange. Here are some other good resources:

How to Use Google Search More Effectively [INFOGRAPHIC] (Mashable)

Google's own "Tips and Tricks"

25 Awesome Google Search Tips To Become a Better Searcher (mybloggertips.com)
posted by GnomeChompsky at 3:39 PM on July 27, 2012 [28 favorites]


I don't have much to contribute to this post, but I always find it funny to peruse lists of most commonly searched for questions on Google like, "How do you find a girlfriend" or some other question that a machine couldn't possibly answer like Google is some sort of god-like device (well it kind of is actually).
posted by gagglezoomer at 3:40 PM on July 27, 2012


Oops, didn't mean to repeat the Mashable link. Sowwy!
posted by GnomeChompsky at 3:41 PM on July 27, 2012


Ah, the new core competencies. Soon, they'll start testing Google searching, Facebook stalking, and torrent-browsing skills in high school. There will be classes on safe sexting taught by bored PE teachers. In elementary school, instead of collages, kids will make tumblrs. Instead of having interests they'll have pinterests. States will be embarrassed to report that only 50% of their 5th graders can successfully evade the New York Times firewall or view a 10-page article all on one page.
posted by shivohum at 3:41 PM on July 27, 2012 [24 favorites]


This makes me sad, in the same way that people who can't do basic math like long division or who do not possess basic writing skills like penmanship makes me sad.
posted by Justinian at 3:48 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't have much to contribute to this post, but I always find it funny to peruse lists of most commonly searched for questions on Google like, "How do you find a girlfriend" or some other question that a machine couldn't possibly answer like Google is some sort of god-like device (well it kind of is actually).

reading AskMe is a lot like that.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 3:48 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


That would be totally awesome if elementary kids made tumblrs instead of collages, because I could totally get into that with my kids. What's gonna replace dioramas? I'm totally done with those too.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 3:49 PM on July 27, 2012


Wow, a lot of hate for some great tips (I've been using Google ever since the time long, long ago that librarians seemed to be the only ones who used it, and I just got schooled). What gives?
posted by Yowser at 3:52 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


The best piece of advice in there is boiled down to: don't try searching for your question specifically, try searching for how you think your piece of information will appear.

The strange thing about the guide, however, is that a lot of the time your information will appear as the answer to a specific question. It's not guaranteed to be very good information (usually comes from group Q/A sites), but it will give you an answer, since somewhere in the page is likely to be a question similar to the one that you formulated for your search. In terms of getting raw results (without deference to quality), typing a question in to Google is a very effective way to get search returns.

The way that a lot of undergrad information literacy works, in my experience, is a single day in the library, and there's only so much that an instruction librarian can do one or two days out of a whole college career. I'd like to see iSchools and MLIS programs start teaching undergrad programs that offer research methods courses and are requirements for all undergrads - but the prevailing wisdom in a lot of high level administration is magical thinking about 'digital natives' who somehow gain search skills in the womb.
posted by codacorolla at 3:53 PM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


What's gonna replace dioramas? I'm totally done with those too.

PowerPoint?
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:03 PM on July 27, 2012


Google, bah! In my day we had to leave the house to research. We'd travel miles to a stone building called a Library. You needed a special card for that. And you'd carry piles of heavy dead wood shavings home. They were called Books. They were manually operated. No batteries or USB cables. And you got the information out of them by using your brain and hand! No cut and paste. You wrote on more wood shavings with ink tubes called Pens.

You kids and your Google. Now get off of my WiFi!
posted by Splunge at 4:04 PM on July 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


but the prevailing wisdom in a lot of high level administration is magical thinking about 'digital natives' who somehow gain search skills in the womb.

Man I wish the "digital natives" meme would just die already. I had to explain once, in a class of college juniors and seniors, the difference between a *browser* and a *search engine,* because some of them had absolutely no idea. As in, one student said, "yeah sometimes instead of Google, I switch to IE." I am not kidding you.

So I think even this how to search hack presumes knowledge that some college students may not have.

Sometimes I long for the days of card catalogs, because at least then the powers that be knew that they were hard to use and kids needed instructions. When I was in elementary school they brought us to the library every year and reacquainted us with the card catalog, Facts on File, etc. I guess they figured if they did it every year, it would eventually stick. Why don't they teach online search skills in elementary schools? What are they doing with all those computers anyway?

I shouldn't have to teach these kind of remedial skills to 20 year-olds, but I do.

Argh.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 4:06 PM on July 27, 2012 [22 favorites]


It's ancedotal data, but from what I've heard the teachers who should be doing this are media specialists (school librarians, formerly), and a lot of public schools have almost no idea what to do with their media specialists. In a lot of school systems you can be a media specialist and never do work beyond checking stuff in and out or running the occasional 30 minute class session (and for specialists who have been there for 40 years and haven't changed with the times, this is exactly what they do). Good media specialists will actively reach out to teachers, visit classrooms, plan activities to teach search strategies or whatever else - but (assuming that you have a willing and energetic media specialist) it's very hard to get classroom buy-in for this type of interaction, especially since a lot of public schooling is teaching to the test. It takes a great deal of luck for the stars to align and to get administrators, teachers, and media specialists all on the same page. I've seen some of my nephew's work from his media classes, and it's all absolutely terrible, useless stuff copied from workbooks.

It's the same problem that university teaching librarians have, just on a different scale and in a different environment. I don't have the link off-hand, but there was a post a month or so ago about the FCC wanting to institute digital literacy corps to teach these sorts of skills without realizing that their initiative already exists, and has existed for years!

It seems as though the people with money either don't realize that the problem exists, or go about fixing it in an absolutely ass backwards fashion.
posted by codacorolla at 4:22 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I was in elementary school they brought us to the library every year and reacquainted us with the card catalog, Facts on File, etc.

Knowing how to use card catalog keywording and knowing syntax (e.g., operators) takes you 90% of the way to being a Google genius IME.
posted by immlass at 4:26 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


These are great tips and all, but the one thing that stood out to me was:

tp buttz

presented without "lol," but seriously, lol
posted by Panjandrum at 4:27 PM on July 27, 2012


"Don't Ask Google Questions"

Ha, sorry Internet, I'm going to keep doing that.
posted by dgaicun at 4:38 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing that has improved my search results the most in recent years:
How to Set Verbatim Mode on Google Chrome
posted by benzenedream at 4:51 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here to back up immlass, and opine that - in addition to the resources mentioned upthread - "figuring out HOW to compose your search terms" is part of a larger set of skills (involving critical reasoning/deduction/induction/etc.) that weren't taught when I was in school and apparently still aren't. A minority of people can and have cobbled such skills together on their own, obviously; but in my perfect world they'd be an integral, formal part of Education.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:54 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


For various work-related reasons (and because I know a couple of librarians in Google User Education), I enrolled in the Google Powersearch class. I didn't realize it was a one-time thing or I'd recommend it to some of you professors who have students who are struggling. The videos are still available, though, and they are pretty useful.

Not only does Google cover the basics (including, bless them, a section on how to use Ctrl/Cmd F), they also cover some of the core information literacy concepts (thinking about synonyms and ways to phrase your search to get the best results, relevance searching and how to refine your results, source credibility, that kind of thing). There's a whole lot more--about 35, 35 classes in all--and I think Google has done a pretty good job of explaining their ecosystem as well as, incidentally, search in general.

Obviously, I'm not keen on using every portion of this Google branded stuff to discuss information literacy, but I'm a pretty huge proponent of lifelong information literacy and given that licensing prohibits alumni access to our expensive academic databases, I've decided to work towards teaching students how to evaluate websites and yes, how to properly use Google in addition to some of the information that I also give them about how to use library resources.

I work with business students, so maybe my work isn't easily replicable with other disciplines. But I have to tell you, I don't think libraries can get away with ignoring how Google works--and how ignorant students are about how Google works.
posted by librarylis at 4:57 PM on July 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Very handy dandy post, thanks. I was trained pretty thoroughly on doing Westlaw and Lexis searches in law school and afterward, but never on Google. This post adds considerably to my current repetoire of Google search tricks.
posted by bearwife at 5:00 PM on July 27, 2012


Yeah, codacorolla made the point I was going to make. I knew all these tricks, and consider myself savvy, but nearly every tech-related question I have returns the right answer in the top few hits when I just type it in. I know Google doesn't understand questions, but Google indexes so many Q&A forums that my question has been asked and answered more than 9 out of 10 times.
posted by monkeymadness at 5:21 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's gonna replace dioramas? I'm totally done with those too.

Minecraft
posted by -harlequin- at 5:28 PM on July 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


This was a pretty good list of ways to push Google into more refined searches, and nicely presented. (Although really, the section about keyboard shortcuts... well, Windows keyboards don't have any keys with the Apple cloverleaf on them, so that was kind of poorly done.)

Really, though, I'm shocked at how many people don't know how to do real keyword searching and then scan results to refine the keywords they are looking for. Now, I do admit, when infoseek was in development, I was one of the alpha testers and they spent some time with me teaching me keyword searching and such, so maybe I have a bit more inside knowledge about how search engines interact with keywords and such...

But even on a rudimentary level, it's surprising to me how many people search for a single word, or two words (three is really optimal), and then they don't scan results to see if there might be another word to include or to swap out with one of the ones already used in order to get better or different results.

Still, knowing how to use keywords doesn't have anything to do with the kinds of targeted searches described in this post, and I learned a thing or two just with my quick glance. So... nice post! Thanks!
posted by hippybear at 5:33 PM on July 27, 2012


Also, thinking about it a little more, the ways that search gets taught isn't critical at all. There's no mention of how Google works in this particular infographic, and I don't believe that sort of thing is routinely taught in info lit courses. Understanding page-rank, Google's business model, the basics behind SEO scamminess, and the other non-utilitarian realities of search makes you a more savvy searcher as much as it makes you more effective.
posted by codacorolla at 5:38 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


reading AskMe is a lot like that.

AskMe is more like, "I left my boyfriend laying out on the counter, unrefridgerated, for at least three days. Can I still eat him?"
posted by Forktine at 5:45 PM on July 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


People always talk about Google fu. But when most people talk about Kung fu they're talking about fighting. What I want to know is why hasn't anyone organized Google fu battles? Like a competition where people are given questions, and have to race against each other to find the answers via masterful Google searches.

It could be presented as a video spilt-screen of their computer monitors. I might watch that and learn things in the process.
posted by dgaicun at 5:48 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


John Tedesco blogged his notes from Google search expert Daniel Russel speaking at the Investigative Reporters and Editors meeting in Boston. Via BoingBoing, which has a link to an amazing search Russel demonstrated on his blog: find phone number of the location a picture was taken from.
posted by warbaby at 5:56 PM on July 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


This site is god-awful. From an article on college in L.A. by a Tufts English major:

"Without further to do…"

"There’s a shot at greatness in the air at all times and you’ll have palm trees. Palm. Trees. It’s paradise and a big city rolled into one , a city connected to similar areas on the West and one with a recent but rich history full of famously beautiful people and beautiful land."

"People have often called fake or superficial in L.A. and the intellectual circles on the East feel less vibrant."

"If the weather has a large bearing on your mood and if you can drive and are driven enough to make it, to some extent, consider L.A."
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:02 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I tried to Google my awesome question "why hasn't anyone organized Google fu battles" and instead got this list of popular search questions reflecting man's profound inquisitive nature.
posted by dgaicun at 6:06 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


oh dear dgaicun, you have inspired hours of procastination in which i type "why hasn't" followed by whatever pronoun/noun comes to mind. hilarity and nothing done...

and yet, i feel this is the sort of thing that will help me someday in another google search...
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:36 PM on July 27, 2012


Get More Out Of Google

Okay, so, they have some tips on how to use Google, mostly words, in sentences, with the occasional decorative image. There are no maps, essentially no diagrams, nothing that really uses spatial layout as a tool of communication, so the document is completely within the powers of HTML.

So, naturally, they put all of it in a GIF and call it an "infographic". With no alt text. With a title attribute of "google".

And you know, if they don't care about the bandwidth, I get that — it's 2012, we have video on the internet now, and who really cares about a 400-some-odd-kB image that could have been maybe 4 kB of text?

And if they don't care about whether their tips are readable by blind people using screenreaders, well, that's a bit shitty of them, actually, but maybe they've never really had occasion to think about how people with poor or no vision use the web, and yeah, that's sighted-person privilege for sure, but we don't have to get all torch-and-pitchforky about it.

But! But! The entire goddamn point of the so-called infographic is how to google things, and they went out of their way to hide their text in a GIF so it's ungooglable! THIS TEXT ISN'T EVEN ACCESSIBLE TO CTRL-F, WHICH THEY SPECIFICALLY RECOMMEND IN THE INFOGRAPHIC! GAH!

tl;dr: Web accessibility, motherfucker, do you speak it?!
posted by stebulus at 6:36 PM on July 27, 2012 [33 favorites]


I spent the past school year teaching, among other things, technology to 9-12 year olds. One of the lessons I gave them was what to do when they were having difficulty coming up with search terms. Write down their question as if they were asking a person, underline the nouns and adjectives, and use those. If some words appear together in the sentence, keep them together as a phrase. It doesn't work perfectly, but it's not bad.
posted by booksherpa at 6:37 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]



I'm surprised that more kids aren't learning this. Maybe it is part of the curriculum where I live. Last year I did some volunteer work at a few different schools during several classes. They all had a computer at the back of the room and learning how to look things up was just part of what they did. When they started learning about something a couple of kids were sent back to see what they could find. One of the things I did was help them out. It was pretty cool.

I don't questions in google. I do it and have always done it the ways that are suggested. I thought the way I do it was just how people ended up figuring out how to get the best links. Guess not.
posted by Jalliah at 6:47 PM on July 27, 2012


11,000 searches and counting and I didn't know above half this stuff.
posted by jamjam at 6:53 PM on July 27, 2012


But when most people talk about Kung fu they're talking about fighting.

The Chinese term for martial arts is actually "wushu." "Kung fu" can approximately be translated as "achievement of man." Any skill that is acquired over time and with great effort can be described as kung fu.

In other words, my Google Fu has no belt system.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:00 PM on July 27, 2012


People always talk about Google fu. But when most people talk about Kung fu they're talking about fighting. What I want to know is why hasn't anyone organized Google fu battles? Like a competition where people are given questions, and have to race against each other to find the answers via masterful Google searches.

Well, they are (or were) called net hunts or treasure hunts. I did rather well in one of the first.

So if anyone is putting together a League of Extraordinary Search Gentlemen and Scholars, call me! [makes telephone gesture, modem negotiation sounds]
posted by zippy at 7:05 PM on July 27, 2012


my Google Fu has no belt system.

Mine has no pants.
posted by zippy at 7:06 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]



It's ancedotal data, but from what I've heard the teachers who should be doing this are media specialists (school librarians, formerly), and a lot of public schools have almost no idea what to do with their media specialists.


In fact, a lot of schools have gotten rid of their librarians/media specialists and replaced them with volunteers or paraprofessionals who don't have library science degrees, because they don't have any money, or because they don't know what librarians ought to be teaching children. (To be fair there are a lot of very effective searchers who are not trained librarians, and there are a lot of trained librarians who aren't good at Google.)

It's rough, as a public librarian, because children don't ask for help unless they're looking for a book (usually because a teacher prohibited them from using internet resources). If they're going to learn this stuff, it probably has to be in class.
posted by Jeanne at 7:13 PM on July 27, 2012


Justinian, I have terrible handwriting. But I can spell, and do basic arithmetic, and handle most things that need to be done on a computer. Why do you consider penmanship to be the analogue to long division, rather than something more discrete?
posted by Night_owl at 7:28 PM on July 27, 2012


codacorolla: "The best piece of advice in there is boiled down to: don't try searching for your question specifically, try searching for how you think your piece of information will appear. "

Actually, this behavior confounds search engine researchers. In theory the more terms the better your search result, just like how one should use more words in AskMefi than fewer.
posted by pwnguin at 7:30 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Google actually has a neat game-ish thing designed to teach people how to solve mildly complex problems using a search engine, often requiring people to do one search to get enough information to do another, or even making you combine information from two separate searches (gasp!). I made my research-deficient students practice with it.
posted by Garm at 7:46 PM on July 27, 2012


I also did google's powersearch course and I thought it was really well done. I guess I knew more than 50% but it was actually nice to have a lot of half-beliefs confirmed, as well as cementing in some further foundation knowledge.

I can't quite work out what's open or not to the public anymore - librarylis says the videos are still available but I'm not sure if you need to have the actual video URLs ---> they weren't discoverable previously without registering. *I* see the full course available here http://www.powersearchingwithgoogle.com/ but I'm not sure if that's because I'm all cookied in.

What I do have, if anyone wants them and is unable to reach that address, are these three things:
-the whole of the course in a html text version (I haven't looked through the googledoc into which I simply copy/pasted it all, but I think there were tables/pictures essentially hotlinked and/or being squashed by the doc dimensions: I'm sure it's ok; just might need rejigging for appearance sake)
PLUS
-all the tips from the beginning of each post-lesson activity
PLUS
-all the URLs for the videos (I know they're accessible for non-registrants)

So mefimail me if you want it (I'll prolly combine all 3 and make that composite googledoc url public and give you that link ... tomorrow)
posted by peacay at 8:13 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


peacay, the Powersearching class wasn't publicly available when I first put the URL up but it seems to be now (either that or my Friday is going great). The YT videos that I listed are private (unreachable without already knowing the URLs) so definitely not discoverable without access to the class.

The Google docs you've got are pretty handy and I think you're awesome for offering to share, though I would urge folks who are interested to also look at the Powersearching class pages because it's great to have the info integrated into the activities and the other lessons and all of that.
posted by librarylis at 8:32 PM on July 27, 2012


Looks available to me... although the only tip on there I wouldn't have guessed is using the white color to select for graphs in an image search.
posted by Night_owl at 8:33 PM on July 27, 2012




librarylis, you put up a different URL than me. I'm imagining we both have access cookies. Can others who didn't do the course see/access material here?? http://www.powersearchingwithgoogle.com/ [I'm actually asking the mods in the background about whether my comment above should be ditched if'n the material is still closed to non-registrants]
posted by peacay at 9:07 PM on July 27, 2012


I asked a question on the green about this. Some time after, A Google A Day came out. As was mentioned in the question, Asimov thought of it first.
posted by curuinor at 9:07 PM on July 27, 2012


Oh Night_owl, I didn't see your comment. But what's the URL for that white colour tip??
posted by peacay at 9:10 PM on July 27, 2012


codacorolla: I don't have the link off-hand, but there was a post a month or so ago about the FCC wanting to institute digital literacy corps to teach these sorts of skills without realizing that their initiative already exists, and has existed for years!

Your comment on the subject, including links, from June 1.
posted by stebulus at 9:15 PM on July 27, 2012


peacay: Can others who didn't do the course see/access material here??

I can, and there's no way I'm cookied in.
posted by stebulus at 9:17 PM on July 27, 2012


Oops, yeah, I meant your URL now works (hadn't looked back to realize I put up the description rather than the class); I don't have Google login cookies for Safari (Google asks me to sign in) and just to be really sure I pulled it up on my phone and it worked there, too, so I'm guessing it's now public access.

So, www.powersearchingwithgoogle.com for all your Google search education related needs!
posted by librarylis at 9:17 PM on July 27, 2012


Power Searching With Google works fine for me.
posted by hippybear at 9:20 PM on July 27, 2012


Sweet. In which case I'll add this snippet I'd saved ::

There were 3 bonus videos and some links posted by the search staff over the last few days of the course to the forum..

deep web http://youtu.be/60zGiO2shu8

algebraic graphing stuff (I think) http://youtu.be/Y7k72VxaMgY
and more : http://youtu.be/6dg6LtNWq2Q

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/07/searching-for-numbers-a-powerful-tool-for-makers-and-students/

http://www.google.com/insidesearch/searcheducation/

https://sites.google.com/site/gwebsearcheducation/advanced-operators

http://www.google.com/edu/
posted by peacay at 9:30 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Heres a something I've wanted to be able to do a number of times but have no idea how - is there anyway to search gmail for a phone number?
posted by jpdoane at 9:33 PM on July 27, 2012


"...70% of college students use Macs..."

Is that true?????
posted by mrhappy at 10:20 PM on July 27, 2012


I don't have much to contribute to this post, but I always find it funny to peruse lists of most commonly searched for questions on Google like, "How do you find a girlfriend" or some other question that a machine couldn't possibly answer like Google is some sort of god-like device (well it kind of is actually).

You do realize that Google isn't making up the answer when you ask the question, right? It just links to what people have already written about the topic.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 10:23 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


You do realize that Google isn't making up the answer when you ask the question, right?

Give them a couple more years. I'm sure they're working on it.
posted by hippybear at 10:24 PM on July 27, 2012


Give them a couple more years. I'm sure they're working on it.

But what if Google AI turns out to be a total douche, and is all like "y'gotta use negs, bro"? Should I trust this Jeresy Shore Skynet as a credible omnipotence?

And what if I don't and it releases all my embarrassing emails and search histories? I'd better just obey.
posted by dgaicun at 11:15 PM on July 27, 2012


The way that a lot of undergrad information literacy works, in my experience, is a single day in the library, and there's only so much that an instruction librarian can do one or two days out of a whole college career. I'd like to see iSchools and MLIS programs start teaching undergrad programs that offer research methods courses and are requirements for all undergrads - but the prevailing wisdom in a lot of high level administration is magical thinking about 'digital natives' who somehow gain search skills in the womb.

Unfortunately, library schools are terrible at teaching practical skills (and "iSchools" even worse, in my experience). There is too much pressure to "academize" the programs, because, for some reason, being a professional program isn't good enough, so the faculty tend to specialize in theory (and often not very interesting theory, in my opinion -- Librarianship, your intellectual heart is classification, not second-layer interface studies!).

The people who need to be leading this is the academic librarians, developing programmatic approaches to laddered and incremental learning of these skills. Information Literacy may be the skill of the 21st C, and the people best positioned to produce really skilled students/users are most often underfunded and under attack at all levels. And it's not like the librarians don't know it, but it's hard to make change when you need all your leverage to just keep going.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:51 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm starting to think that lesson one should be not using Google in the first place. Between gaming search results, trying to include my friends, WordPress hacks that solely work to screw with Googlebot, and Google's own constant screwing and dumbing down of the interface, I find it infuriating much of the time. I want a GooglePro site that doesn't assume I'm an illiterate novice who really isn't looking for what I say I'm looking for and means to be on Facebook instead. I know about Verbatim, but it's buried and not something I can just turn on.

While I'm kvetching, I'd also like UnSafeSearch, which only returns the results SafeSearch would remove. Because. You know.
posted by Legomancer at 6:50 AM on July 28, 2012


I just tried today's (July 28th) A Google A Day. I found the correct answer pretty fast, but the Google wouldn't accept my correctly spelled answer because the Google-correct answer had a typo! Argh.
posted by tickingclock at 7:48 AM on July 28, 2012


*Pours out a 40oz for the fallen + operator, claimed in the cross fire of social media turfwars*
posted by radwolf76 at 10:56 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Where does this idea come from that you shouldn't ask questions to google? The example they use is "what's the air speed of velocity of a swallow?" If you type that into google, the first result is this page which is actually a long and pretty awesome page that explains how to figure it out based on the frequency of the wing flaps.

In their Infographic, they recommend some crazy thing that would limit searches to PDF and thus exclude that page entirely.

What are some examples of searches that are better answered by not just "asking the question"? I suppose there could be some highly technical examples. But for anything common, simply asking the question is probably a good way to get what you want. Google isn't some dumb box that only looks at keywords, it's a sophisticated system that’s been tuned for years to answer the queries people actually ask.

Seriously, what's an example of something you can get a better answer too by not just asking a question? A lot of times it's easier to type something like "US GDP" or " Scarlett Johansson pics" then "What's the US GDP?" or "Where are some pics of Scarlett Johansson?" If you're searching for something obvious, then you don't even need to phrase it in the form of a question. But querying in that form won't make the query not work.
Really, though, I'm shocked at how many people don't know how to do real keyword searching and then scan results to refine the keywords they are looking for. Now, I do admit, when infoseek was in development, I was one of the alpha testers and…
Yeah, but why would you use google in 2012 the way people used infoseek in 1994? I mean, it's a little more advanced. Why would you assume that google can't handle something today because infoseek couldn't handle it 15 years ago?
I spent the past school year teaching, among other things, technology to 9-12 year olds. One of the lessons I gave them was what to do when they were having difficulty coming up with search terms. Write down their question as if they were asking a person, underline the nouns and adjectives, and use those.
But again, why not just have them type in the whole question and let google figure it out? Because I'm pretty sure it would have worked out just fine. Again, like, it's totally fine to just type a question into google.

Seriously, what's an example of a query that gets the right result using keywords but the wrong result using a question?
posted by delmoi at 1:08 PM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, delmoi, I put your question to google itself. What I can't decide is whether the lack of relevant supports their point, that it doesn't work, or your point, that there's no evidence for such a claim...
posted by pwnguin at 1:50 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seriously, what's an example of a query that gets the right result using keywords but the wrong result using a question?

Putting the above text into google turns up a page about the META html tag, 6 hits for SEO tutorials, a eBay forum post about changes in the number of hits returned for specific eBay searches, a page about mysql_fetch_array, and a linkfarm's search results page for marijuana.

Entering failed natural language google query turns up this quora page as the seventh link on the first page of results.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:53 PM on July 28, 2012


Well, delmoi, I put your question to google itself. What I can't decide is whether the lack of relevant supports their point, that it doesn't work, or your point, that there's no evidence for such a claim...
Okay, so what are the keywords that you should use to answer the question instead?

Again, I asked what queries are there that get better results using keywords then by simply asking questions?
Putting the above text into google turns up a page about the META html tag, 6 hits for SEO tutorials, a eBay forum post about changes in the number of hits returned for specific eBay searches, a page about mysql_fetch_array, and a linkfarm's search results page for marijuana.
Except, that page doesn't answer the exact question either - What's a search you can do with keywords that gets a better result then asking a question?

The page you linked too came up with examples of queries that don't work well. Such as "Finding things to do (when you're not sure what you want to do)" But they didn't list keywords that worked better.

Obviously, there are some questions for which there aren't any good answers already on the web or in Google's database. In those questions, it won't matter if you're searching using keywords or a question.

Querying "what are some queries that google fails at?" comes up with the same quora page as the first result. So clearly that's not an example of a query that you can do better with keywords then a question. But that's a different question then the one I asked.

(Now obviously there are some technical queries you might do if you're looking for a page that you know contains an exact quotation or something like that, but I'm talking about the kind of queries you would do to answer a question you had, rather then pull up a specific document you know exists)

Obviously there are a lot of cases where using keywords doesn't hurt, and saves typing. But I'm looking for examples where typing a query as a question would come up with worse results.
posted by delmoi at 2:17 PM on July 28, 2012


I used to teach Intro Computing & Internet classes. I'd find some interesting, cool, funny, useful content, and then make an Internet Scavenger Hunt to have the students find the pages. They would find them, as well as other great stuff. It demonstrated the ability to use search, and was a lot of fun.
posted by theora55 at 8:08 AM on July 29, 2012


"...70% of college students use Macs..."

They were probably referring to the claim made by a stocks analyst, Trip Chowdhry. I didn't realise anyone found it credible - Fortune certainly didn't, and found a survey of college stduents showing 27% of students had Macs. I guess our article's author didn't use google well enough.
posted by jacalata at 12:27 PM on July 29, 2012


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