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TLA Conference – Search Engine Updates April 21, 2008

Filed under: Conferences,TLA 2008 — ellie @ 8:00 pm
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See the latest in search technologies. What’s new in the search engine world and what exciting changes are ahead? What are the new features being offered? How is search functionality changing?
Nancy Buchanan, director of content development, Questia Media.

I attended Nancy Buchanan ‘s excellent presentation last year, so despite the 8am time slot I was determined to go again this year.

Since I’ve been following much of Nancy’s keeping up advice from last year, not too much of this was new to me, but it was an excellent refresher. I especially enjoyed the information on data collection and sharing (Trend #8 ) – many of those sites for comparing search trends were new to me and super fun!

She told us she was going to talk about what’s going on in the world of internet search engines, what’s new from last year, what had been in beta that’s more available, features, functions, etc. She said she’d be showing lots of screen shots and that the handout has the URL of each website she’s going to. I have a copy of the handout if anyone would like to see it (though I’ve also included all the links as they’ve come up in my notes here) and asked Nancy to email me a copy of the slides. She said they were incredibly large and apparently too large for the TLA handout site to handle. I’ll see if I can work any shrinking magic on them.

The outline of the presentation was to cover some main trends:

  • Personalization – services, display, results
  • Search assistance – to assist you in getting more relevant results
  • Information, not just search results – want to take you right to the information
  • Media type integration – has been developing
  • User input and impact – how they can take user behavior and feedback into account
  • New search results displays
  • It’s a business
  • Data collection and sharing
  • Websites for keeping up

Trend #1 – Personalization

She said she will be showing specific examples but many engines might be doing it, not just the ones shown. Search engines are making it a personalized user experience in a wide variety of ways.

Ask.com

  • upper left corner has polka dots, click to try a skin – can choose a new look, can upload your own
  • don’t need an account- drops a cookie
  • also offers the ability to set preferences – ask calls it options
  • can remember your search history
  • how many results you want to display at a time
  • saved results

Google (Customized Home Page)

  • the search engine that first tried to do customization , also in a more meaningful way
  • can set up your own Google homepage
  • she has Shakespearian insulter
  • a lot of it is just fun
  • they’re trying to make you attached to Google, make you want to come back
  • can have many tabs
  • can add things – they’ll show you the most popular, can also search
  • can click on categories too
  • click add it now button
  • a lot of libraries make their gadgets available – usually a catalog search
  • Google wants and encourages people to create their own gadgets

Windows Live / Live Search / MSN

  • you can personalize there too

Back to Google (Search History)

  • when you’re logged in it will save all your searches, results and what you clicked on – could be very scary or very helpful
  • when logged on in your Google account – go to my account – web history
  • web history was beta last year, not beta anymore
  • option on the left hand side – can pause the web history function
  • also option to remove items
  • you can also search your search history
  • trends tells you your top queries, sites you clicked on
  • notebook feature has more functionality now
  • adds “note this” to your results
  • can use this to collect and organize information
  • can search your notes, tag, label
  • Google is digging deep to help you find things

Yahoo!

  • focuses more on the entertainment side
  • similar personalization of the home page

Trend #2 – Search Assistance

Yahoo! brought out search assist last year

  • when you start searching if your typing starts to slow down it will start to give you other popular searches people have done that stars with those letters
  • in the search display there’s a little down arrow – offers “explore concepts” – will add those to your search
  • there are search assist settings
  • also offers “also try”

Answers.com will also start giving you suggestions

in Ask – they offer narrow and expand in a left column

Google have started giving suggestions at the top and bottom

  • Google will sometimes give you a second search box within the results – e.g. – best buy
  • will search that site

Google Labs – where they put things that aren’t quite ready for prime time

  • Experimental Search – shows search refinements they’re working on
  • tell you number of results with each suggestion

Trend #3 – Information not just search results

Answers.com – not a traditional search engine

  • they successfully started a trend in giving answers
  • usually gives you a bio if you search a person
  • gives you a drop down like a table of contents to your results
  • provide a list of who they’re getting info from

Ask

  • put encyclopedia entry on the right side, pulled out business listings
  • search on Dallas weather gives weather in results
  • search on austin texas libraries – since it was a geographic search they give you a map first
  • regular results underneath

Trend #4- Media type integration

Images show in results – e.g. roses – teases with a few, but can also switch to image view

Live Search – promoting videos

Google launched late last spring – Universal Search

  • they want to figure out what type of media you’re looking for
  • “I have a dream” – 1st result google books, some regular, then some youtube videos
  • search on george w. bush, first results are news results
  • gradually worked it in, has had an impact on users
  • don’t see them on every search
  • changing what users are finding and clicking on

Trend #5 – User input and impact

Live Search

  • offers in results – “is this useful” yes or no
  • then “tell us more” – takes you to an open ended survey
  • is the video integration useful and are you getting the correct videos

Less direct ways

Google web history

  • will start taking into account what you’ve done before
  • more obvious thing last fall – every result had an up arrow or an x – not a live experiment anymore

Wikia – ultimate example of user impact on search results

  • by guy that started Wikipedia
  • Wikia is a for profit unlike Wikipedia
  • concept of user generated content/input
  • Wikia search launched January this year
  • first result is a mini article
  • user generated overviews
  • can go edit it
  • can’t give more direct impact yet
  • there’s interest in what he’s doing because of who he is
  • he’s raised $14 million in funding – partners include amazon, netscape
  • article in business week
  • can it live up to the hype?
  • right now – no! but he says it just started
  • he announced that within 2 months he expects to have the next phase out where users provide input
  • that’s where we’ll see how that works with search results

Search engines are constantly updating their algorithms based on what users are clicking on

Change of results for “texas libraries” – results recently geared towards TLA – likely b/c of spike in searches and resultant clicks.

Trend #6 – New search results displays

Last year she talked about visual search displays

Grokker is still the most interesting – it’s what ebsco uses for their visual search – they give you a clustered display

Admits her bias that she’s never gotten in to visual search [me neither!]

Aquabrowser at Queens Library – aqua.queenslibrary.org

Google experimental search

  • alternate views for search results
  • one is a timeline view
  • can offer a time period
  • map view – with civil rights search
  • both have a lot of potential use in library use/educational
  • 3rd new one – info view – trying to make the excerpts more meaingful – so far, least successful

Trend #7 – It’s a business

A lot of what she talked about so far is because it’s a business. They want to keep you on their site. It’s not all a bad thing. If it’s not a business it probably wouldn’t exist.

  • Yahoo is up for sale. Google is eager to thwart a Microsoft/Yahoo deal.
  • Yahoo is the #2 player in advertising revenue. Google is more sophisticated. Yahoo is letting google show some of their ads.
  • Ask.com has given up on trying to be an all purpose search engine
    • They were one of the first to narrow search, etc.
    • They are going to focus their site on a narrower market – married women looking for help managing their lives

Trend #8 – Data collection and sharing

Not new, but a lot more aware of it and a lot more of it going on, some positive and negative aspects

Info about search engines – the big players

  • Google – 58-60% of search engine traffic
  • Yahoo!
  • Microsoft
  • Aol

January 9.9 billion searches by Americans. February was down from January.

Craigslist ranks higher than Amazon for searches

Website used by businesses when they’re trying to find out how people search:

  • Quantcast
    • you can use it for free
    • summary, traffic info, demographic data
    • they combine multiple data collection methods
    • they get people to put software on their computer – say they have millions
  • Compete is a similar site – “track your rivals then eat their lunch” – can compare sites
  • Alexa another similar – focused on comparisons
  • buzz.yahoo.com

Yahoo and Google will share their top searches

Google Zeitgeist

  • Google focuses on trends rather than ranking
  • can change date field – a little piece of history
  • can see by country

Ask tells you honest to goodness, here’s what people are typing vs. google wanting to give up and coming and Yahoo giving entertainment

Google labs – Google trends

  • can create your own trend graph
  • can put in anything you want to compare
  • will tie it to headlines and news items
  • Great use – compare Gilgamesh and Steinbeck to prove:
    • some items tie better to certain times of year
    • earlier in the semester, especially fall will have earlier literature, later in the semester more modern literature will come up

These are applications you can use when you’re trying to think more broadly about what can you learn about how people research.

Ask has Ask Eraser – will stop collecting data – period

People have become concerned because there have been a couple of big stories – Aol data allowed people to put together profiles

Can get some info from the website’s privacy policy

Don’t believe info/data from news stories about search engines, it’s often out of date

Upcoming – European Union is getting serious about privacy issues – potential that what the EU enact could impact us over here

Keeping Up

Places you can go for news and information

You can go directly to the websites

Search Engine Showdown had a bit of a librarian pov, doesn’t update frequently, but when they’re updated they’re really helpful and nice

Search Engine Watch – pov of marketing – still a lot of really good news and updates – lots of ratings and stats

Search Engine Land – also marketing pov – can pick specific engines

Webmaster World – don’t let the name scare you – not all overly technical – has forums

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