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Archive for January, 2008

A tour of Google’s new Experimental Search. Verdict: awesome

By David Chartier | Published: January 30, 2008 – 11:55AM CT

Considering the many kinds of information Google aggregates and the individual tools it has built to visualize all that data, one could easily argue that its primary and decidedly bare-bones search portal got long in the tooth some time ago. As search competitors like Yahoo and Ask.com have introduced new ways for users to display and organize search results, Google only showed the first official signs of improving its search results UI in May 2007. Now, finally, Google has unveiled some opt-in experimental search features that allow users to find and reorganize more kinds of search results. The days of being limited to simple lists of ten blue links may soon be behind us.

At Google’s new experimental search features page, a total of five projects are available for users to try: Alternate view for search results, Keyword suggestions, Keyboard shortcuts, Left-hand search navigation, and Right-hand contextual search navigation. Users can only elect to use one experimental feature at a time, and the only reason that explains this choice is Google’s focus on simplicity. After all, its main portal of entry has been a calculatedly simple search box and a link or three since the company’s inception. It isn’t about to suddenly offload a dump truck of new features on a user base that, by the latest numbers, largely still prefers its services to the competition.

Alternative views for search results

Google’s first search experiment, plainly named “Alternative views for search results,” could perhaps be the most appealing to users who want to view more kinds of search results inline with the standard list of text links. This Timeline View, for example, will visualize search results on a timeline, highlighting specific periods that contain links relevant to your query. You can allow Google to pick a range in history with the most relevant results, or you can specify a specific month and year, or a range of years to hone the scope of the timeline.

The Alternative views for search results experiment also offers an “Info View” and a “Map View,” both accessible under the search box on either side of the Timeline View. These two views will present extra information filters and maps, respectively, to the right of search results. The Info View above, for example, allows you to filter text search results with dates, measurements, and location information, as well as specifying images instead of text for results. These filters are a good start at offering a GUI to many of Google’s search features that have existed for some time, and it will be good to see more filters added to this particular tool.

The Map View of the Alternative views for search results experiment more or less mashes the functionality of Google Maps to the rest of Google’s index. Users are able to view basic map data relevant to their search results, but many of Google Maps’ other and more recent features, such as saving and organizing locations in My Maps or simply getting directions, are missing.

Keyword suggestions

Keyword suggestions is a simple, though handy assistant that matches what Yahoo and other engines have done for some time. Begin typing into Google’s search box, and a list of additional terms will help you to fine-tune your query. This is especially useful if you aren’t that sure about the topic or what terminology you’re using.

While the accompanying list of the number of results on the right may initially seem useless large when querying with basic terms, adding keywords to your query will quickly whittle down the number of results to a more telling number.

Keyboard shortcuts

Perhaps most appealing to keyboard junkies, the “Keyboard shortcuts” experiment simply adds Gmail-like keyboard shortcuts to the standard Google search results. Keys like J/K will select the next/previous search results (with the marker highlighted in the image above), pressing O/Enter opens a result, and the standard “/” to bring typing focus to the search box still applies. Aside from the general benefit for some users who can work faster with a keyboard, we did notice that you can scroll through to another page of search results by scrolling past the bottom of the current page with the J key. If you’ve ever needed to quickly scan through multiple pages of Google results to find the perfect one on page 5, this could be the fastest way to do it. Otherwise, this experiment, though handy, will probably be a sleeper feature to Google’s UI if it makes it at all.

Left-hand search navigation and Right-hand search navigation

Th Left-hand search navigation UI is more like bringing the advantages of the Keyword suggestions experiment along to your search results browsing in real time. The first section of this GUI allows you to query a particular Google section like Video or Shopping. The bottom portion offers keywords in real time whether you refine your original search, click through to other results pages, or click on a keyword to hone your search further. This is a great way to help users better understand the topic they’re searching for and to find other topical avenues with a real-time, unobtrusive UI assistant.

The Right-hand search navigation experiment is just like its left-handed brother, aside from obviously being positioned at the top right of search results. It also offers fewer related searches and keywords, probably to prevent it from cutting too much into Google’s coveted Sponsored Links sidebar.

Altogether, these experiments are all successes in their own right, and we don’t see much of a reason not to include them all in a future update. A good case could perhaps be made for not enabling every one by default, but these are all great tools that could easily gain wide enough appeal to justify their inclusion in Google’s primary portal. The search giant’s features have needed an upgrade for a while, and these are the perfect tools to help users traverse the mountains of data in Google’s index.

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Feeling Lucky? Don’t Tell Google

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Despite The Internet, Google Generation Lacks Analytical Skills

A study conducted by the University College London found that young people lack analytical skills necessary to assess the information they find on the Internet



While the so-called “Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Generation” grew up with the Internet, having a sizable chunk of the world’s information at their fingertips has failed to make them better thinkers, according to a university study.Young people born after 1993 are certainly familiar with computers and the Web and use both with ease, but a study conducted by the University College London found that they lacked the critical and analytical skills necessary to assess the information they found mostly through search engines.Along with young people, older generations — including professors, lecturers, and practitioners — have been affected by having so much information so easily available. “Everyone exhibits a bouncing, flicking behavior, which sees them searching horizontally rather than vertically,” said the study, which was released this week and commissioned by the British Library. “Power browsing and viewing is the norm for all.”The purpose of the study was to help libraries in Britain better understand how people conduct research in the digital age, so the institutions can serve the public better. While research into how young people become competent in using the Web is patchy, the study did find some consistent themes.

For one, information literacy has not improved with the widening access to technology. Instead, the speed of Web searching means little time is spent evaluating information for relevance, accuracy, or authority.

Young people also have difficulty in developing an effective search strategy. As a result, they have a strong preference for using natural language in searching, rather than analyzing which keywords might be more effective.

When searching brings back a long list of results, young people have difficulty assessing the relevance of the materials, and often print out pages with no more than a glance at them.

Young people also have an unsophisticated view of what the Internet is, and they fail to appreciate that it is a network of resources from many different providers. As a result, they focus on the search engine, such as Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) or Google, as the primary brand they associate with the Web.

Because search engines are familiar and simple to use, young people tend to use those tools in favor of library-sponsored resources.

The study also dispelled some myths about the Google Generation. For one, researchers found no evidence that young people were more impatient in fulfilling their information needs than others. Research also found that young people do not place more credibility on the Internet and their peers as information sources, but place more value on teachers, relatives and textbooks.

The Google Generation also does not feel any more of a need to be constantly connected to the Web than older people. “We suspect that factors specific to the individual, personality, and background are much more significant than generation,” the study said.

Also, it’s not true that young people pick up computer skills by trial-and-error. “The popular view that Google Generation teenagers are twiddling away on a new device while their parents are still reading the manual is a complete reversal of reality,” researchers said.

Finally, everyone, not just young people, prefers easily digestible chunks of information, rather than the full text. “Power browsing and viewing appear to be the norm for all,” the study said. “The popularity of abstracts among older researchers rather gives the game away. Society is dumbing down.”

In regards to copyright, the study found that both adults and children aged 12 to 15 had a high level of understanding of the basic principles of intellectual property. Young people, however, felt copyright protection measures were unfair and unjust. “The implications for libraries and for the information industry of a collapse of respect for copyright is potentially very serious,” the study said.

Among the takeaways of the study is that training is needed to teach young people how to become better information seekers, so they can meet the demands of higher education and research. “The key point is that information skills have to be developed during formative school years and that remedial information literacy programs at university level are likely to be ineffective,” the study said.


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Google bellies up to the bar code

January 29, 2008

Google bellies up to the bar code

One of the problems print publications have had in trying to expand into digital space is the difficulty of linking content on the paper page with content online. When we launched the digital home of the Mercury News on AOL 15 years ago, there was no convenient way of directing the newspaper reader to, say, an expanded online version of a news brief, so we assigned “bingo numbers” to the stories we posted. Each brief in the paper would be followed by a number like B321, and by plugging that number in the site search, the reader could pop up the story. Crude, but effective. Things got a lot more complicated a couple years later when we migrated the paper to the Web. The paper printed all the URLs, but it was a lot to expect of the reader — saving the paper until a computer was convenient, then typing a long address.

At the turn of the century, a company called Digital Convergence Corp. tried another approach with its CueCat, a home scanner that attached to your computer and was used to read bar codes included in print advertisements; scanning the code would take you to the desired Web page. The required purchase of hardware, along with security issues, the hooting of critics and general public indifference, eventually sent the CueCat out with the litter.

Now Google’s taking another whack at the problem, working on bar codes that can be photographed by a cell phone and translated by software to pull up a specific Web page. Despite the CueCat jokes, the idea has some potential advantages, particularly its use of existing hardware and the analytics that Google could provide the advertisers. But until Google’s dream of an open wireless platform takes shape, it would need the handset makers and wireless carriers to agree to include the software, then teach both advertisers and consumers how it all works. You can never dismiss a Google initiative out of hand, so most of the blogosphere is willing to play wait and see, but skepticism abounds.

Posted by John Murrell at 12:13 pm

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Comments

5 Comments so far

  1. Tell Dodo said on January 29, 2008 at 3:25 pm:
    Telldodo presents an alternative to print barcodes: keywords that are easy to remember and easy to type in. Just enter the simple key-phrase at telldodo.com and get back the original URL, however complicated it may be. For example: “light saber toy”
  2. Paul Werbaneth said on January 29, 2008 at 4:13 pm:
    But isn’t this already SOP in Japan? You point your very capable iMode cell phone at the QR Code printed on an advertisement or in the newspaper, take a “picture” of the QR Code, and then get directed to the web content, which you read using your iMode cell phone browser.

    Works great – what’s the big deal here?

    Oh, I forgot, we are about two generations behind Japanese cell phone technology and services.

  3. Tom DiCorcia said on January 29, 2008 at 4:32 pm:
    Paul Werbaneth is right. This is old hat in Japan. The article should have mentioned that instead of giving the impression that this is cutting edge. But it is a big deal — precisely because the US cell phone industry is so moribund. Apple’s iPhone strategy and Google’s initiatives have a hope of shaking the industry up. Think of all the nation’s cash in those monthly wireless subscriptions that could be applied to new ideas, businesses, services and technologies.
  4. Richard May said on January 29, 2008 at 6:41 pm:
    QR code readers standard in Japan phones for 3 years. Docomo, au and Softbank “keitais” include cameras that can also ’snap a picture’ of a QR code. in a flash this pops up a URL on the phone display and connects to the web site. the reader is smart in that it not necessary to align with the QR code. i was driving near the Tokyo bay area and pulled up next to a large truck with an over-sized QR code on the cab door; so i just pointed my cell phone in the general direction of the door, about 5 feet distance, and up pops the URL on my phone.
  5. Nick said on January 30, 2008 at 5:38 am:
    Printed bar codes (2D) and camera phones are being used in Europe, (Vodaphone, gode, Gavitec; Neomedia in the US.) For linking signs, to embedded web pages; a bar-code sent to a cellphone display, used as a concert/game/movie admission ticket. To download audio/video text to a users phone from a display, or trail sign. I guess the possibilities are endless, like linking print adds to web pages for high value items like antiques, collectibles, real estate, fast cars–

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January 18, 2008

It’s 2008 — do you know where your children are researching?

The British Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee have a new study out that, depending on how you think young people use the Net, may confirms some assumptions and pop others. For full context, you’ll want to read the report, which looks at the challenges facing libraries in the digital transition, but here’s a sampling of its conclusions about the “Google Generation” (born 1993 or later):

* Assumption: They are more competent with technology. Verdict: “Generally true, we think, but older users are catching up fast. However, the majority of young people tend to use much simpler applications and fewer facilities than many imagine.”

* Assumption: They prefer visual information over text. Verdict: “A qualified yes, but text is still important. As technologies improve and costs fall, we expect to see video links beginning to replace text in the social networking context. However, for library interfaces, there is evidence that multimedia can quickly lose its appeal, providing short-term novelty.”

* Assumption: They have zero tolerance for delay and their information needs must be fulfilled immediately. Verdict: “No. We feel that this is a truism of our time and there is no hard evidence to suggest that young people are more impatient in this regard.”

* Assumption: They find their peers more credible as information sources than authority figures. Verdict: “On balance, we think this is a myth. Research in the specific context of the information resources that children prefer and value in a secondary school setting shows that teachers, relatives and textbooks are consistently valued above the Internet.”

* Assumption: They are the “cut-and-paste” generation. Verdict: “We think this is true; there is a lot of anecdotal evidence and plagiarism is a serious issue.”

* Assumption: They are expert searchers. Verdict: “This is a dangerous myth. Digital literacies and information literacies do not go hand in hand. A careful look at the literature over the past 25 years finds no improvement (or deterioration) in young people’s information skills.”

Posted by John Murrell at 11:09 am

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2 Comments so far

  1. D. Wendell said on January 18, 2008 at 5:33 pm:
    A good book on this subject is “The Digital Challenge for Libraries: Understanding the Culture and Technology of Total Information” by R. Blanchard (2005). It points out that search technology is a double-edge sword and if libraries are not educating students about what they get when they conduct an online search, then they are not doing their job.
  2. The Google Generation’ – no good at researching on the web « In through the outfield said on January 29, 2008 at 5:03 pm:
    […] svextra.com […]

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Generation Google: Not So Much

Generation Google: Not So Much

Friday, January 18th, 2008;
Jordan McCollum |

Kids these days. All crazy with the texting and the AIM and the Facebook and the Google. I just don’t understand them.Ars Technica reports today about a recent study (PDF) by the British Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee on “Generation Google.” Born after 1993, this famed set of children, the oldest of whom will be fifteen this year, are supposedly legendary hunters and gatherers when it comes to Internet information.

As a member of “Generation Google” might IM: “w/e.” (Actually, I sincerely doubt that people reputed to be so hip to the Internet would type such a thing.) As it turns out, these kids aren’t any more adept at Googling than the average bear Internet user. Many urban legends about this group were disproven in the report. The findings (rated by the researchers as * low, ** medium and *** high confidence):

True or mostly true

  • They are more competent with technology**
  • They have very high expectations of ICTs**
  • They prefer interactive systems and are turning away from being passive consumers of information**
  • They prefer visual information over text*
  • They are the `cut-and-paste’ generation** “There is a lot of anecdotal evidence and plagiarism is a serious issue.”

“Open”

  • They have shifted decisively to digital forms of communication: texting rather than talking*
  • They multitask in all areas of their lives*
  • They are used to being entertained and now expect this of their formal learning experience at university*
  • They need to feel constantly connected to the web* “We do not believe that this is a specific Google generation trait. Recent research by Ofcom21 shows that the over-65s spend four hours a week longer online than 18-24s. We suspect that factors specific to the individual, personality and background, are much more significant than generation.”
  • They think everything is on the web (and it’s all free)*
  • They do not respect intellectual property**

False or mostly false

  • They have zero tolerance for delay and their information needs must be fulfilled immediately* “We feel that this is a truism of our time and there is no hard evidence to suggest that young people are more impatient in this regard.”
  • They find their peers more credible as information sources than authority figures** “Research in the specific context of the information resources that children prefer and value in a secondary school setting shows that teachers, relatives and textbooks are consistently valued above the internet.”
  • They pick up computer skills by trial-and-error** “A complete myth.” Apparently, the do read the manual.
  • They prefer quick information in the form of easily digested chunks, rather than full text*** “Power browsing and viewing appear to be the norm for all.”
  • They are expert searchers*** “This is a dangerous myth. Digital literacies and information literacies do not go hand in hand. A careful look at the literature over the past 25 years finds no improvement (or deterioration) in young people’s information skills.”
  • They are format agnostic* “We suspect that this is no longer a meaningful issue: content is no longer format dependent in cyberspace.”

I gotta say that I’m not particularly surprised that kids today are, well, still kids when it comes to information skills. I already knew what to do when I heard many of these myths: roll my eyes and sneer “Whatever.”

** Follow Andy Beal on Twitter and you could win a Nokia Internet Tablet! **

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The “Google generation” not so hot at Googling, after all

A new UK report on the habits of the “Google Generation” finds that kids born since 1993 aren’t quite the Internet super-sleuths they’re sometimes made out to be. For instance, are teens better with technology than older adults? Perhaps, but they also “tend to use much simpler applications and fewer facilities than many imagine.”The report (PDF), sponsored by the British Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee, tries to get beyond the stereotypes to find out just how good young people are with information technology, and what the implications are for schools and libraries. Based on log analysis from British Library web sites and search tools, along with a “virtual” longitudinal study based on literature reviews from the past 30 years, the report explodes a number of myths about students today.It’s true that young people prefer interactive systems to passive ones and that they are generally competent with technology, but it’s not true that students today are “expert searchers.” In fact, the report calls this “a dangerous myth.” Knowing how to use Facebook doesn’t make one an Internet search god, and the report concludes that a literature review shows no movement (either good or bad) in young people’s information skills over the last several decades. Choosing good search terms is a special problem for younger users.


The report’s cover image. Seriously.

Another common trope is that respect for authority on the Web is dead (with Wikipedia usually cited as an example) and that there are no more “experts” on the Internet; it’s all about peer knowledge. The report calls this a “myth” as well, saying that “research in the specific context of the information resources that children prefer and value in a secondary school setting shows that teachers, relatives, and textbooks are consistently valued above the Internet.”

Or what about this hoary chestnut: students today are impatient, incapable of waiting, and demand instant gratification, and any delay or requirement that effort be expended simply leads them to click off to some other site. This idea also gets axed by the report, which calls the idea “a truism of our time” with “no hard evidence to suggest that young people are more impatient in this regard.”

So what’s true about the Google generation?

  • They like to cut-and-paste. “There is a lot of anecdotal evidence and plagiarism is a serious issue.”
  • They prefer visual information over text. “But text is still important… For library interfaces, there is evidence that multimedia can quickly lose its appeal, providing short-term novelty.”
  • They multitask all the time. “It is likely that being exposed to online media early in life may help to develop good parallel processing skills.”

But libraries, generally headed by members of “the greatest generation” rather than the Google generation, need to be careful about how they try to meet the needs of the next generation. Jumping headfirst into hot new technologies like social networking can easily backfire. The report notes that some librarians are opening MySpace and Facebook pages, trying to make their services hipper to students, but that “there is a considerable danger that younger users will resent the library invading what they regard as their space.”

One Response to “The “Google generation” not so hot at Googling, after all”

  1. The Google Generation’ – no good at researching on the web « In through the outfield Says:
    January 30, 2008 at 1:03 am […] arcagility.wordpress.com […]

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