Google: Search Civility

March 21, 2018

Among the many fake news battles organizations like Facebook and Google are fighting, far right racist organizations. More often than not, hate groups are more clever at exposing flaws in algorithms than most companies give them credit for. Big tech is still trying to find solutions to these issues, but the problems keep cropping up, as we learned in a recent story, “Google Under Fire for Anti-Semitic Search Results in Sweden.”

According to the story:

“A search on Google for the Holocaust showed an anti-Semitic blog post high up containing information about Swedish Jews. With their names, pictures and occupations listed, dozens of them were described in a humiliating and threatening manner, according to local media.

Searches for the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement’s propaganda website also appeared as news with “top stories from”

This isn’t the only occasion that algorithms have been infiltrated by offensive material. Take for example, the story of Facebook users who typed in “Videos of…” and had their search bar autofill with live sex acts. We are clearly still a long way from social media and big search cleaning up their act and once they do (if they do) we will then be in a controversial world of free speech violations.

What headaches will loom in the future?

Patrick Roland, March 21, 2018

Search History: Flipping That Digital Stone May Reveal Interesting Things

March 12, 2018

In a turn that is just about the most human thing we’ve ever heard, just as the world is on the cusp of an AI revolution, many are starting to look backward toward simpler times. We got a sideways glance at our fear of change from a PC Magazine story, “Download Your Entire Google Search History.”

The story is primarily about why on Earth anyone would want to see everything they have ever searched for. But it also touches on our desire for nostalgia in this lightning quick era:

“Users can now download their entire saved search history “to see a list of the terms you’ve searched for,” the company said. “This gives you access to your data when and where you want… For safety’s sake, don’t download past searches on a public computer—at the library, an Internet cafe, or even a friend’s house. Save the curiosity for home.”

A search history provides a useful pool of information about the user of Google search. Among the items of data which may be available are:

Time behavior signals; that is, when a person did searches and what the topics looked for in those time periods

Topic analysis; that is, what subjects did the searcher seek and how frequently were those topics queried

Link analysis; that is, what other sites were searched when a particular site was queries.

Other useful pieces of information can be extracted from a search history. When an analyst reviews the search history of the computers used by a group of people such as those individuals working on our studies of CyberOSINT, it is possible to develop a reasonable “snapshot” or “picture” of the topics we are investigating and the particular companies who products we are researching.

If you have not probed your search history, you might find that flipping over that digital rock may reveal some interesting insights.

Patrick Roland, March 12, 2018

A Step Forward but Museum Image Collections Remain a Search Challenge

March 8, 2018

For a few decades, art and history museums have been struggling with their online presences. The experience of seeing a Jpeg of a painting or sculpture is not the same as seeing it in person. That’s true. But there is one area where museums are holding a lot of valuable data and just now it’s starting to be searchable. We discovered this recently when the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s database “MetPublications.”

According to the page:

“MetPublications includes a description and table of contents for most titles, as well as information about the authors, reviews, awards, and links to related Met titles by author and by theme. Current book titles that are in-print may be previewed and fully searched online, with a link to purchase the book. The full contents of almost all other book titles may be read online, searched, or downloaded as a PDF.”

This includes over five hundred books about various exhibits that have spanned the last five decades. These slim volumes, usually released in conjunction with various exhibits, is fully searchable and a huge score for art lovers and historians. Previously, it was seen as too daunting and, potentially impossible. As far back as 2002 Computer Weekly was bemoaning the fact that museums had missed the digital boat. Turns out museums like the Met didn’t miss the boat, it’s just that their ship sails a little more slowly than the white knuckle world of Silicon Valley. Better late than never, we say.

Patrick Roland, March 8, 2018

The New York Times Wants to Change Your Google Habit

March 1, 2018

Sunday is a slightly less crazy day. I took time to scan “The Case Against Google.” I had the dead tree edition of the New York Times Magazine for February 25, 2018. You may be able to access this remarkable hybridization of Harvard MBA think, DNA engineered to stick pins in Google, and good old establishment journalism toasted at Yale University.


The author is a wildly successful author. Charles Duhigg loves his family, makes time for his children, writes advice books, and immerses himself in a single project at a time. When he comes up for air, he breathes deeply of Google outputs in order to obtain information. If the Google fails, he picks up the phone. I assume those whom he calls answer the ring tone. I find that most people do not answer their phones, but that’s another habit which may require analysis.

I worked through the write up. I noted three things straight away.

First, the timeline structure of the story is logical. However, leaving it up to me to figure out which date matched which egregious Google action was annoying. Fortunately, after writing The Google Legacy, Google Version 2.0, and Google: The Digital Gutenberg, I had the general timeline in mind. Other readers may not.

Second, the statement early in the write up reveals the drift of the essay’s argument. The best selling author of The Power of Habit writes:

Within computer science, this kind of algorithmic alchemy is sometimes known as vertical search, and it’s notoriously hard to master. Even Google, with its thousands of Ph.D.s, gets spooked by vertical-search problems.

I am not into arguments about horizontal and vertical search. I ran around that mulberry tree with a number of companies, including a couple of New York investment banks. Been there. Done that. There are differences in how the components of a findability solution operate, but the basic plumbing is similar. One must not confuse search with the specific technology employed to deliver a particular type of output. Want to argue? First, read The New Landscape of Search, published by Pandia before the outfit shut down. Then, send me an email with your argument.

Third, cherry picking from Google’s statements makes it possible to paint a somewhat negative picture of the great and much loved Google. With more than 60,000 employees, many blogs, many public presentations, oodles of YouTube videos, and a library full of technical papers and patents, the Google folks say a lot. The problem is that finding a quote to support almost any statement is not hard; it just takes persistence. Here’s an example:

We absolutely  do not make changes 5to our search algorithm to disadvantage competitors.

Read more

Amazon Beats Google for Holiday Advertising

February 28, 2018

When Google first started out, it earned the majority of its income from online ads.  Online advertising used to be a surefire way for a regular income, but ad blockers, private browsing, and changes in the Internet of things have made Internet ad profits dwindle from dollars to cents.  Google used to be on top, but now Amazon might be angling its way to the top.  AdTechDaily published the article, “Amazon Leads The Crowd For Holiday Paid Search Advertising” how who dominated the 2017 holiday advertising market.

The data in the article is about Amazon UK, but the UK usually bears a strong resemblance to its American counterpart.  Kantar Media conducted a survey about click rates for UK retailers in the 2017 holiday season.  Amazon captured 8.8% of mobile ad clicks and 7.5% of desktop clicks.  The data collection for the survey was quite enlightening:

Kantar Media found that 4,259 advertisers sponsored the keywords via text ads on mobile search, compared with 3,798 advertisers sponsoring the same keywords via desktop search. Of these, only seven retailers generated a click share higher than 1% for both desktop and mobile search text advertising. Together, these retailers captured a combined 26% share of all desktop clicks and 28% of mobile clicks on the 990 retail keywords studied.Online giant held a significant lead ahead of Argos, the retailer in second place for both desktop and mobile search ad clicks. Currys, John Lewis and online marketplace completed the top five in the list.

Google is a competitive advertising marketplace, but large retailers have the deep pockets and large inventories to give them a run or a “click” for their money  The retailers sponsor a higher number of keywords based on their inventories, so they can have bigger ad campaigns with bigger budgets.  It also does not hurt to have well-known brands in their inventories.  Luxury brands are always reliable.

Google is struggling with its online ads, shall we call this the Froogle Fumble?

Whitney Grace, February 28, 2018

Webflow: Another Search Option

February 22, 2018

Search is one of the basic tools people use to utilize the Internet. It is as necessary as a keyboard, reading skills, and a decent WiFi signal. Search can be personalized for close proprietary systems as well as for individual Web sites. Webflow is the newest player among companies that specialize in search software. According to the Webflow blog, the company recently added a, “New Feature: Site Search.” Site search is a very important function, especially for ecommerce sites. Webflow’s new feature allows its customers to add a search function to their Web site, customize it, and control the content in the function.

Webflow’s search function recently came out of the beta phase and is now ready for deployment. Webflow understands the basic functionality of search as well as its importance for a Web site. The company broke search down into three elements:

1 Designing the search bar

2 Designing the search results page

3 Refining the content in your search engine”

All of these elements are customizable in Webflow’s software, along with other options.

Webflow is basically a design software for your own search engine along the lines of WordPress or Wix. The user interface appears to be relatively simple and walks the user through the design process. Perhaps the most important function is the ability to control search engine content, including the ability to exclude content from search results.

Webflow is built on open source search technology:

“Behind the scenes, we built search on top of the open-source Elasticsearch, which brings industry-leading relevance and natural language processing libraries within your control. So you’re not just getting simple, database-driven search — you’re running your own instance of one of the best search technologies available on the web.”

Out of the box search engines often do not work very well, so a tool like Webflow can improve the search experience.

Whitney Grace, February 22, 2018

With Relevance Trashed, Is It Gray Unitards for Online Users?

February 22, 2018

People judge the size of Internet based on their limited experiences as well as reports search engines generate, such as Google and Yahoo. Search engines compete over users by advertising that the size of their search index, but the Internet is truly bigger than any individual search index. The Search Engine Roundtable discusses how search indices do not encompass the entire Internet in the article, “Google: You Can’t Judge Index Size By One Or Two Sites.”

One example that proves you cannot determine the Internet’s size by only two search engines is comparing the search results generated by the same keywords. Both DuckDuckGo and Bing have proven more than once that they can discover Web sites Google and Yahoo cannot. Tim Bray wrote about this particular event on his blog, then it caught the attention of another developer:

“It caught Danny Sullivan’s attention on Twitter, which Danny responded that ‘I wouldn’t make that assumption for the entire web based on what’s happening with only your site.’ Tim being respected, Danny said he would dig into it, believing it may be an issue with the two example sites he cited, even though Bing and DuckDuckGo was able to index and return the content in their search engines.”

Google and yahoo now index the page in question, but this is a reminder than the Internet is a big place. The Dark Web is not picked up by regular search engines and for the amount of Web pages generated everyday it does not come as a surprise that Google and Yahoo would miss one. Maybe there is a business opportunity to develop an AI that tracks Web sites Google and other search engines have not found yet.

Whitney Grace, February 22, 2018

Business Intelligence Search: Not There Yet

February 20, 2018

Business intelligence applications are indispensable for modern companies, especially if they are focused at being the top of their industry. Apparently one common feature still eludes BI application developers: search. How can something so basic and readily available through open source technology be difficult to master? ZDNet reviews Forrester’s breakdown of the BI landscape in the article, “Make BI Applications More Intuitive With Search Like GUI.”

BI applications are kept relativity simple with a mouse-based user interface, so end user training is kept to a minimum and adoption into systems is easier. One item of concern is that few decision-makers actually access the data directly and rely on their business analysts and other team members to provide them information. BI applications are not so simple, however, and the end users need to be knowledgeable in the data sources and metadata.

Thank goodness that there is a GUI for BI applications and it has natural language processing:

“This has largely come true with natural language processing (NLP) and natural language generation (NLG) technologies. Users can now ask a question in a natural language (where NLP translates a question to a query, aka text-to-query) and get an answer via a programmatically generated narrative based on the result set returned by the query. The NLG narratives are especially effective when displayed side by side with a visualization. In addition to NLP and NLG capabilities built into BI tools, some BI providers are also creating chatbots as separate applications. These can allow non-technical BI users to ask questions and receive dynamically generated data visualizations and written highlights without knowing anything about the underlying data structures or metadata.”

The question remains if the search application will be decent and usable on newer BI interfaces. Only time and user feedback will tell.

Whitney Grace, February 20, 2018

Canada and Its Upgraded Archive Search

February 19, 2018

A nation’s archive is a priceless treasure and an informative wonder. The Library of Congress houses many historical documents and items important to United States history. The Vatican also houses an impressive archive that is not only important to world history, but Abrahamic religions. The Library and Archives of Canada is another treasure trove not only for the US’s northern neighbor, but for the world.

The Library and Archives of Canada wants people from over the world to take advantage of its holdings. In order to do so, the Library and Archives of Canada needs a user-friendly database with a search function. Government-branded search engines usually stink worse than last year’s hockey sweats, but Library Journal says that, “Library And Archives Canada Announces Launch Of ‘Collection Search’ (Beta).”

Canada’s new endeavor is appropriately titled Voilà and is a leading-edge library management system. Here is a little more about it:

“The launch of Voilà, a milestone for LAC in its library renewal project, marks the completion of the migration of the national union catalogue holdings from AMICUS to OCLC. Starting today, LAC invites members of the Canadian library community to use Voilà.

The new catalogue offers an intuitive interface with modern features for searching published materials located in hundreds of libraries across Canada that subscribe to OCLC services, or had their holdings migrated from AMICUS to OCLC. LAC will start enriching Voilà to provide public access to its own holdings later this year.”

Canada has a reputation for doing practical and workable solutions, so the new Voilà database will probably have a successful beta phase, unless it gets too sticky with maple syrup.

Whitney Grace, February 19, 2018

Visual Search Enters Its Next Phase

February 16, 2018

About a year ago, some of the biggest names in search declared that visual search was the next big horizon in the industry and that they were pouring great gobs of money into this world. If you are like us, visual search is not exactly part of your everyday life yet. But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t evolving, as we discovered in a fascinating Digital Trends story, “Not Happy With Pinterest Search Results? Refine it With Text and Photo Queries.”

According to the story:

Pinterest announced the addition of text searches that work within the visual search tool, allowing users to give Pinterest Lens a bit more direction on the intent of the search. According to Pinterest, users make an average of 600 million searches every month.”

That’s a serious trend and an uptick from past numbers we have seen. However, all these advances still don’t seem to be creeping into our daily life…yet. As reported by IT Pro Portal, retailers are seriously starting to adopt visual search technology. This directly stems from the rise of shopping via cell phone, as opposed to laptops. And, as we all know, phones are custom made for visual search thanks to their cameras. The technology sounds like it is there, our interest is there as shoppers, and we think the storm is on the horizon where visual search overtakes the retail market soon.

Patrick Roland, February 16, 2018

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