My Feed Personalization a Step Too Far

September 8, 2017

In an effort to be even more user-friendly and to further encourage a narcissistic society, Google now allows individuals to ‘follow’ or ‘unfollow’ topics, delivered daily to devices, as they deem them interesting or uninteresting. SEJ explains the new feature which is considered an enhancement of their ‘my feed’ which is intended to personalize news.

As explained in the article,

Further advancements to Google’s personalized feed include improved machine learning algorithms, which are said to be more capable at anticipating what an individual may find interest. In addition to highlighting stories around manually and algorithmically selected topics of interest, the feed will also display stories trending in your area and around the world.

That seems like a great way to keep people current on topics ranging geographically, politically and culturally, but with the addition of ‘follow’ or ‘unfollow’, once again, individuals can reduce their world to a series of pop-star updates and YouTube hits. Isn’t it an oxymoron to both suggest topics and stories in an effort to keep an individual informed of the world around them, and yet allow them to stop the suggestions are they appear boring or lack familiarity? Now, Google, you can do better.

Catherine Lamsfuss, September 15, 2017

Google Announces a Mobile-Friendly Change in the Works

August 29, 2017

As more consumers use their Smart Phones and similar devices for everyday internet activity, Google is changing – once again – how search is done. To accommodate mobile users the tech giant just announced that it will begin transitioning to a mobile first index. What does this mean for the average website holder?

According to the guys at Business2Community, it could mean a lot of change is needed to remain competitive. They give several tidbits of advice to website owners but one of the most indicative of how our virtual world is changing is this:

…the consensus is now to have a single website that can work across all devices. Search results aside, a mobile responsive site is one of the best things you can build for your small business, as it is a more accessible and user-friendly way for your potential customers to access your business on a mobile device. With increasing numbers of searches conducted on mobile, by not having a mobile or mobile responsive site, you’re missing out on a large amount of possible conversions…

Of course, Google swears its crawlers will still recognize desktop versions of websites if no mobile is available, but we must ask ourselves, how long until that changes as well?

Catherine Lamsfuss, August 29, 2017

Web Search Training Wheels: A Play for Precision

August 10, 2017

I read “How to Instantly Boost the Accuracy of Search Results on Google and Bing.” i love the word “instantly”, particularly when coupled to “accuracy.” The write up describes an overlay called Advangle, which helps a person create a search with more than 2.6 words. Interesting neologism Advangle.

These services are what I call “training wheels.” The idea is that a person looking for information fills in a form, which helps the person create a query more sophisticated than “pizza.” Many systems in the last 50 years have tried these types of interfaces. In fact, one can find them in the whiz bang interfaces available to cyber OSINT software users. I won’t drag the old Dow Jones interface into this post, nor will I provide screenshots of Palantir Gotham interfaces. (Hey, you probably know about these already.)

The write up, however, does not explore the concept in too much detail. I noted this statement:

The Advantage interface makes it easier to string together targeted searches with the right syntax, and in half the time it would take to type it all out by hand.

Saving time, not prediction or recall, is the unique selling proposition.

It is useful to keep in mind that formal search operators are still available to users of Bing, Google, Yandex, and a number of other systems. The problem is that as Web search has massified, a tiny faction of the users of ad supported Web search systems bother with formal operators like filetype: or other oddities.

The real problems with search are far deeper than an interface overlay. Let me highlight several which I find consistently troublesome:

  1. Finding a way to impart the skills of well executed reference interview conducted by an expert in online search and retrieval. (Marydee Ojala, Ruth Patel, Anne Mintz, Ulla de Stricker, and Barbara Quint are individuals who can help a PhD formulate a statement of what information and data are needed, convert that desire into appropriate queries of appropriate databases, and deliver a filtered list of results.) Software, no matter how nifty the interface, at this time cannot replicate this expertise.
  2. Individuals who need information are more crippled than their counterparts from 30 years ago. Online systems have worked hard to let popularity and past user behavior provide a context for a query like “cyrus.” If you think you will get the pop star before a long dead historical figure, you are more sophisticated than the eager consumers of pop up ads on a Pixel phone
  3. Databases are governed by editorial policies. In the good old days of 1975, creators of databases figured out what and how to index. Today most users believe that Google has “all” the world’s information. Nothing could be more wrong headed. Indexes, particularly free ones, include what creates traffic. If the content gets a little too frisky, censorship, filtering, and smart / predictive software steps in and delivers “better” information.

I suggest you give the Advantage service a try. You may find that it is better than a room stuffed with Quints and Ojalas and others of this ilk.

My approach is simple: Know what one wants. Formulate a suitable query. Pass the query across the sources/databases likely to have indexed the information. Review the results. Think about the information gaps. Repeat the process.

Pretty crazy today, right?

Who has time to figure out what companies are in the cyber OSINT business or what Dark Web sites continue to offer contraband in the wake of AlphaBay and Hansa.

Research via digital resources, unlike checking Facebook, is a bit of a mental workout.

On the other hand, why not let the ad supported search engines deliver exactly what they think you need. Better yet, let these outfits provide that information before you know you need it.

A system that actually delivered precise, on point, timely, and authoritative results would be great. It would be nice to be able to live forever and travel to the stars.

Reality is a tad different. UX is not yet a replacement for knowing how to research in a way that moves beyond finding Game of Thrones.

Stephen E Arnold, August 10, 2017

Break into Netflixs Stockroom with This Chrome Extension

June 1, 2017

The article titled Search Hidden Netflix Categories and Save Your Favorites With This Extension on LifeHacker calls attention to Netflix’s treasure trove of hidden category codes. Using Netflix often feels like a very limited exercise, especially if you don’t use the DVD service. But part of that is because Netflix is only showing you titles based on what it thinks you will like. The algorithm has its perks, but it can also become a spiral of narrowing cultural interests. The article illumines,

Netflix has a ton of hidden categories codes you can use to find movies and shows you’re into. The aptly-named Chrome extension Netflix Categories helps you find and save the ones you like. The extension adds a button to your Chrome menu bar. Click it and you’ll see a drop down list of categories that you might not find on the Netflix site proper. You can search the categories by name to find something more specific.

What sort of categories are available? Everything under the sun, from “Movies for ages 0 to 2” to “Film Noir” to “Military Documentaries” to “Belgian Movies” to “Korean TV Shows.” These categories offer a great way to branch out and be exposed to content that might unlock new interests. Or they can help to pinpoint an area of interest and see everything that Netflix has to offer on the subject. At any rate, it is a helpful tool to navigate Netflix’s full inventory.

Chelsea Kerwin, June 1, 2017

Deep Diving into HTML Employing Semantics

May 31, 2017

HTML, the programming language on which websites are based can employ semantics to make search easier and understanding, especially for those who use assistive technologies.

Web Dev Studios in an in-depth article titled Accessibility of Semantics: How Writing Semantic HTML Can Help Accessibility says:

Writing HTML is about more than simply “having stuff appear on the page.” Each element you use has a meaning and conveys information to your visitors, especially to those that use assistive technologies to help interpret that meaning for them.

Assistive technologies are used by people who have limited vision or other forms of impairment that prohibits them from accessing the web efficiently. If semantics is employed, according to the author of the article, impaired people too can access all features of the web like others.

The author goes on to explain things like how different tags in HTML can be used effectively to help people with visual impairments.

The Web and related technologies are evolving, and it can be termed as truly inclusive only when people with all types of handicaps are able to use it with equal ease.

Vishal Ingole, May 31, 2017

The Golden Age of Radio as Compared to the Internet

April 3, 2017

Here is an article going out to all those old fogies who remember when radio was the main source of news, entertainment, and communication.  Me Shed Society compares the Golden Age of Radio to the continuous information stream known as the Internet and they discuss more in the article, “The Internet Does To The World What Radio Did To The World.”

The author focuses on Marshal McLuhan’s book Understanding Media and its basic idea, “The medium is the message.”  There are three paragraphs that the author found provoking and still relevant, especially in today’s media craze times.  The author suggests that if one were to replace the Hitler references with the Internet or any other influential person or medium, it would be interchangeable.  The first paragraph states that Hitler’s rise to power is due in part to the new radio invention and mass media.  The most profound paragraph is the second:

The power of radio to retribalize mankind, its almost instant reversal of individualism into collectivism, Fascist or Marxist, has gone unnoticed. So extraordinary is this unawareness that it is what needs to be explained. The transforming power of media is easy to explain, but the ignoring of this power is not at all easy to explain. It goes without saying that the universal ignoring of the psychic action of technology bespeaks some inherent function, some essential numbing of consciousness such as occurs under stress and shock conditions.

The third paragraph concludes that there should be some way to defend against media fallout, such as education and its foundations in dead tree formats, i.e. print.

Print, however, is falling out of favor, at least when it comes to the mass media, and education is built more on tests and meeting standards than fighting hysteria.  Let us add another “-ism” to this list with the “extreme-ism” that runs rampant on the TV and the Internet.

Whitney Grace, April 3, 2017

Parlez Vous Qwant, Nest-Ce Pas?

March 2, 2017

One of Google’s biggest rivals is Yandex, at least in Russia.  Yandex is a Russian owned and operated search engine and is more popular in Russia than the Google, depending on the statistics.  It goes to say that a search engine built and designed by native speakers does have a significant advantage over foreign competition, and it looks like France wants a chance to beat Google.  Search Engine Journal reports that, “Qwant, A French Search Engine, Thinks It Can Take On Google-Here’s Why.”

Qwant was only founded in 2013 and it has grown to serve twenty-one million monthly users in thirty countries.  The French search engine has seen a 70% growth each year and it will see more with its recent integration with Firefox and a soon-to-be launched mobile app.  Qwant is very similar to DuckDuckGo in that it does not collect user data.  It also boasts mote search categories than news, images, and video and these include, music, social media, cars, health, music, and others.  Qwant had an interesting philosophy:

The company also has a unique philosophy that artificial intelligence and digital assistants can be educated without having to collect data on users. That’s a completely different philosophy than what is shared by Google, which collects every bit of information it can about users to fuel things like Google Home and Google Allo.

Qwant still wants to make a profit with pay-per-click and future partnerships with eBay and TripAdvisor, but they will do without compromising a user’s privacy.  Qwant has a unique approach to search and building AI assistants, but it has a long way to go before it reaches Google heights.

They need to engage more users not only on laptops and computers but also mobile devices.  They also need to form more partnerships with other browsers.

Bon chance, Qwant!  But could you share how you plan to make AI assistants without user data?

Whitney Grace, March 2, 2017

 

The Pros and Cons of Human Developed Rules for Indexing Metadata

February 15, 2017

The article on Smartlogic titled The Future Is Happening Now puts forth the Semaphore platform as the technology filling the gap between NLP and AI when it comes to conversation. The article posits that in spite of the great strides in AI in the past 20 years, human speech is one area where AI still falls short. The article explains,

The reason for this, according to the article, is that “words often have meaning based on context and the appearance of the letters and words.” It’s not enough to be able to identify a concept represented by a bunch of letters strung together. There are many rules that need to be put in place that affect the meaning of the word; from its placement in a sentence, to grammar and to the words around – all of these things are important.

Advocating human developed rules for indexing is certainly interesting, and the author compares this logic to the process of raising her children to be multi-lingual. Semaphore is a model-driven, rules-based platform that allows us to auto-generate usage rules in order to expand the guidelines for a machine as it learns. The issue here is cost. Indexing large amounts of data is extremely cost-prohibitive, and that it before the maintenance of the rules even becomes part of the equation. In sum, this is a very old school approach to AI that may make many people uncomfortable.

Chelsea Kerwin, February 15, 2017

Hacks to Make Your Google Dependence Even More Rewarding

January 24, 2017

The article on MakeUseOf titled This Cool Website Will Teach You Hundreds of Google Search Tips refers to SearchyApp, a collection of tricks, tips, and shortcuts to navigate Google search more easily. The lengthy list is divided into sections to be less daunting to readers. The article explains,

What makes this site so cool is that the tips are divided into sections, so it’s easy to find what you want. Here are the categories: Facts (e.g. find the elevation of a place, get customer service number,…) Math (e.g. solve a circle, use a calculator, etc.), Operators (search within number range, exclude a keyword from results, find related websites, etc.), Utilities (metronome, stopwatch, tip calculator, etc.), Easter Eggs (42, listen to animal sounds, once in a blue moon, etc.).

The Easter Eggs may be old news, but if you haven’t looked into them before they are a great indicator of Google’s idea of a hoot. But the Utilities section is chock full of useful little tools from dice roller to distance calculator to converting units to translating languages. Also useful are the Operators, or codes and shortcuts to tell Google what you want, sometimes functioning as search restrictions or advanced search settings. Operators might be wise to check out for those of us who forgot what our librarians taught us about online search as well.

Chelsea Kerwin, January 24, 2017

Google Popular Times Now in Real Time

January 20, 2017

Just a quick honk about a little Google feature called Popular Times. LifeHacker points out an improvement to the tool in, “Google Will Now Show You How Busy a Business Is in Real Time.” To help users determine the most efficient time to shop or dine, the feature already provided a general assessment of businesses’ busiest times. Now, though, it bases that information on real-time metrics. Writer Thorin Klosowski specifies:

The real time data is rolling out starting today. You’ll see that it’s active if you see a ‘Live’ box next to the popular times when you search for a business. The data is based on location data and search terms, so it’s not perfect, but will at least give you a decent idea of whether or not you’ll easily find a place to sit at a bar or how packed a store might be. Alongside the real-time data comes some other info, including how long people stay at a location on average and hours by department, which is handy when a department like a pharmacy or deli close earlier the rest of a store.

Just one more way Google tries to make life a little easier for its users. That using it provides Google with even more free, valuable data is just a side effect, I’m sure.

Cynthia Murrell, January 20, 2017

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