I’ll come straight out and say I’m a Google fan far more often than I’m not. I generally like their approach to interface design and–hear me out before you yell–privacy. … So, yes, I understand that they have automated bots that go through my mail and gather information about me, but I like, very much, that they keep that information to themselves. Yes, they serve ads that seem relevant, but they serve the ad, and the ad seller doesn’t know who I am unless I click (even then, I don’t think Google hands off information about me, beyond the adword that generated the click). It’s not like Facebook, who shares information willy-nilly, with very little transparency. Further, Google publicly shares information about what queries they’ve received from the US Government, meaning that I know what they’re sharing with “The Man.”
I freaking love Google.
That’s not to say I am unconcerned about the customization of search results and all that entails. Or about rumors that companies can “buy up” their prominence in search (which I don’t really believe, but it’s a scary rumor). Google Search has, in general, become trickier for me, as auto-fill has tried to remove operators from my searches, and terms I don’t expect to be changed are auto-stemmed. And, it turns out, the + operator recently went away, suggesting (to me) that operators may, in general, become a thing of the past, before long. I find that a little bit upsetting, possibly because I am the kind of control-freak librarian who does not want to just add more search terms and trust Google’s relevance ranking. I do like the facets they offer, but I would be very, very sad if, in particular, I lost the site: operator, the inurl: operator, quotation marks, and –.
I was very surprised, last week, when a fellow Twitterer inquired, “I’m not seeing the Advanced Search option on Google. Am I just missing it?” I checked, and it was also gone on my Google page. It’s still available, but it’s no longer linked, at least not obviously. That makes me a little sad.
Maybe nobody besides librarians and academics used Advanced Search, just as, I suspect, many operators are underutilized. Facets do seem to be a win, for people who don’t care to study database searching in its every nuanced detail–we did a very small user study, when we were choosing a discovery service, and even the least sophisticated searchers found and used facets in both products we had them evaluate. So, while I, personally, would miss my operators if they were taken away, I can see Google’s point. If I have to choose between making an interface librarians love and an interface that will get novice searchers as close as possible to what they want/need, I’m on the novice’s side every time–as is Google. (Sorry, colleagues. But when we feel the need to show off our search geekery, we’ll always have DIALOG, right? Or you will; I know the basics but never properly mastered it.)
Advanced Search, in Serials Solutions’ Summon discovery service, seems to break some of their algorithm and return wonky results; additionally, it’s the (second-)worst Advanced Search I’ve ever seen, possibly to help discourage people from trying to use it. But their facets more than make up for the lack, in my experience. I wonder if Google is running into the same sort of problem with their Advanced Search breaking their algorithms, or if they’re just cutting it out because it isn’t used. I would really be interested to know.
Related to the auto-stemming I mentioned before, I found something interesting, when I was doing a search earlier today. I wanted to see if the official list of ALA Emerging Leaders for 2012 had been released, yet (I have some good news related to that :)), so I searched [emerging leaders ala 2012] and was astonished to see this:
So, it turns out, Google tries to parse acronyms. Which maybe is old news, but I’d never run across it before and was very surprised. Is this new? Or am I just late to the game on this one? (Putting “ala” in quotes doesn’t remove the bolding on Australian Leadership Awards, interestingly. I wonder if the + operator would have done it.)
Anyway, my over-arching point in all of this is to say, yes, let’s keep an eye on Google’s search options and algorithms, and let’s continue to share what we find. Let’s encourage Google to keep the pieces that truly are useful (like perhaps the link to Advanced Search? or not?). But let’s also realize that we are search geeks, and most people aren’t: although it’s worth keeping an eye on what an advanced user can do, we should really be evaluating Google on whether or not it brings back useful results for most people. I think we librarians lose sight of that, sometimes. Google isn’t meant to be an intermediated service, used by experts who can craft a perfect search string that brings back exactly what they want the first time; it’s meant to be used by people without special knowledge or training, and it’s meant to be used iteratively–by adding and removing search terms, facets, etc.
Maybe I should try it without operators for a while, to remind myself of that.