Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Top Search Tips - May 2008, Liverpool

UKeiG's recent Liverpool Internet search workshop was filled to capacity. It was a packed day with a significant amount of new content and plenty of time for participants to try out the tools and techniques for themselves. At the end of the day they were asked to compile a list of their top tips. There were the usual suspects but the Google Custom Search Engine was new. It is the first time that we have covered Google CSE in the workshop and it generated so much interest that UKeiG will be producing a fact sheet on it. The full list of top tips is as follows:

1. Use the 'site:' command to search individual web sites that have appalling navigation and useless site search engines.

2. Search for file formats to narrow down and focus your search. For example search for Word documents or PDFs if you are looking for government or industry reports; xls for data and statistics; ppt or pdf for presentations.

3. Try something else other than Google. Have one Google free day or hour a week. Change the home page in your browser if it is set to Google.

4. Use the OR command in combination with the site: command to search more than one site or type of site. For example,
"carbon emissions trading" filetype:ppt OR
5. Don't believe all you see, especially when it comes to people searches and mashups. [Mashups combine information from several different sources to produce a single new resource.]

6. If the information is critical, always cross and double check the accuracy of the information with independent sources.

7. Books are still relevant. For example, if you are new to a subject or industry sector try and find an introductory text that can help you with the terminology. They are also excellent for historical information. As well as Amazon, try Google Books ( for older texts, and Live Books (

8. Use services such as Zuula or Intelways to remind you of the different types of information that are available and their appropriate search engines. Type in your search once and click on the search tools one by one.

9. Build your own Google Custom Search Engine for collections of sites that you regularly search, to create a searchable subject list, or to offer your users a customised, more focused search option.

10. Try good old fashioned Boolean. Yahoo, Exalead and Live support AND, OR, NOT and 'nested' searches, but don't go overboard. Remember to type in the operators as capital letters. otherwise the search engines will ignore them as stop words.

11. Make use of proximity searching.

a) Double quote marks around your search terms to force a phrase search works in all of teh search engines. For example
"carbon emissions trading"
b) In Google, use the asterisk (*) to find your terms separated by one or more terms but close to one another. There is no information in the help files on the maximum separation. Increasing the number of asterisks is not supposed to make a difference but it does and it appears that one asterisk stands in for one word.

c) The Exalead NEAR command finds words within a maximum of 16 terms within each other. You can control the degree of separation by using NEAR/n where 'n' is a number specified by you. For example
climate NEAR/3 change
12. Try social bookmarking services to track down other people's research lists on a subject. For example, Furl, Connotea, Citulike,

13. If you are looking for formatted files search Yahoo as well as Google. One participant tested several searches on both and found that Yahoo consistently came up with more. This could be due to different coverage of the two services but is more likely to be down to the fact that Google indexes the first 100K of a document but Yahoo indexes 500K. [Karen Blakeman comments: also search in I recently found two unique documents via that contained vital information on a company that I was researching].

14. The Internet Archive (Wayback Machine) at for pages, sites and documents that have disappeared. Ideal for tracking down lost documents, seeing how organisations presented themselves on the Web in the past, and for collecting evidence for a legal case.

15. Partially Answer your question in your search strategy. For example
"A hippopotamus can run at"

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Top Business Research Tips (2)

Yes, it's another Business Information workshop Top Tips. This one was a rerun of the UKeiG event held on 2nd April, 2008. The participant mix was half private, half public sector. At the end of the day they were asked to come with a list of top sites and search tips. Between them, those attending the workshop spent half the day trying out hundreds of web sites - some of them not even mentioned by me. This is their collective list of sites that they felt were worth considering as key resources. In some cases I have also included the comments from the people nominating the site. It is interesting that there are only two sources that appear in both lists, and one of them does not really count: it was my own site, from which some of the course notes were derived so you might consider the delegates to have been brainwashed!
  1. One of the two sites that appears in both the April 2nd and this list. A relatively new service pulling together information from newspapers, journals, blogs, video and audio. In addition It offers geographical hotspots, trends and a network visualisation tool that was singled out by several workshop participants as being particularly useful.

  2. OFFSTATS The new set of web pages for the University of Auckland Library providing information on Official Statistics on the Web and at a new address. An excellent starting point for official statistics by country and subject/industry. As well as the makeover, there have been many additions to the collection of resources.

  3. Research Wikis This is a wiki covering market and industry data that is in the public domain; several workshop delegates commented that it looks promising. The content is variable in quality. Some reports are highly structured and detailed while others are just a "stub", many are US biased, and the sources of the data are not always cited. Nevertheless, the reports do give you an idea of the issues affecting the sector and the terminology that is used. One of the University based delegates thought that the site's recommended structure and headings for a report would be useful to students who are new to carrying out industry and market research.

  4. Bureau van Dijk's (BvD) "A Taste of Mint" A free directory from BvD giving basic information on companies world-wide. Comment from one experienced researcher: "It found the company I have been looking for when every other directory has failed!"

  5. Google Finance, [This was not covered in the 2nd April workshop. Until now, it has been so awful and unreliable hat I have ignored it]. This is a possible competitor to Yahoo Finance. It has been steadily improving over the last 18 months since its initial launch but still does not quite have the authoritative "feel" of Yahoo Finance. Also it does not appear to have the individual stock exchange coverage of Yahoo. It does, though, beat Yahoo when it comes to the share price graph and historical downloads options. The share price graphs are 'annotated' with labels at the appropriate time on the graph and these link to news articles that are listed to the right of the graph. Yahoo Finance's downloadable historical share price data in figures goes back 5 years: Google's goes back to 1996.

  6. Google News. For the UK go to but there are a plethora of country versions. Good coverage of the last 30 days of free world-wide, national, local and industry news resources. One workshop participant said that Google News found a breaking story that the industry press and her subscription services had not yet picked up.

  7. The Wayback Machine - The Internet Archive The Wayback Machine takes periodic snapshots of the Internet. Ideal for seeing how a company portrayed itself on the Internet in the past and for tracking down sites, pages or documents that have disappeared.

  8. Chipwrapper a Custom Google Search Engine that searches across the UK’s major national newspapers: The Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Sun, The People, News of the World, The Scotsman, Daily Star, The Telegraph and The Times. It also searches the BBC News web site, ITN and Sky. There is a review of Chipwrapper on my blog at

  9. UK National Statistics We will not go into the confusion users suffered when UK government official statistics web sites were re-organised on 1st April 2008 [No, it was not an April Fool's]. Work your way through the new menus and you will eventually end up on the on the old pages. Even without the frequent design changes, the site can be difficult to navigate. Nevertheless, there is an incredible amount of good quality data here. For the web based 'stuff' and formatted documents (PDF. DOC, XLS, PPT) it is often easier to go to the Google Advanced Search page, type in your terms in the search box at the top of the page and in the 'Search within a site or domain' box type in . If you want to look for specific file formats, select the file extension from the drop down menu under 'File type'. The 'Time Series' data have to be search from within the site itself.

  10. Companies House The UK official companies registry. This is the closest you can get to the original company documents that a registered company has to file. Some information is provided free of charge (Use the Webcheck service). Documents are charged for on a pay as you go basis.

  11. RBA Sources of Business Information Selected sources of business information organised by type e.g. statistics, share prices, company registers.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Top Business Research Tips

Twenty-one enthusiastic researchers attended UKeiG's Business Information workshop on April 2nd in London. They came from a wide range of sectors and types of organisation, and when asked to compile their Top 10 tips they came up with 15! Here they are, in no particular order of importance:

1. FITA Import Export Business and International Trade Leeds. The "Really Useful Links" in the menu on the left hand side of the screen takes you to a range of international sources on business information. One participant of this workshop found the "Doing business", and in particular in the Middle East, especially useful.

2. Nationmaster An interface to a plethora of statistics on web sites world wide. Some of the statistics are 2-3 years old but there are links to the original site so that you can search for more up to date information. Several participants suggested that this site is a good 'index' of where data is likely to be found.

3. Blogpulse One of several blog search engines, but this was singled out for its Trends graphs. These show how often your search terms are mentioned in posts over a selected period of time. In a business context the occurrences will usually match reports in the mainstream media. When they don't, click on the peaks in the graph to see what is going on behind the scenes. Superb for picking up on rumours and gossip.

4. Yahoo Finance. Go to any Yahoo and click on the Finance link. For the UK version go to Yahoo Finance provides basic information on stock exchange quoted companies on the major stock exchanges around the world. Information includes current share price information (delayed by 15-30 minutes) provided by the stock exchanges; company profiles; charts in which you can compare the company share price with another company, the sector and an index such as the FTSE 100; current news on the company and focussing on the regulatory news; and daily historical share prices as figures that can be downloaded to spreadsheets.

5. Freepint Bar Head for the discussion area, labelled as the Bar, where you can post your query and tap into the knowledge of regular 'tipplers'

6. Silobreaker. A new site pulling news from the usual newspapers and journals, but also blogs, video and audio. In addition It offers geographical hotspots, trends and a network visualisation tool, which was singled out by one participant.

7. Contact a relevant research, trade or professional body for help in locating experts. sources of information and reports. They may not have anything on their web site but there may something 'on file' that they are willing to supply free of charge or for which they are prepared to negotiate a fee.

8. Intelways. An interface to many search tools grouped by type e.g. news, video, image. Type your search terms in once and click on the different search tools one by one. A reminder of the different types of information that you should be looking at and of the wide range of search engines that are out there.

9. Click on the Advanced Search option for any of the tools that you encounter, be it Google et al or a web site's own search option. They offer great ways of focussing your search by date, file format, site, author etc.

10. RBA Business Souirces. Selected sources of business information organised by type e.g. statistics, share prices, company registers. Yes, it is my own site [blush] but they did insist!

11. Phil Bradleys' web site and blog. and Excellent sources of information on Web 2.0 'stuff' and search tools. In particular, his blog has no-nonsense reviews of new search tools that claim they will change the world of search.

12. Intute. Forget about the label. This is an excellent starting point for anyone working in business and wanting to identify quality resources on a wide range of subjects and industries.

13. Hometrack. This site provides key statistics and data on the UK housing market and financing of that market. Especially relevant in the current economic climate.

14. Alacrasearch. A Google custom search engine that focuses on business sites selected by Alacra. [A personal note: this is in my top 5 favourite search tools].

15. CIA World Factbook - country profiles. Key statistics on every country. For those of you of a more adventurous disposition when it comes to travel, it even includes the number of airports with unpaved runways.

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