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RIP Kartoo

March 14, 2010 Leave a comment
When I conduct training sessions on how to search I always emphasise that it’s more important to know how to find information rather than to depend on a small selection of key web-sites.

Many searchers depend on their bookmark list but what happens when a key site disappears: if you don’t know how to search you are stuck.

Searching isn’t just going to google and typing your query in the search box. Expert searching demands that you consider where the information you are looking for is likely to be held, and in what format. It requires the searcher to understand the search tools they use – how they work and their strengths and weaknesses. Such skills are crucial when key sites disappear as happened in January with the small French meta-search engine, Kartoo.

Kartoo was innovative and presented results graphically. It enabled you to see links between terms and was brilliant for concept searching where you didn’t really know where to start. Unfortunately it’s now gone to cyber-heaven, or wherever dead web-sites disappear to. It will be missed – at least until something similar appears. Already Google’s wonderwheel (found from the “options” link just above the search results”) offers some of the functionality and graphic feel, and there are other sites that offer similar capabilities (e.g. Touchgraph). Kartoo however was special – it was simple, free and showed that Europeans can still come up with good search ideas.

Example of a Kartoo Search

Of course Kartoo isn’t the first innovative site to disappear. Over the years, many great search tools have gone. Greg Notess lists some in his SearchEngineShowdown blog – and an article in Online magazine. There are more. How many people remember IIBM’s Infomarket service – an early online news aggregator from 1995, or Transium.

In fact, it was learning that sites are mortal that led to my approach to searching: don’t depend on a limited selection of sites but rather know how to find sites and databases that lead you to the information wanted. That’s a key skill for all researchers and is as valid today in the Google generation as it was in the days before Google.

Google – public data explorer

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve just been pointed to a new Googlelabs initiative – the Google Public Data Explorer. This promises to be a useful tool for finding public data in one place. (It’s always worth keeping an eye on GoogleLabs as they often bring out new ideas and products. These are kept together until ready to launch – and can be found from http://www.googlelabs.com.).

The data is not new – although i think some of the presentation is. I don’t recall being able to manipulate the figures from Eurostat so easily (but then that may be because I’ve not had to use Eurostat for a while). Eurostat – the European Union’s statistic service – is large and complex (or was). With Google a couple of key Eurostat databases (unemployment statistics, minimum wage, consumer price index) now become easily manipulable. Other databases include OECD, World Bank and a number of US databases.
Hopefully many more databases will be added – and eventually the service may become a one-stop-shop for global statistics, replacing the need to visit various local country statistics services (e.g. the UK’s Office for National Statistics).
Even though there are currently only a handful of databases available many of the most important types of data looking at GDP, population trends, health, etc. are available – plus interesting, but probably less critical examples, such as Internet users per 100 of the population. In this example, I compared the UK and US with two of the emerging power-houses – China and India for Internet usage. I found it interesting that the UK had more users per 100 than the US but not surprising that China and India were so low, despite the total web user numbers in China being higher than those for the US and growing rapidly. It would have been possible to add any of the countries on the left to the chart. 

The value of information

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve probably said something like this before, but it’s worth saying again.

This was part of a post by Amelia Kassel of MarketingBase – on the AIIP member mailing list.

I recall someone in a workshop I gave about using the Internet for CI about 10 years ago. I introduced the concept of fee-based databases and a young fellow from a business analyst firm raised his hand in front of group of more than 30 participants to stop me from proceeding. He didn’t want to hear or learn about fee-based databases. He had tried them once and they were too hard to use. I asked what he did when couldn’t find information he was looking for on the Internet and he didn’t have an answer but said it didn’t really matter.

I’ve also come across attitudes such as this – why pay for information when you can find it for free. That would be true and valid if the time required to find the information, and the work required to put it into a usable format, was the same. In reality this is rarely the case. The advantage of paying for information from services such as Factiva, Dialog and several other similar services is that you can save a lot of time. The information purchased will be formatted consistently – so it becomes much easier to edit for a report.

Further, relevant information is collected together so there is no need to check hundreds of potential sources. These services index thousands of sources in a way that users of the free services, including Google, can only dream about. As an example, on Factiva, you can specify that search terms appear in the first 50 (or 100 or whatever) words of an article, or within so many words of another term. They support full Boolean searching and wildcard searching far beyond what even the advanced search in Exalead offers.

If that was all such services offered then there could be an argument that with today’s budgetary constraints, good researchers would first focus on the free sources. However many sources held won’t even be available on the free web, as their publishers only make them available on a pay-to-use basis or don’t keep full online archives. This means that unless the researcher has accounts with a multitude of publishers they won’t get the material they need for decision making.

I think part of the secret of being a good researcher is knowing when to use free sources and when to use fee sources. I’m sure that a proportion of the information that is available on pay-to-use sources could be found for free – IF you looked long and hard enough. However employers pay you for your time – and just because something is free doesn’t make it really free if you have had to spend a day finding it when you could have got it within 15 minutes by paying. Then there’s the risk factors of NOT finding something at all!

People who feel it doesn’t matter – that you can justify not paying for information – are actually high-risk employees. They may provide information that allows correct decision making to be made 80% of the time. Unfortunately the Pareto effect comes into play – and that 20% of the time they get it wrong represents 80% of the risk. Decisions made on inadequate data are likely to lead to serious consequences when they are wrong. Saying that you only did a Google search because Factiva cost too much won’t save you or your company in such situations – as it will be too late.

Yauba – Big Brother isn’t watching you

June 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Sixty years after George Orwell published 1984 many of the ideas have, unfortunately, become commonplace. There are speed cameras watching how fast you drive, and CCTV monitoring many UK towns. On the Internet, search engines such as Google monitor your searches – keeping the data for months. They know what operating system you use. AWARE doesn’t record this information, despite showing some in our top bar, but many sites, and most search engines do).

Yauba bucks the trend by proudly announcing that it respects user privacy. Its privacy policy proudly states:

We do not keep any personally identifiable information.
Period.

Following the Iranian elections (June 2009) many Iranian dissidents and protesters have switched to Yauba, according to the searchengine blog site, Pandia.

“Ahmed Hossain, CIO of Yauba, tells Pandia: “Our traffic from Iran has jumped 300% over the past several days, as many of them are using the Yauba Search Engine and the anonymity proxy filter to access blocked sites and get news from foreign sources.”

Anonymity may be important for some people. However for most, it’s search results that count. Although Yauba claims to be able to search semantically, differentiating between Java the island, Java the coffee and Java the computer language is this a meaningless boast?

In other words is Yauba worth using for those not looking to hide their identity.

The short answer is yes. Yauba searches various types of content – which are separated. As such it enables you to quickly find Acrobat files, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, news, blogs, images, video, etc. in a single search. Each are kept distinct – and this is an interesting differentiator between it and other search engines. It also presents ways of refining queries and where there are alternative meanings it shows these – allowing users to pick the one they want.

Rather than use the search they suggest i.e. Java I put in Apple. The three meanings I thought of were

  1. The fruit
  2. The computer company
  3. The music company founded by the Beatles

In fact, there are several more – as Yauba shows:

apple can mean:
  • Apple Inc. (formerly Apple Computer, Inc.), a consumer electronics and software company
  • Apple Bank, an American bank in the New York City area
  • Apple Corps, a multimedia corporation founded by The Beatles
  • Apple (album), an album by Mother Love Bone
  • Apple (band), a British psychedelic rock band
  • Apple Records, record label founded by The Beatles
  • Apple I, Apple II series, Apple III, etc., various personal computer models produced by Apple, Inc and sold from 1976 until 1992.
  • Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment, an Indian experimental communication satellite launched in 1981
  • Apple (automobile), an American automobile manufactured by Apple Automobile Company from 1917 to 1918
  • Billy Apple, artist
  • Fiona Apple, a Grammy award winning American singer-songwriter
  • R. W. Apple, Jr., an associate editor at The New York Times
  • Clicking on Apple (automobile) gives a number of results – not all directly relevant but some which were. There is also a brief encyclopedia type entry at the top of the page:

    The Apple was a short-lived American automobile manufactured by Apple Automobile Company in Dayton, Ohio from 1917 to 1918. Agents were assured that its $1150 Apple 8 model was “a car which you can sell!”. Sadly for the company, it would seem that the public did not buy.

    On the right of the screen are various suggestions for alternative searches. For example, a search for apple gives:

    Compare the clarity of this to the same search on google. (Admitedly the search is not sophisticated and a competent searcher would refine the term – but for testing, it’s good enough)


    It means that amateur searchers are more likely to find resuls for complex searches – fulfilling Yauba’s claim to allow people to search without a knowledge of Boolean logic.

    Also interesting is that a component of each search includes a real-time element – from Twitter and social news from Digg. The real time search element is useful as it provides another option to scoopler.


    Sponsored ads appear to come from the Google network. There are also options to filter searches (although there is currently no information on what is being filtered) and a Lite version which seems to remove the refinement options and the top-level definitions (i.e. making it more Google like in its results presentation).

    There is also an option to refine searches – alongside the search box.

    Selection of one of the options allows further search refinement either by keyword

    or domain

    Overall I like Yauba. The interface is clean (and the black background makes a change from competitors).


    Currently the site says it’s only an early Beta / Late Alpha preview release so more work / changes can be expected. Hopefully these will include Help files explaining what the Lite search is supposed to do and what a Filtered search actually filters. Also, what syntax is acceptable – to refine searches. Does Boolean searching actually work, for example? On my brief tests it seemed to – as did phrase searching i.e. putting search terms in quotes. What about other options – could any of the advanced search options from Exalead be included. And will the site cover more countries, than the current small number (Italy, France, UK, India, Brazil, Russia and the .com site)? Yauba promises to cover more countries – I’m just surprised that there is no Chinese or German version as I would have expected these before the Italian version. I guess the Yauba team have Italian speakers but currently no Chinese speakers.

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