Turning Google Instant Into a Quick Head Trip

As you might imagine I’ve been playing with Google Instant for about an hour now and I have lots and lots to write about. Expect a big ol’ article tomorrow. But in the meantime, I wanted to give you a quick tip that can turn Google Instant into a strange ramble through the Web.

Normally when you start typing in a query Google will try to anticipate what you’re looking for an will offer you search results based on its best guess. You can turn that behavior off if you put a + in front of the first query word. When you do that Google will refresh constantly as you type until you a) reach the end of your query or b) type something it has no results or suggestions for.

I took a poem from Pablo Neruda: The Tree Is Here, Still, In Pure Stone, and the line fire in the forest, blaze of the dust-cloud. Typing +fire in the forest, blaze of the dust-cloud slowly into Google (well, slower than I usually type) found the results refreshing with every word typed. News about wildfires flickered by a definition of “Fire in the hole,” which was followed by a kid’s book, Blaze and the Forest Fire — and I never actually found any results that had to do with Pablo Neruda’s poem.

Starting +The Count of Monte Cristo took me lots of images of Count Von Count of Sesame Street. Typing in the lyrics to a Laurie Anderson song took me to Flickr pages, lots of sun-related music videos, and finally Sharkey’s Day. Typing in primary colors took me to Simply Red, then people, then huge chromatic explanations.

It’s like the biggest, most open free association game ever. If I could somehow hook this up to Wolfram|Alpha’s random word features, I think I might be able to make my cerebral cortex explode. Wait, that’s not a good thing, is it…

Image Search Populated in Real Time

Thanks to the Internet Search Engine Database for the pointer to Nachofoto, a Web site that aims to provide relevant results for trending and hot search terms with recent photos and images. It’s in beta at http://nachofoto.com/.

This is an image search engine, but the idea is not to do standard image searches; instead you want to do searches of things that were recently in the news or which are relevant to the news. For example, I did a search for volcano:

The page results bring you back images from everywhere. In one case when I tried it I got a source, but none of the photos loaded; I only saw that glitch a couple of times. I got images from CNN, Reuters, Yahoo News, and some more somewhat local sources. In a couple of cases it’s not clear why I got an image and I had to visit the page for more details, but most of the pictures were just what you thought they would be: the volcano erupting, delayed flights, airport chaos, etc.

There was one big exception, though — when I went to retake the screen shot, I saw that a story titled “10 reasons ‘Iron Man 2’ is hotter than an Icelandic Volcano” had filled the search results with pictures of Robert Downey Jr. While I personally have absolutely no objection to looking at pictures of Robert Downey Jr., it wasn’t really relevant to the search.

In addition to the pictures themselves, Nachofoto also provided suggestions for other search terms I might want to try (usually more specific) along with a slider to determine how recent I wanted my returned photos to be (they could be anywhere from a day old to a year old — in the cases of breaking news it would be great if you could even specify how many hours old something should be.)

In some cases Nachofoto is not going to be useful, as when recently I was looking for good image examples of a 30-degree angle. (Don’t ask.) But for current and breaking news this looks terrific.

Yahoo, Now With Firehose

Wow! Yahoo announced yesterday its new Yahoo! Updates Firehose service in initial release. This thing sounds massive: “Yahoo! Updates aggregates social updates from Yahoo! and across the Web: It includes a real-time feed of every public action taken on our network … and elsewhere around the Web that users have authorized Yahoo! to make available.”

That includes over 750,000 ratings a day, 8,000 reviews a day, Flickr Uploads, Delicious bookmarks, favorited items on YouTube, etc. No kidding it’s a firehose!

The actual page for the new service is at http://developer.yahoo.com/social/updates/firehose.html, but if you just want to play with the queries you can by visiting http://developer.yahoo.com/yql/console/?q=select%20*%20from%20social.updates.search;. I had to be logged in to a Yahoo account before I could test things.

The service page provides plenty of examples for tracking all these real-time updates, including querying for words, searching for specific links, and even searching for activity by a user or a group of users (that particular example weirded me out a bit; be sure to check your privacy settings.) You can also pull out specific result fields; test results are shown in XML or JSON, and you get what a resulting REST query would look like.

In addition to the YQL Console Yahoo also has some excellent documentation for YQL, making it easy to imagine the possibilities of this huge flow of information. Not surprising at all that this is by the same company that came out with Yahoo Pipes — it might be just as addictive! I’m looking forward to exploring it more.

Get Real Time Buzz from a Variety of Places With Stinky Teddy

When I first got the e-mail about Stinky Teddy, I almost threw it away. I mean, Stinky Teddy? That could be anything. But I read a little more and I was reassured. Stinky Teddy is in fact the name of David Hardtke’s daughter’s beloved stuffed animal. David Hardtke took the name and adopted it for his search engine that collects buzz from all over the Web. Stinky Teddy, complete with cute logo, is available at http://www.stinkyteddy.com.

Stinky Teddy is what I guess you would call real time metasearch. Enter a keyword and you’ll get search results from Bing, Yahoo, VideoSearch, Twitter, Oneriot, and Collecta. These different search types are choosable from the front page via checkboxes; I did a search for superbowl.

Stinky Teddy provides the results stacked on top of each other; Web, News, Images, Twitter, Popular Links, etc. There’s also a “Buzz-O-Meter” that measure how fast tweets are being generated and posts added to OneRiot. My searches brought me discussions on Twitter, fairly current news, and overview Web sites for context. The videos didn’t seem particularly “real-time,” but that was the only spot that seemed weak.

If you don’t like what results are being gathered, you do have some options; a brief preferences page allows you to specify what kinds of resources are being searched, as well as whether you want adult content, where you want to get your “gossip streams” (Twitter, Collecta, and/or OneRiot.) There’s also an option to specify whether you want the gossip streams to influence your search results — I think this means that that concepts that appear in the gossip stream will influence the other search results. I tried turning this preference off and on (it defaults to on) and I found that it made more difference in the video search results than anywhere else — maybe it was my search terms.

Stinky Teddy gets points for the Buzz-O-Meter. It gets more points for not having any Google Web search resource in its search (not that Google is bad. It’s just that too many search tools start and stay with Google search, and don’t explore other sites and possibilities.) the site is planning to look at other things to add to its search lineup, and I’m looking forward to that. I like the search results here but would like to see more.

Doing Real Time Search? Watch Your Word Order

If you’ve been reading ResearchBuzz for a while, you probably know that the way you enter your search terms in Google makes a difference. If you enter words in one order, you may very well get a different result count and a different order to the results you get back. (Try searching Google for scratching post and post scratching to get an idea of what I’m talking about.)

I have used this knowledge to benefit over the years, when I needed to narrow down search results or just get a different perspective on what was available. When Google’s new real-time search came out, I assumed word order would no longer make a difference. After all, real-time search is just that — the latest and greatest material that Google is adding to its index. The stream should be the stream, right? No matter what kind of word order you use.

Turns out that’s incorrect; Google does change the real time search results based on your word order. That’s okay, but it does mean if you’re looking for real-time data you may want to play around with your word order, especially if you’re searching for words that don’t make a common phrase.

Let’s take an example. I’m interested in a Ford Taurus, and I want to see what kind of real-time buy/sell activity there is out there. I do a Google search for Ford Taurus and pay attention to the latest results. I’ll get a results screen that looks like this:

(Click on the screenshot to get a larger version.)

I’m getting the “latest” results, and the list looks very much like a Google search result except the results show how recently the content was indexed. The result count for this search, at this writing, is 4,250,000. You’ll also notice that the left nav gives you related searches, mostly other car models.

Now take that search and turn it around. Just turn it and do a search for Taurus Ford. Your search results now look like this:

(Click on the screenshot to get a larger version.)

You’ll note that the related searches are gone, the search results have shot up to about 6,670,000 results, and the order of the search results has shifted a little bit.

Now, is this bad? No, of course not. But if you’re really working in the live search and you want to make sure you get as many search results as you can, you’re going to have to run multiple searches of multi-word queries.

Word order shows a lot of difference when the words make up a phrase. If you do a search for search engine, at this writing you’ll get about 315,000,000 results along with some Twitter tweets. If you change the search to engine search, the result count drops to 109,000,000, the results shift around a lot, and only one tweet appears, way down at the bottom of the page.

I remember being astonished when search engines hit a billion pages of indexed content, but that’s nothing these days. The name of the game continues to be narrowing down your results to get the information you need and approaching a search problem from different angles. You can make a different angle just from changing the word order in your query even in Google’s real-time search; try it!