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  1. #1
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    I cut my teeth on Boolean Logic in college in the 60's and have been writing computer programs of one kind or another since the early 70's so you would think that I could get the upper hand on a internet search engine when it comes to finding information, but more and more I find my searches for information becoming lost in a sea of marketing. I understand and accept that companies like Google and Yahoo make money by marketing and advertising, but it seems to have reached the point where information has become drowned out.

    Let's say for example that I want to find out the differences between two particular kitchen appliances and perhaps even find some reviews. So, it's off to the internet to do a search and viola, quick as a flash I've got 100 pages of hits. Problem is, 99% of the hits are from businesses trying to sell me something. So, as the result of my search, I know the price of the appliance in 25 countries and 10,000 web sites where I can buy them, but not one worthwhile piece of information. And as far as the places with "customer reviews", I've looked at them and seen the same review in 100 places so either someone has a lot of time on their hands or they are planted. In any case, they are mainly worthless.

    Surely there has to be a way of cutting through all the marketing and actually squeezing some information out of the internet, or should I just give up and get a subscription to some consumer review magazine?
    Graham Smith
    DataSmith, Delaware
    "For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.", Arthur C. Clarke (1917 - 2008)

  2. #2
    Super Moderator jscher2000's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Graham C. Smith View Post
    Let's say for example that I want to find out the differences between two particular kitchen appliances and perhaps even find some reviews. So, it's off to the internet to do a search and viola, quick as a flash I've got 100 pages of hits. Problem is, 99% of the hits are from businesses trying to sell me something. So, as the result of my search, I know the price of the appliance in 25 countries and 10,000 web sites where I can buy them, but not one worthwhile piece of information. And as far as the places with "customer reviews", I've looked at them and seen the same review in 100 places so either someone has a lot of time on their hands or they are planted. In any case, they are mainly worthless.
    The advent of affiliate marketing often leads to results with 27 vendors in the first 30 Google results. Very irritating.

    For info, depending on the nature of the product, you may be able to find (1) the manufacturer's site for user guides and specifications, or (2) product-focused third-party sites with comparison engines (e.g., PhoneArena for mobile phones and tablets).

    For reviews, yes, sites can subscribe to a pool of reviews, so you often will the same ones. I am a fan of Consumer Reports, understanding that the reviews and criteria are targeted toward the average person and not the enthusiast power user.

    Edit: For kitchen appliances, also check out Cook's Illustrated, which offers 14-day free trial of its online content.

  3. #3
    Super Moderator CLiNT's Avatar
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    Google and other search sites have been moving away from strict Boolean Logic type search in favor of more personable like search queries.
    But there is still some rhyme and reason behind it.
    How to make the most of google search

    Google search basics:
    The Basic search help article covers all the most common issues, but sometimes you need a little bit more power. This document will highlight the more advanced features of Google Web Search. Have in mind though that even very advanced searchers, such as the members of the search group at Google, use these features less than 5% of the time. Basic simple search is often enough. As always, we use square brackets [ ] to denote queries, so [ to be or not to be ] is an example of a query; [ to be ] or [ not to be ] are two examples of queries.

    •Phrase search ("")
    By putting double quotes around a set of words, you are telling Google to consider the exact words in that exact order without any change. Google already uses the order and the fact that the words are together as a very strong signal and will stray from it only for a good reason, so quotes are usually unnecessary. By insisting on phrase search you might be missing good results accidentally. For example, a search for [ "Alexander Bell" ] (with quotes) will miss the pages that refer to Alexander G. Bell.
    •Search within a specific website (site
    Google allows you to specify that your search results must come from a given website. For example, the query [ iraq site:nytimes.com ] will return pages about Iraq but only from nytimes.com. The simpler queries [ iraq nytimes.com ] or [ iraq New York Times ] will usually be just as good, though they might return results from other sites that mention the New York Times. You can also specify a whole class of sites, for example [ iraq site:.gov ] will return results only from a .gov domain and [ iraq site:.iq ] will return results only from Iraqi sites.
    •Terms you want to exclude (-)
    Attaching a minus sign immediately before a word indicates that you do not want pages that contain this word to appear in your results. The minus sign should appear immediately before the word and should be preceded with a space. For example, in the query [ anti-virus software ], the minus sign is used as a hyphen and will not be interpreted as an exclusion symbol; whereas the query [ anti-virus -software ] will search for the words 'anti-virus' but exclude references to software. You can exclude as many words as you want by using the - sign in front of all of them, for example [ jaguar -cars -football -os ]. The - sign can be used to exclude more than just words. For example, place a hyphen before the 'site:' operator (without a space) to exclude a specific site from your search results.
    •Fill in the blanks (*)
    The *, or wildcard, is a little-known feature that can be very powerful. If you include * within a query, it tells Google to try to treat the star as a placeholder for any unknown term(s) and then find the best matches. For example, the search [ Google * ] will give you results about many of Google's products (go to next page and next page -- we have many products). The query [ Obama voted * on the * bill ] will give you stories about different votes on different bills. Note that the * operator works only on whole words, not parts of words.
    •Search exactly as is (+)
    Google employs synonyms automatically, so that it finds pages that mention, for example, childcare for the query [ child care ] (with a space), or California history for the query [ ca history ]. But sometimes Google helps out a little too much and gives you a synonym when you don't really want it. By attaching a + immediately before a word (remember, don't add a space after the +), you are telling Google to match that word precisely as you typed it. Putting double quotes around a single word will do the same thing.
    •The OR operator
    Google's default behavior is to consider all the words in a search. If you want to specifically allow either one of several words, you can use the OR operator (note that you have to type 'OR' in ALL CAPS). For example, [ San Francisco Giants 2004 OR 2005 ] will give you results about either one of these years, whereas [ San Francisco Giants 2004 2005 ] (without the OR) will show pages that include both years on the same page. The symbol | can be substituted for OR. (The AND operator, by the way, is the default, so it is not needed.)
    Exceptions
    Search is rarely absolute. Search engines use a variety of techniques to imitate how people think and to approximate their behavior. As a result, most rules have exceptions. For example, the query [ for better or for worse ] will not be interpreted by Google as an OR query, but as a phrase that matches a (very popular) comic strip. Google will show calculator results for the query [ 34 * 87 ] rather than use the 'Fill in the blanks' operator. Both cases follow the obvious intent of the query. Here is a list of exceptions to some of the rules and guidelines that were mentioned in this and the Basic Search Help article:

    Exceptions to 'Every word matters'
    •Words that are commonly used, like 'the,' 'a,' and 'for,' are usually ignored (these are called stop words). But there are even exceptions to this exception. The search [ the who ] likely refers to the band; the query [ who ] probably refers to the World Health Organization -- Google will not ignore the word 'the' in the first query.
    •Synonyms might replace some words in your original query. (Adding + before a word disables synonyms.)
    •A particular word might not appear on a page in your results if there is sufficient other evidence that the page is relevant. The evidence might come from language analysis that Google has done or many other sources. For example, the query [ overhead view of the bellagio pool ] will give you nice overhead pictures from pages that do not include the word 'overhead.'
    Punctuation that is not ignored
    •Punctuation in popular terms that have particular meanings, like [ C++ ] or [ C# ] (both are names of programming languages), are not ignored.
    •The dollar sign ($) is used to indicate prices. [ nikon 400 ] and [ nikon $400 ] will give different results.
    •The hyphen - is sometimes used as a signal that the two words around it are very strongly connected. (Unless there is no space after the - and a space before it, in which case it is a negative sign.)
    •The underscore symbol _ is not ignored when it connects two words, e.g. [ quick_sort
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  4. #4
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    I'm with you, it can be a real pain to find good info when researching products. When it comes to consumer products, I find that scouring the product reviews on sites like Amazon are a big help. Some big box retailers have rating and review systems as well. Of course, like anything else, take it all with a grain of salt. Very often certain product types have their own forums that can be useful also, things like tvs, computers, and audio systems. For comparing product features, I have yet to find anything better than using manufacturer's web sites. I've found that if the manufacturer doesn't have a lot of info about their product, its usually not worth my time anyway. At one time ePinions was pretty good but has degraded into a "clique" site where it seems that only long time members reviews are respected by the so-called admins. New product requests are often ignored and this has discouraged new reviews and members. Suffice to say that I am not a fan of Consumer Reports either, so personally I would not recommend wasting money on it.
    Chuck

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clint Rossmere View Post
    Google and other search sites have been moving away from strict Boolean Logic type search in favor of more personable like search queries.
    Thanks. I'm quite familiar with all of those suggestions. I also lament the loss of one of the more worthwhile features that used to be available in a few search engines - NEAR. The biggest problem is that todays search engines are intentionally biased in favor of returning advertising. I've played the game of doing a search and excluding certain keywords that I know I'm going to hit but there seems to be a never-ending supply non-information information. <sigh>

    There has to be a way of beating these things, but I'll be darned if I can find it.
    Graham Smith
    DataSmith, Delaware
    "For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.", Arthur C. Clarke (1917 - 2008)

  6. #6
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    Ranking by popularity seems quite absurd in some scenarios, as it will likely hide valuable results well down on the results list, in favor of the popular but worthless links. Not easy to get around this, it really isn't. It's the fake relevance dictatorship. The real problem is that determining relevance is very hard, with some many documents available over any given subject, most of the time. Probably you have to try and narrow down your search, which can be hard when searching. Probably search engines, at least in advance mode should give the option to provide feedback on search results, something like selecting a lot of "garbage" results and saying - don't give me results like these.
    Rui
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Graham C. Smith View Post
    Surely there has to be a way of cutting through all the marketing and actually squeezing some information out of the internet, or should I just give up and get a subscription to some consumer review magazine?
    Googling for
    XYZ nightmare
    can be a useful tool in finding about problems that people have had with product or vendor XYZ.

    But bear in mind that some users shouldn't be allowed to use anything other than plastic spoons, so read everything with a sceptical eye.

  8. #8
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    Hypersearch engines are something you might look into.

    I have had Copernic Agent Professional, which I gather is now available in a free version, for years, and long before their free Desktop and subsequently Desktop Pro stole the show. I recently realized that Agent Professional is a part of Desktop Pro in the form of the Web Search. That's a little off the track, but if you happen to have Copernic Desktop Pro, try the Web search for things.

    I don't have the names nor details of the top-rated hypersearch engines, but a library site that I was familiar with named and ranked them at one time (I just checked it, and they are no longer there). It's just a matter of getting a bunch of different search engines to run the same search simultaneously and eliminating the duplicate hits, preferably with filters on the results, but it is arguably more powerful than using a single engine, no matter how elegant its algorithm is claimed to be.

  9. #9
    New Lounger ValekHawke's Avatar
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    Graham, there is another possibility that you might want to take a look at if you haven't already. It is Fravia's Web-Searching Lore I'm not sure if you will find anything of use there or not but maybe so. I hope it helps. I have been perusing it a bit here and there when I have some spare time in hopes of honing my Google Fu and there seems to be a ton of information to sift through.

    Best of Luck to You,

    Val
    If you think you're having a bad day, just remember that somewhere out there someone has Snooki as a Mom...

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Valek Hawke View Post
    Graham, there is another possibility that you might want to take a look at if you haven't already. It is Fravia's Web-Searching Lore I'm not sure if you will find anything of use there or not but maybe so. I hope it helps. I have been perusing it a bit here and there when I have some spare time in hopes of honing my Google Fu and there seems to be a ton of information to sift through.

    Best of Luck to You,

    Val
    Oh my, that is one of the most disorganized and hard to navigate sites I have encountered in some time. He turns web searches into a college level course. Way too much detail, especially on his "basic" page. He apparently had a lot of time on his hands when he was still alive.
    Chuck

  11. #11
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    You are not alone in your worry about the skewed results from free search engines. Here, for example, is a link toGoogle Modifies Search Algorithm to Discourage Aggressive Search Optimization

    At the risk of drawing attention to it, WordFlood is one example of a company that specializes in exploiting (if you care to call it that), Google for, let us say, promotional purposes.

    For serious searches I recommend Copernic Agent for which a free version is available. I have the Pro version, but I also have their Summarizer and Desktop Pro, which may make a difference in capabilities, and I don’t really know the differences among the versions and combinations of versions.

    It is highly configurable, you can pick your search engines, it will rank results, and it will give you an outline of the source and the contents. That makes it very easy to skip over hits that you can see at a glance don’t interest you.


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