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Search Strings for Fun and Profit

Search Strings for Fun and Profit

Interesting searches of the week:

my feeling of brussels: One day, you’ll be able to run a google search to find out how you feel about something.

“national defence” and “information literacy”: I love that these were together in a search. The fact that it’s a search about information literacy tells you that this search was performed by a librarian, let alone the use of a boolean operator.

ban a friend (email with comma) subject: Not sure where (email with comma) fits in.

build+disappearing+second life: another interesting attempt to booleanize google.

can i get more storage on my macbook: No question mark!

canlı ifade msn penis görüntüleri: I don’t even want to know.

cn tower at night from across the water: An image search?

i’m uncomfortable with instructional technology: I’m sorry to hear that. I wonder if my blog helped this person; somehow I doubt it. Google as psychologist.

what places have alot of people in second life the game: I think this is my favourite of the week. Adding “the game” will surely help filter out all the instances where “second” and “life” appear together in a paragraph. Though, I guess it worked: that person got to me, and I write about Second Life (the game). Though I specifically don’t call it a game. So this person is clearly on to something.

Search Strings: The Return

Search Strings: The Return

I haven’t done this in a long while, mostly because I did something to my site that prevented me from being able to access them anymore, and I only recently thought about adding Google Analytics. So now I can see them again! So here we go:

“a diary is an example can you til me is primary or secondary
This is interesting; homework question? It’s clearly not a copy/paste, or a typed in copy from a question sheet. It looks like it was typed in on the fly; is this an example of someone using a computer/device while in class? If so, do you think that’s a good or a bad thing? It’s research, right? Is this an example of someone getting the internet to do their thinking for them?

ban a friend (email with comma) subject
Ban a friend…from where? IM? Facebook? email with comma, does that tell us why this person wants to ban a friend? It’s a mystery!

cheapest sd cards
I suspect no one needs me to add a data point to the research indicating that people use the internet to buy things. And to find deals. But this does indicate that people look pretty broadly to find general advice before buying technology and its associated bits.

confessions of an ugly stepsister chapter summaries
There’s always someone looking for ways to avoid reading the book. It’s a good book; just read it! It won’t take that long!

dream and meaning and running home across a field
This one is an interesting combination of boolean and free text. Not “dream interpretation”, but dream AND meaning AND “running home across a field”.

dreaming of making out with someone but don’t see there face
I must post too much about dreams, apparently. This one is on the verge of being a full-blown question, interestingly; if you added an “I’m” to the front, and then the obvious question at the end, “What do you think that means?” While the first dream related question shows evidence of some thought in terms of search construction, this one is more free-flowing, containing mostly words that won’t bring up a useful result.

how do you find if someone had been running a search for your name on the internet
An entire question, minus the question mark. Now: conceivably this might work; if someone created an FAQ with this as a question on it, you’d get a good result. But given the lack of quotation marks, it reads more as if the user is asking google a question rather than searching it. I love how conversational it is. We really do think of google as an extension of our brains in a way, don’t we? Our searches are so stream-of-consciousness.

how to do that google search thing where your name comes up and it says “did you mean”
Speaking of conversational! Yeah, it’s as if instead of the Google logo, the words above the search box says “I would like to know…” and the user merely finishes the sentence. I wonder how many hits you get when you search for “that google search thing”.

primary source subject heading strings capitalization
Someone’s cataloguing homework?

swallow lymph nude on back of my neck and can’t fell on that side
This is a strange combination of search terms and conversationality. Since you can’t very well swallow your lymph nodes, I presume those are separate constructions; swallow, plus “lymph node on back of my neck” “can’t feel on that side”. A pretty ingenious way to search for a series of symptoms, really. If it weren’t for the spelling errors. It’s always easier to type symptoms into google than it is to go see your doctor. But rule number one when you have a serious illness; don’t google it. What you’ll find will only depress you.

the emerging tools to access oa content.
With a period, no less!

what could me to have a rough feeling red ring around my neck
More stream-of-conscious medical questions. We talk about how users don’t need training in how to use Google, and we know they don’t usually go beyond the first page of search results, but looking at strings like this makes it clear that they don’t really know how to use the tool. There’s just so much in it, and we appear to have so much patience with google searching (we like the browse aspect, I guess?) that we will keep hammering at it until we get somewhere that interests us.

whining and complaining examples
You came to the right place!

will having the radioactive iodine treatmenat to kill my thyroid also get rid of the puffyness around my eyes?
Of course I’m going to attract the radioactive iodine and thyroid cancer crowd. Now this one interests me for a whole other reason. No matter how sick we are, vanity is always there, isn’t it. For me, I knew how big my scar was going to be, but I didn’t really care very much about that part; I didn’t care about how it would make me look. Once I had it I realized that it marked me as damaged, made me sort of Frankenstein-like. Pulled apart. Never the same again. I never once considered whether radioactive iodine would have an effect on my face, except that I worried about whether it would block up my salivary glands. However, it’s pretty clear that this person doesn’t have thyroid cancer, s/he has hyperthyroidism. But I don’t think the radiation would change puffiness. It only gets rid of the bug-eyed look that comes with Graves Disease. Sadly, there’s no pill that will magically turn us into Scarlett Johansson.

you don’t have to be afraid of cancer anymore
I hope that’s an accurate prediction.

We are not the Lost Generation: Search Strings Redux

We are not the Lost Generation: Search Strings Redux

I’ve been a bit busy of late. It’s a bit easier to blog regularly when you a) don’t have a full time job, and b) aren’t trying to write a novel. Just my opinion. I’ve been saving the better parts of my brain for work and/or creative (or not so creative) writing, so there’s only a tiny wedge of myself leftover for my blog lately. And often that wedge would prefer to curl up in bed and fall asleep, and so.

It’s been ages since I went trolling through my search strings, so I had tons to choose from this time around. And boy were there ever some gems in there. [If you’re new to this feature on my blog, a short explanation: when you type in a search query on Google, and click on a site you found there, the person who owns the domain you visit gets a hit from Google with your original search string in it. Thus, people who are perversely interested in such things can see what kinds of search strings lead people to their websites. What follows is a selected list of search strings my website has been collecting over the last month.]

Some initial favourites:

we are not the lost generation
find essay about balance school and partying
carrot cliches
google will always be a piece of shit

And from the WTF files:

winnie the pooh slash fanfiction archive

I was tempted to leave this one without any commentary, but I can’t resist. What sort of slash pairing do you imagine would be dominant in a Pooh fanfiction community? Would the biggest draw be the hurt/comfort of Pooh/Eeyore? The playfulness of Piglet/Roo? It’s anyone’s guess, really. (n.b.: If you ever want to freak out your friends, just ask them that question.)

how can i relate the professor to understand me

Wow, I think that question sort of answers itself.

mazar imp sales

They’re slow this season, I gotta admit.

how to typed a straight bar

I can’t parse this one at all. If you have a guess, please let me know.

how many places is my browsing being saved at asshole?

This might be my favourite search string EVER. Someone has just discovered that the internet is not a passive experience, but that everything you type into those boxes is being logged somewhere, and every website you load keeps a record that you loaded it. I particularly enjoy the name-calling at the end. Do you think he’s talking to me, or to Google?

encyclopedia britannica ready reference crack

I’m posting this one because I like the idea of “ready reference crack”.

my magic man Rochelle

I’m shockingly low on a) magic, and b) masculinity, unfortunately.

tilex fresh shower chat room

Can you imagine what this would be like? A whole chatroom dedicated to Tilex Fresh Shower? How long can that conversation go on, really?

i live in mississauga and

Trigger happy! Didn’t even finish the sentence!

brendan greeley aim

Brendan, someone called for you. They didn’t leave a message.

And, as usual, I have my list of search strings that came from the cheaters of the world. People using a search engine to get their homework done, and not in a good way. Some examples:

capricorn systems exam papers
narrative essay bout a difficult decision you have to made and the process you went through t oreach yourr conclusion
confessions of an ugly stepsister chapter summaries
i need information on dogs for my speech
what is feeling sorry for celia about

And then there’s the technical questions, which this time around were dominated by people concerned that they were being blocked on MSN and wanted to know if it’s true (if you have to ask, you’re being blocked, friend), and people wanting to sneak into people’s private posts on livejournal:

clear google search strings
hack livejournal locked posts
how to be added to someone’s friend page in lj without them knowing
msn how to know if blocked
how to write a good progress note
random im windows popping up
how do i know if i was blocked on msn?
msn blocked how to know

Another fun search string category is the Direct Questions.

what does technologically literate mean
do you need a licence to own a hair salon in ontario
what does a search string look like
when and why was the internet created?
what is the free thought? by wikipedia
when did winnie the pooh began
where to find a metaphor
where does debbie travis live
should i count twisted pagegetter as search engine
how do you cite a work cited page with mutiple volumes
why was the internet created?
why the canadian government doesn’t like change

Good times, good times. More soon, I promise.

Find me something

Find me something

It’s time for the search strings redux! And I’ve got a lot of search strings to skim through. I’ve handpicked a few along certain themes, because, as always, my interest is in who people think they’re talking to when confronted with a search engine. Can we tell what’s going on in people’s minds by looking at the way they phrase their questions? It can’t hurt to try.

First, the how-tos: people often turn to Google when they want to know how to do something. But, as is often the case, users haven’t entirely parsed exactly what they’re looking for, or how best to ask for it. So, users see an empty search box as saying, “So, what do you want to know how to do today?”

how do you know if a women wants to be that just friends
how to clear search strings
how to care for uncircumsized penis
how start revolution
how to know if you’re blocked on msn
how to get superglue off plastic glasses
how can i get free erotic story to my e mail inbox
how to keep student from being bored
how to break up a ganglion cyst
how to get people to come to library

And then there’s my personal favourite class of search string, which many of those how-tos above fit into: the complete phrase:

what did you think of the july 2005 new jersey bar examination
why do you see laptop as a distraction in class?
what makes people steal
what could i use from todays society to be written like jonathan swifts a modest proposal
what’s so great about reference librarians
what kind of problems do medieval peasants face
why are women complicated
how did people react to swift’s a modest proposal
what was the climax of jonathan strange?
when did cbc go on strike?
what is an academic monograph
how do i become a librarian?
is there profit in bookstores
what have people been searching for lately
why was the internet created
what is a wildcard when writing a search string
what problems are librarians encountering today?
what happened on december 9 2004
if you could change who would you be
what does the eagle has landed mean
does tilex fresh shower really work
who started sociological critcism?

And, I think I have to pick a personal favourite:

find me a coursework story about an assassin

I love this one because of the delightful anthropomorphizing of the Google search that’s going on here. Not only a complete sentence, but one with a directive at the front: find me this. There’s something strange yet endearing about that.

Search Strings Redux

Search Strings Redux

It’s been a while since I’ve done a thorough expose on my search strings. Things have changed a bit since a) I had catastrophic data loss about three months ago, and b) I’ve moved from Movable Type to WordPress (a move that happened along with a switch from one webhost to another). I’ve partially alleviated these problems by wholesale copying my MT archives into my new public_html directory, but the fact remains. Those links still work, but those pages aren’t going to be updated. All the urls are different now.

The reason why my search string collection is so interesting is because I have a text-heavy website. I use a lot of words, and words are the key to Google’s algorithms. I put words together, and Google looks for sets of words, so I get all kinds of hits from people who may or may not be looking just for me, or someone like me. While I started collecting and analyzing these strings as a bit of a joke to entertain my friends, it turns out that this examination is quite enlightening. I find myself mentioning this ongoing research at work, to illustrate a point. It turns out that looking at these strings has twigged me in to some elements of web searching I think I would otherwise have breezed right by. While I often find these strings funny, I respect user searches more now than I used to. It feels as though this work has worked to my advantage in ways I could never have imagined. The fact that people find me when they’re not looking for me is a great gift.

That said, sometimes people are looking for me.

mazar
rochelle
diary of a subversive librarian
rochelle mazar
mazar.ca
random access mazar
utm mazar

It doesn’t disturb me in the slightest that people are using search engines to look for me directly. In spite of all the articles about how problematic it can be for people to discover your blog, I, stats-obsessed as I am, am more aware than most how absolutely public this writing is. And I don’t feel particularly flattered by these searches either. It’s not as if there are hundreds of them. I’m not famous, or anything.

But what’s interesting about these strings is how much a person needs to know about you in order to find you. I have a rather unusual name. As far as I can find out, I’m the only Rochelle Mazar in North America. A French place name paired with a quasi-Ukrainian surname is, I suppose, a bit unusual. You also have the fact that “Mazar” is not a proper surname at all; it was mangled at the border, making it even less likely that there would be a doppleganger out there for me to cope with. So typing in my last name or my first name does, apparently, eventually get to me. My full name gets you there even faster. These people know who I am, and are looking especially for me. Someone even knows where I work and is searching for me that way.

Others don’t appear to have met me personally, but seem to have heard of my blog. They search for it by title (“random access mazar”, and “diary of a subversive librarian”). They’re not looking for me per se, but for my blog. Real person search, virtual identity search. Both end up in the same place. This was a conscious decision I made; I linked up my real self with my virtual self by naming them the same thing.

Since I spent most of my time these days talking about issues relevant to librarianship, it makes sense that search engine algorithms would send some library queries my way.

librarian behind desk
academic libraries future 3 years
radical reference
radical reference librarians
proactive reference public libraries
reader’s advisor* alice walker
trillian library academic use
academic monograph
casual librarian
library anxiety

My suspicion is that these sorts of queries are the product of librarians making their way online. Note the use of a wildcard in the reader’s advisory string. There’s no direct Boolean involved, but a lot of it is presumed; trillian ? library ? academic use might as well be a subject heading. You can see the careful thinking behind these queries; most of them are keywords strung together.

The only one of these strings I think is not the product of a librarian’s search is the first one; that’s clearly a user looking for an image, but using the wrong feature.

I’m still most interested in search strings that show very little processed thought. I’ve recently had discussions about just this; is this the dumbing down of academia, turning to algorithms to parse our search strategies? Or is this another form of scaffolding, letting people think less about creating the perfect search string and more about the topic at hand?

teenagers 2005 what’s important to them?
evaluate about since the invention of internet libraries and textbooks have become obsolete
turn the handle and the couch becomes a bed ikea sofa
xanga can hurt people

What I love best about these strings is how spontaneous they are; can’t you just see an internet user staring at that search box, thinking about their question, adding useless words into the string. No, I take that back; what I love best is that those searches work. That second string, evaluating the idea that textbooks are obsolete in the face of the internet; I have written about that, and this awkward, clumsy search lead them to me. There are enough keywords nestled in that unprocessed thought to get somewhere useful. That’s a powerful search engine at work. This is cyborg searching, an algorithm so responsive it accepts the unprocessed nature of human thought. Tapped right in, plugged into your brain.

I’m writing about search strings; in the tradition of metacritique, of course I get searches from people interested in, well, search strings.

search string apostrophe
search strings
funny search strings in google failure
my favourite search words
weird search strings
string search narrow algorithm

Though, that first string is probably someone hitting the same mySQL problem I had, where apostrophe’s bork the database command, and looking for the script to remove them. I’ve got it. I can hand it off. Just email me.

The rest: I think it’s interesting that someone is looking at how search strings show the obvious failure of the system. We distrust it, we librarians in particular; a machine can never be so smart as to not have a panapoly of errors to giggle about. In some ways I think we want it to fail, again, librarians in particular. If Google fails, we will still feel we have a legitimate place in the world. It must fail, it must be laughable.

Does someone out there have a set of favourite search words? What would make a search a favourite? I think that’s a search doomed to failure. My (somewhat educated) guess is that most people don’t think about their search strings at all. I suspect that getting back a list of their own search strings would be a foreign and off-putting experience for most people. It would be like getting an itemized list of what they had thought about in the last three hours; recognizable, but not nearly as linear as a list would make them seem. Putting stuch things in a list would make the process unrecognizable.

new jersey bar exam and july 2005 and opinions

However, some people really do think hard about their search strategies. Interestingly, while this search is perfectly constructed, as opposed to most of the other strings I’m displaying, the results were obviously poor if this person was led to me.

One of my other favourite things about looking at search strings is seeing the ones that are more statements of belief or feeling rather than actual searches.

i hate reading
wow can’t express by words you look beautiful
start revolution

The total randomness of these strings delights me.

Often my musings about search strings leads me in the direction of thinking that Boolean is dead, that real searching these days is more about throwing out lines of thought and seeing if anything bites; I spend my time illustrating how thoughtless searching is for most users, how they don’t metaconceputalize before turning to Google (or Yahoo or any other search engine). But then I get strings like this:

powered by wordpress inurl:ca

This is a brilliant bit of Google-Fu. Someone wanted to see all wordpress blogs with Canadian domain names. So they typed in the tag line of all wordpress blogs (“powered by wordpress”) and limited the search to domains ending in .ca. This is simply genius. This user got exactly what she was looking for; I bet it’s an interesting list, too.

And then we have the strings which are direct or indirect questions; they are turning to the internet because they have a specific activity or plan in mind. I’ve been thinking of these as the true reference questions of the web. These users are approaching a search engine not as a database but as an answerer or questions.

writing a narrative essay letter to my boss
how to fill out a reference letter for school
why does my computer random boot?
how can i clear my search strings
hide phone number from bots
post a comment blog

I am looking to do a particular thing; the instructions will surely be on the internet.

I’m still keeping an eye on the strings, obviously. I feel that there’s something for me to learn in them. I’ll keep you posted on precisely what that might be.

Info Chaos or Virtual Card Catalogue?

Info Chaos or Virtual Card Catalogue?

Every time I sit down and sort through my running list of search strings that bring folks to my website, I find myself saying the same things over and over again. From my experience collecting and interpreting search strings, it appears that people do not use Google as a search engine in the traditional sense; they use it as a reference librarian, a trusted friend, a knowledgeable teacher, a salesperson. And more and more I’m starting to wonder if they’re using it as a card catalogue as well. Both human and not human; what are the implications?

To date I have been reading an anarchist streak into search strings I gather; maybe I’ve been wrong to do that. My image of the internet and internet search engines is of a chaotic and dynamic place; there is no order on the internet, and the only way Google finds anything is because it remembers text and has a wonderful ranking algorithm for keyword searches. But have I been wrong to impose my perception of the internet on the people who serendipitously find my website? Can you see the echo of traditional library organizational method in search strings? Do other people see far more order in the void than I imagine they do?

“find out who someone is using xanga name”
A hopeful hacker seeking to out a high school rival, no doubt. I’m fairly certain that it is completely impossible to determine “real life” identity through a username issued by a weblogging platform, but an interesting question to set to Google. What is it you want to do today? I want to humiliate this girl at my school, can you help me?

This is I thin not a keyword search. The language is too complete. I don’t think there’s any chaos in this user’s mind when approaching the internet; only a sense that Google has the answer to most questions, Google knows how to do things. So all we need to do is tell it what we want to do. Google is our gossipy, knowledgeable friend.

“when was Dalton Mcginty born”
Also direct question. If you think about this as a keyword search, it’s a dismal failure. But this string clearly supports my contention that the concept of keyword searching is becoming increasingly foreign for internet users. But did this person imagine that Google would give them a straight reference answer? This is a classic reference question, something any reference librarian could answer with ease.

“should gays not be allowed to teach in public schools”
A moral question set to Google, in all the right words for spoken language barring the question mark. But this isn’t a question anyone would ask at a reference desk; this is a question for a minister, for a political leader, for members of the community, for an activist or a parent. Which is an interesting point. Talking to Google isn’t exactly like talking to a librarian; talking to Google is talking to the internet, which is increasingly a metaphor for the community or society rather than the library. So rather than a reference question, this is a question for the community, for Everyman. Google as spokesperson for society in general. I wonder how they would feel about that.

“Where Park Vespa”
Where can I park a vespa? This user has taken a stab at distilling a question into a set of terms, i.e., trying to talk “computer” to the computer, but has apparently not taken that necessary step away from the question itself and has merely removed a few of the least important words. Google trains us to do that by telling us what words are automatically removed from a search. That function, telling you which words were excluded, seems to be an effective teaching mechanism, a good reminder that Google is a machine, and its results are not veted by a human being. But where is this user on my schema? Partway between asking a question and typing in some keywords.

” pros of keeping a diary”
What are you looking for? It’s strings like this one that make me wonder if I’m being too anarchistic in my general theory that everyone sees the internet as a free-for-all; is it possible that people believe that the internet is hyper-indexed? That there are warehouses full of cataloguers putting pages into firm categories for their benefit? Portal directories like Yahoo! certainly gave that impression, at least years ago when its front page consisted of a set of general categories for us to browse through. Someone was organizing the place. Someone was making sure I could find everything about diaries, pros and cons. Is the directory image of the internet still current?

“xanga that are restricted from schools”
What are we more comfortable with; the hyper-organization that has for years defined the way we interact with information, or the explosive anarchy that reigns on the internet? Does the Google search box give us, as a culture at large, a sense of organization? Is there a category for Xanga, and then a category for restricted Xanga? At this point I realize that seeing only the search terms is not enough. I don’t know what the user was expecting to see; would it be a list of urls as decreed by someone, a web page discussing the xanga pages that schools regularly omit from their viewable pages, or merely a google results page of the profane xanga journals?

Do people believe that Google organizes the internet, or that Google leads us to someone who might have taken a stab at it? Does the internet have a brain? Is that brain the search engine?

“librarian computer person who cares”
Just call out my name…and you know wherever I am…I’ll come running…

“articles by Barbara Amiel”
Is this a proper keyword search, looking for an index page that has the words “articles by Barbara Amiel” on it? Somehow I feel it isn’t. Note the capitalization. To me this is a classic reference question search: “I’m looking for articles by Barbara Amiel”, as if the internet is sorted by type (article) and then by author.

“essay on diary writing”
The perfect support for the Barbara Amiel search, and one I’ve seen a few times before. Search by type (essay) and subject. “by”, “on”, these words are clearly supposed to have meaning to the search. This is like switching the toggle between author and subject searching, moving from one bank of card catalogues to another. Is there something very basic about the way the card catalogue functioned that is found its way so deep inside the psyche of North American culture that people are still constructing queries around its concepts?

“Salman Rushdie censorship suppresses people’s opinions”
So, what’s going on with a string like this? Is it a search for a headline? Salman Rushdie: Censorship Supresses People’s Opinions A bit obvious perhaps, but possible. Where the other strings prior to this one seem to be a search for a thing, people grasping to define the subject of their search, something like this seems like a copy/paste line, looking, for instance, for a news article that the user has quoted but not cited. Otherwise it’s searching for a statement, an opinion, an interpretation of a situation. In some ways this feels like the kind of search you would try in a proprietary database, looking for a title of an article. Is it better to see is as a title search, or a keyword search? Is it an a query for an automated system, or is this the kind of question the card catalogue would have handed just as well?

“disadvantages of living in England”
This could almost be a subject heading, if you squint. England, disadvantages of living in. Is this evidence of an understanding of complete organization, or complete free-for-all on the internet?

“Keeping Everyting in the Loop Using Blogs and Wikis To Communicate Inside and Outside of the Library”
Again: title search? The capitalization here becomes a big clue. If it were a subject search or a free keyword search, surely the user would not have typed the capitals. This person is looking for The Serious Thing With a Name. What if people see Google as an OPAC the way it should have been; a database system that catalogued every title, including webpages, articles, and chapter titles?

“Bathroom AND Guelph”
Well, golly gee, an honest-to-goodness Boolean query. Sometimes people seem to forget that they’re talking to a machine, but here we see someone fully aware of the machine-ness of the system, talking to it the way one should in a proper keyword database. More knowledge than is strictly required, as it turns out, but it shows that all those years of bibliographic instruction did in fact go somewhere other than in one ear and out the other.

“blog, story, diary”
My immediate guess at this one is that this is supposed to be a Boolean OR query, though goodness can you imagine the results pages something like that would generate. I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that two of these words are pseudonyms of a sort while the other is something completely different. Still, this kind of search brings me back to the chaos of the keyword search, the internet at large out there, untrammeled and untamed. Words thrown into the void, testing to see what sort of echo will come back.

” diary keeping-a-diary”
Diary, Keeping a Diary. Could have come right out of the DDC schedules, really. I can almost see the scope note. This search is so traditional, so card catalogue, it makes me shiver. I can’t believe I haven’t noticed this kind of trend before. Look at the hyphens; those were user-inputted. This is the farthest thing from a keyword search there is. This person isn’t looking for instances of the term “keeping-a-diary”. This user is guessing that “keeping-a-diary” is some form of sub-classification for “Diary”. This search has actually been parsed; the subject is diary-keeping, and this is how the subject heading should break down, as the user sees it. In this person’s world, the internet is an organized place. Google is just the interface of choice to get to it. Google is just the card catalogue.

I’m not sure where I’ve been lead to through the strings this week. But we know that if people understand the structure of a system, they can more easily construct a query and find exactly what they’re looking for. What does the internet look like? Does it help the libraries if users see the internet through the metaphor of the library?

My Favourite Search Strings

My Favourite Search Strings

“are engineers to rigid to be good managers”
The only concession this user made was to remove the question mark. A classic undeconstructed question typed into Google. I love these kinds of search strings because they underscore exactly why the world needs librarians. People don’t think about the process of searching for information; they know what they need and they know who probably has a record of the answer, somewhere. How to get from point A to point B is clearly a mystery.

“how to stimulate motive in learning language”
Another question typed straight in. This is not the kind of search that Google is particularly good at yet. This user needs to use a proprietary database storing social science data, and should probably be getting a hand from their local academic librarian. I say this because of the term “stimulate motive”. Doesn’t that sound like they’re looking for an academic text? Anyone else would have said something like “how to make kids want to learn languages”. So here we have specialist language going into a popular keyword database. I don’t know that I want to know what kinds of results you get when you type the word ‘stimulate’ into Google. Google is like a 13 year old boy that way, it giggles at all the words that might possibly be dirty.

“the version of childhood disneyworld constructs”
Interesting, eh? So the question this search is answering is what do you need information on? A search like this might be more useful than it appears to have been, since I’ve never written on this subject but this user was directed at me. Typing this phrase, in quotations, into Google would at least let you know if the phrase has been used by anyone who’s been archived. If someone used it, that would probably be useful to you. But if the user is actually looking to examine what version of childhood Disneyworld is constructing, the probably need to look at some primary sources. Look at the literature around Disneyworld, and the corporate information that comes with it. Note the use of “the” and “of”; technologies like Google have removed the necessity of distilling a query down to key terms. I think this kind of query is a good lesson for librarians. Using the technologies we have, we can allow users to type in this kind of query and give them what they’re looking for. If we automatically wildcarded words like “constructs” to “construction, construct, constructing”, dropped “the” and “of”, and added “childhood” and “Disneyworld”, that search would probably be extremely productive. If we can get the technology to do the grunt work of parsing down these kinds of queries into legitimate keyword searches, we would really be providing a good search engine.

“the way things work and search strings”
I enjoy the Boolean attempt here. Also, here is someone else looking at search strings. Compadre!

“heart of a just society” site
The likelihood of Google turning up something that’s not a website is increasingly likely, it’s true. But I still enjoy the addition of the word “site” here. This user is interested in a particular form or genre, not just in the topic.

“My View on Beauty and Ugliness”
A paper by A. Lazy Student (please give me an great mark). I particularly enjoyed the capitalization.

“marylandbluecrab”
My space bar is broken! I think this is an interesting search, since it’s probably the most fruitless on the internet. Spaces matter, friends! I’m actually sort of curious about whether or not someone thought this was the right way to conduct a search.

“assassin coursework personal and imaginative writing”
The fact that there might be assassin coursework that involves creative writing made this a search string to remember.

“essay on diary writing”
This fits into the what are you looking for today genre of Google string. Actually, this might be a bit of a theme on these recent search strings; form coming into the query. We don’t just want some article or ideas about diary writing, we want an essay on diary writing. Entirely dependent on the word “essay” coming to the document itself, which strikes me as unlikely. I sometimes use the name of a form for finding something, as a way to narrow a search: for instance, “instructional technology” and “blog”. Blogs often have the world blog on them somewhere, so that generally gets me what I’m looking for. But I think this search is a little less thought out than that. I’d like an essay on diary writing, please.

“giants stand on my shoulders”
Now this is a humble person.

“Michael Gunn a 21 year old English student”
This is interesting. This is someone looking for a very specific news story, and what an interesting way to do it. They’re looking for this story about a UK university student who was stripped of his degree for his rampant plagiarism throughout his academic career. Michael Gunn, a 21-year-old English student, told the Times Higher: “I hold my hands up. I did plagiarise. I never dreamt it was a problem.” What a great way to find the story, no? Type in a line that comes from it, and see how many times it comes up. Genius, really. I quoted the story, that’s how it got to me.

“catsuits quebec
Anyone interested in catsuits in Quebec has got my attention, that’s all I’m saying.

“at the NIH meeting funny hilarious exciting humourous joke taunt tantrum”
Interesting how people come to understand the idea of thesauri in searching, isn’t it?

“RESEARCH DONE IN CROCHETTING”
This is like interpretive dancing; I prefer to present my research through crocheting. Captials courtesy of the original search string.

“pedogogue explain”
Two words. Now, we accept that we need to seek out good search terms when doing keyword searches; is that what happened here? Did someone simply request that Google explain the term “pedagogue”? Or are they searching for something on the web that contains, let’s say, the sentence “Let me explain to you what a pedagogue is”? Not enough words to make a judgment, really.

“how does google organize information”
Another classic What do you want to know answer. Interesting how that happens, isn’t it? Missing the question mark, but otherwise, a straight up reference question, the same way you would ask a real live in the flesh person.

“is keeping a diary a good idea”
A question that has a yes or no answer, even! These are the kinds of questions people won’t ask a librarian. Inching into the personal, the ethical, the kind of knowledge we’re supposed to gain just by growing up in the world. Is it a good idea? I’m not sure I answered this question. How would you answer it?

Search Strings Redux

Search Strings Redux

“how to have a conversation 101”
I like the hopefulness of this query. There’s something very optimistic about the assumption that you’ve tagged the obvious name of a conversational skills website, should such a thing exist, and that this website should of course pop up at the top of your search results list. Are there actually instructions somewhere on how to have a conversation? Is there a formula we should all be following?

“different words for diary”
Google as thesaurus. Possibly this user wasn’t aware of the existence of such things as thesauri. It would actually be interesting if Google took on this kind of question head on and took input like “words for” as a thesaurus search, giving a list of results in place of “did you mean…” People already use Google as a calculator; why not as a dictionary and a thesaurus?

“companies who produce a lot of looseleaf printing in Toronto”
This is a search a la So what is it you’re looking for? variety. I’m becoming attached to these very straight-forward, completely undeconstructed search strings. I feel like I’m getting a glimpse into a person’s unselfconscious brain.

“inspiring one line phrases”
I’d like to be inspired, but could you do it quickly? I’ve got better things to do.

“Chinese is on the takeout list for the staff lunch”
I’m not sure what’s going on with this one. An accidental paste into Google? I mean, I’m glad to hear that the staff like Chinese for lunch (I’m partial to the buffet lunch deal my brother-in-law so cruelly exposed me to in downtown Guelph), but I can’t imagine what this could possibly be a search for. It’s more like a confirmation, a statement of fact.

“am I really a subversive”
Deep thoughts. What does Google have to say about your self-identity issues? Try it sometime. (Am I really a subversive librarian?)

“what does an algorythym look like”
Spelling the thing right helps, but this is another interesting question that avoided any deconstruction before being keyed into the search engine. Since Google is not a question answerer by design, the easiest way to do a search like this would have been to dump the word “algorithm” into a Google image search. But an interesting question nonetheless.

“almost done with my period when I get this external tickling itchy feeling”
I think what I like best about this is the way it mimics speech; how is Google supposed to parse “when I get this” and “almost done with my”? This sounds exactly like someone talking on the phone with a friend. Google as that knowledgeable girlfriend of yours, the one you can confide in and who will reassure you or direct you to some euphemism-covered box at the pharmacy.

“how to use the law to manage the information”
Interesting, but bafflingly imprecise. This question pretty much feels as though the user is looking for an answer without entirely understanding the question. Which information? How exactly can laws manage information? Maybe the rules of LCSH? Again, a case of the user seeing the Google search box as asking So, what’s your question today? rather than a place to punch in some keywords. There are no serious keywords here at all. I feel certain that this user came away pretty empty-handed from his search.

In another search string someone asked who Google is emulating; in many ways it feels as though people see Google as emulating the reference librarian. When a patron comes to the reference desk looking for “a book”, we understand that this imprecise query is actually a test. The patron wants to see how the reference librarian responds, whether they are really nice, whether they are actually too harried and too busy to do a guided search. So the first question isn’t the actual question at all. Is it possible that people do the same thing with Google?

“refworks is crap”
I sort of enjoy the idea that someone has a strong opinion about a product and wants to see if anyone else agrees.

“what was Dr. Faustus main goal”
What I think is really interesting about this one is the way the user obviously got the idea that you don’t type in a query just as you would say it; so he opted not to add an apostrophe on “Faustus”. We still have the “what was” part of the question, which is, as with other queries, answering Google’s unasked question: How can I help you? This is also probably a student trying to avoid reading the book. Good luck with that, friend.

“reasons people get fired”
A shortened phrase, at least. I wonder if anyone has ever complied a list.

“painting parquet floor update”
Dear God, don’t paint a parquet floor! Is this a Debbie Travis-related query?

“question to ask about getting to one person”
Your guess is as good as mine on this one. Interview questions, perhaps?

“what does a hard like mass look like on my skin”
You tell me.

Where before we had undefined questions being asked of Google in a tentative sort of way, now we have some specifics, but the question itself is skewed. The search appears to be for images of some sort of skin condition, but the phrasing of the question is strangely personal. Also, note the intact nature of the grammar. It’s moments like this that I can actually take my search string research with a modicum of seriousness. I really am learning something here. People don’t deconstruct their searches; they just type in the question they have.

“my uncircumcised penis sucks”
This is so sad. Don’t be brainwashed by North American culture, young man! Be proud! I have to wonder if this is some poor boy’s low opinion of himself of just someone looking for a person who said such a thing in public.

“well why not”
Wiser words have never been spoken.

Pants of Spee

Pants of Spee

Picking through my stats for the search strings that hit my blog continues to amuse and amaze me. Some of my more recent favourites:

“why am I nervous about everything”
I can just picture this person, which I imagine is a woman, crouching over her computer one evening tapping this frustrated question into Google. There’s something very sad about it, and something strangely hopeful in the process; will Google come up with answer? Google as therapist. An interesting take on the technology.

“critique of library collection abuse”
Please don’t abuse the collection. It’s not very nice.

“who is google emulating”
Possibly my favourite search string of all time. I’m sorry to say that I have yet to answer that question, or even pose that question really, but I’m thrilled to have been included in this person’s results page. I have a sinking feeling that this search was performed by a library school student required to write a paper on the subject or something like that, but in my more optimistic moments I imagine it’s just a kindred spirit out there. Who is Google emulating? Interesting question. My gut instinct is to say the reference desk, but the bigger they get and the more services they add, that becomes less and less clear. And I guess it depends also on what they think of all these crazy search strings they get. I think they are as intrigued by them as I am and that they won’t discourage the confessional style Google-as-question-answerer model people are using, which makes them more like reference librarians than online catalogues. But this may be a post for another day.

“make your page searchable on MSN using bots”
This sort of feels like a spam search string to me. It comes from an MSN search. You can make a website searchable by allowing bots to index it, but then again allowing bots to index your site is the default. Now that I’m looking at it….who needs a bot to make a page searchable? On my computer you just need to hit apple-f to get a search box and then type in your terms in order to search a page. Sheesh. Referrer spam needs to get more sophisticated than this.

“Pants of spee”
Not sure what this one is, but I’m sure I need pants of spee too.

“kids can post their thoughts”
This is a strange search. Clearly this has something to do with the read/write web, but beyond that I have no idea. Blogs? Wikis? Bulletin boards? I can’t exactly parse the thinking that would go behind this kind of search. Was this a line from a bit of promotional material, and the user was trying to locate the service? Anyway, kids can indeed post their thoughts, and a lot of them do it via livejournal.

“librarian entropy”
Since entropy is one of my top ten favourite words, I’m very happy to have been included on this user’s list of results. What do you think librarian entropy is about? We break down slowly over time? I mean, I guess that’s true. The slow decline of librarianship, from Deweyesque heights a hundred years ago to confused scrabbling now? That doesn’t seem fair.

“picture of sleeping librarian”
That sounds like a challenge to me. Let me get a phone with a camera in it and I’ll get you your pictures of sleeping librarians. (Having said that, I will never be invited to anyone’s house ever again.)

“luckiest person in the world”
Getting into the list of hits for this web search is like getting a pithy fortune in a fortune cookie. When you search for the luckiest person in the world, you get me. I feel blessed.

“you shouldn’t become a librarian”
Another interesting thing to type into Google, particularly in light of the “who is Google emulating” string. That would look entirely like the user is telling Google not to become a librarian. Who is the “you” in this scenario, if not Google? Presumably the user was searching for any page that recommends that people not become librarians. Perhaps the user is feeling pressure from friends and family to become a librarian, and is looking for resources with which to defend herself. In that case, I probably know this person and have been pressuring her myself. So many interesting stories behind these strings. Of course, those are interesting stories entirely of my own making, but still.

“easy once you know how to do it ipod”
The ipod is easy even when you don’t know how to do it. But man, that phrase is haunting me. Everything is easy once you know how to do it.

“online virtual horse activities”
What is it with some people and their horse fascination? Leaving aside for the moment the strangeness of that query, honestly, what is it with horses? Leaving aside the people who breed them or own them or train them or whisper to them, whatever, all that stuff. The city girls with mad crushes on horses, that’s what I’m talking about. It’s like a phase girls go through, the horse-loving phase. All those Black Beauty books. All those chap books about girls and their horses. Is this some kind of repressed sexuality thing I’m unaware of? At any rate, I’m not a very good source for online virtual horse activities. I think horses are more of a you-have-to-be-there kind of thing, but what would I know. Clearly I’m not a horse person.

“bob rae current address”
This one sort of scares me. Do you think this user wants to send Bob a gift?

“reading at risk” and “NEA” and “digital libraries”
I’m including this search because of it’s well-articulated search strategy and use of Boolean. Not everyone thinks Google is their therapist.

gorman metadata young males
This one made me laugh. At first it looks like someone looking for items about Michael Gorman, president-elect of the ALA, and the second search term, metadata, just strengthens that assumption, since Michael Gorman is a cataloguer at heart. But then we get “young males”. It’s like this user’s search for library science sources got highjacked by their deep urge for twink smut. (You know that just using the word “twink” means I’m going to have a whole new set of wacky search strings after this.) I’m tempted to add some boolean to this search to highlight how I first saw it: what am I looking for today, oh right: “Gorman metadata OR young males”. Two birds with one stone, why not.

“times span in a library school”
When we were little my sister and I sang this song that she learned somewhere. The last line of it, as I learned it from my sister, was: ” Koliada, Koliada / will walk by on Christmas eve / From my window I’ll be watching / waiting for the kay-cee-a-lee.” We wondered what a kay-cee-a-lee was. Our mother is foreign, so we figured she would know, but no. There were no answers to be had. Until I went to school one day and learned the same song through a songbook. The lyrics are actually: “Koliada, Koliada / will walk by on Christmas eve / From my window I’ll be watching / waiting for the cakes he will leave.” Sometimes a thing sound roughly right, and when you say it no one would ever notice that you’d got it wrong, but when you type it out it becomes so very clear. This story brought to you by the term “times span”.

“wwwwwwwwwwaaaaaaaaa”
First we had a user considering that search box on their favourite search engine as a kind of therapist; now it’s a shoulder to cry on. There there. It will be okay. Can I get you some Kleenex? Do you want a snuggle?

“woman break up lines”
Patron: “Hi there, I was wondering if you could help me…”
Reference librarian: “Certainly!”
Patron: “I’m trying to break up with my boyfriend. What exactly should I say?”
Reference librarian: “….Pardon?”
Patron: “I need some lines I can use, you know, to dump him gently but firmly. Can you help me?”

One day, when I’m visiting a foreign country (probably the US), I will simply have to enter as many public libraries as possible and ask some of the fantastic questions I have gleaned from my search string analysis. Actually, since my friend Emily so loathes going into libraries with me because I embarrass her by talking to all the staff, I will have to do this when I’m in the UK visiting her.

“how can I get superglue off something”
This query construction is indicative of that pre-calculated state I have discussed before; this user has not really considered how to get the best results from Google. He just has a question, and he’s going to type it on in to that blank box and see what happens. In a reference interview, the obvious response to this question would be “off what?”

“black face people dishes”
And on the other end of the spectrum….a query so parsed down to its minimal components that I’m not sure I understand it. Dishes that are the faces of black people? I mean, whatever turns your crank, I guess.

“VNIVERSITAS HARVARDIANA”
And here we have, I suspect, someone trying to parse a Harvard diploma much like my own, which is entirely in Latin. Yes, I know, friend. It looks fake because it doesn’t say “Harvard”. It says “Harvardiana”, like some mock Harvard located in rural Indiana. But it’s real, I swear.

I have a cyst on my back how do I get rid of it”
Beautiful non-boolean, non-keyword construction. I get lots of hits about cysts because I once very wisely posted an entry entitled “How to get rid of a ganglion cyst”, so now I get every Tom, Dick and Harriet comes looking to me for advice. But check out that query construction. This is so verbal it jumps off the screen. Can’t you just hear the user saying it? There’s no boundary here between the user’s question and the internet. Much like Google-as-therapist, here we have Google-as-next-door-neighbour. I know there’s lots of research underway about the social networks people turn to for health information; apparently Google is like that knowledgeable lady at work with six kids who’s seen it all. Just turn to her and ask.

“fear of fish, icthyophobia”
And on the other side of the tracks, the careful library user, who knows that the comma is a significant part of a subject heading.

I’m not entirely sure where my study of search strings is going, but I feel that I’m making progress toward some goal or other. Don’t you feel more enlightened?

The Logic of Search Strings

The Logic of Search Strings

Though it’s been a while since I last posted any, I’m still keeping an eye on my search strings. The longer I do this the more what I think I’m looking for changes. Now, rather than being amused by the sorts of things that Google (among other search engines) thinks I’m an expert on, I’m more interested in what the search strings say tell us about what people think a search engine does.

1. The direct Question
The direct question strings shows that a great number of people using the internet are under the impression that a search box itself is asking a question: what is it you want to know? What is your question for the magic eight ball internet? You can tell these kinds of users by the way they frame their search; it’s as if they believe someone living and breathing is going to see the question, understand it, and give them an answer. Generally speaking these search strings contain extra words, like “the”, “on”, “into”, and so forth.

DOES RID MEDICATION KILL BED BUGS
getting into library school
thunder sounds to download for students
articles on how to win a friend
peer review articles on masturbation
blog page by mazar.ca
photos with mastectomy

I think these strings are interesting to note. They are not wrong. Google understands what they mean. There’s just a level of search construction that librarians expect everyone to walk through that’s just not happening for these people. Is it hurting them? probably not. Is it wrong to think of the search box as a place to ask a question? I don’t think it is. But understanding that this may be the best and easiest way to come to grips with the internet may help librarians take a step closer to helping users find what they’re looking for.

2. Keywords, Boolean, and Traditional Searching
Some internet users still understand the way things used to be done; they build their searches based on keywords, they refer to people last, first name. These strings indicate that some users have taken a step closer to understanding how the search engine actually works, but sometimes their model is too much based on a controlled vocabulary OPAC rather than a free-association keyword algorithm they’re actually confronting.

trudeau, maggie
reference librarian versus google
young men plastic surgery
librarian first day
livejournal locking posts
new jersey bar exam blogs
faculty status difference academic status librarians
myopic world
history of library science
beta hormones blood levels
classification web comments

I think these are completely reasonable searches; given the way Google (or MSN, or Dogpile, or any other engine) functions, these terms will get users close to what they’re looking for if not exactly what they want. Short phrases, no superfluous words; these people may have noted Google’s attempts to correct people’s search strategies and have lopped off extra bits. If their search starts with a question, for instance, “Where can I find out more about how livejournal locked posts work?” These users have boiled it down to a few key words and dumped those into the search box instead. While librarians have spent eons trying to get students to understand their topic in terms of controlled vocabulary subject headings, perhaps we should instead focus on getting them to this level, to reducing a question into a set of terms likely to illicit the kind of results they want to see. For instance, “faculty status” and “academic status” are very specific terms, that, linked together, would narrow down documents to what the user is looking for; adding “librarian” helps to narrow that search down even further. Maybe this is the kind of information literacy training we should be going for?

3. The inexplicable

What have you learned about evaluations from doing the reading this week and working on these essays Anthing that you can brin

Every so often I get search strings like this. I’m not sure what to make of them. Sometimes it seems as though someone has just accidentally pasted something into the wrong window, which admitedly is completely fascinating for me. These little glimpses into people’s lives; sometimes it’s bits of text, like this one appears to be. Other times its chunks of an IM conversation or lines from an essay. There is something to be said for running searches like that; I used to find plagiarized essays doing that for a faculty member back in my Carleton days. But so far I haven’t seen anything that looks like a plagiarism check. If these searches are accidents, why does anyone ever get beyond the results page? Why click on a site and see where it went? Is this some kind of google game, drop in a random line of text and see what comes up? I’m intrigued in any case.