Thursday, October 31, 2013

Google’s Hummingbird takes flight

By Vicky Ludas Orlofsky

  In late September, Google announced that it had completely updated its search algorithm for the first time since the early 2000s. Code-named Hummingbird and set to coincide with Google’s 15th anniversary, the new algorithm brings the ability to recognize conversational queries, which had already existed in Google’s Knowledge Graph, to the whole search engine.

  Unlike the article databases here at Samuel C. Williams Library, which require very specific search terminology, Google’s conversational approach to search can be useful when you are looking for something straightforward: “how old is halloween,” for example (answer: the term itself dates to the 18th century). This is especially true if you’re speaking the search query through your phone, a major reason Google adopted the Hummingbird algorithm. But it works less well when you need something more specific to an assignment: “(green OR sustainable) energy AND financing” brings back companies that produce green products, not scholarly articles that discuss it. Google Scholar (which does not, as far as I know, use Hummingbird) helps in this case, and can link you to what we have available through Samuel C. Williams Library -- especially if you choose Stevens through the “Library links” option in Settings -- but if a document is not available online, then Google Scholar’s usefulness is limited. As Boeker et al. put it, “Google Scholar is dependent on the fundamental accessibility of scientific texts over the internet or the will of the publishers and libraries to cooperate and open their repositories for indexing” (2013 pre-print). Of course, whatever we do not have you can get via Interlibrary Loan/Document Delivery Service, which is handy.

  For more on Hummingbird and other recent changes in Google’s search tools, see the articles below. When you read these, remember to evaluate them using the C.R.A.P. test (Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose/Point-of-View), especially if it’s from a source with which you’re not familiar. Who is the author, and who is the intended audience? What are the author’s sources? How objective (or not) is the article?

Boeker, M.; Vach, W.; and Motschall, E. (2013). Google Scholar as replacement for systematic literature searches: good relative recall and precision are not enough. BMC Medical Research Methodology 13(131) [pre-print]. DOI:10.1186/1471-2288-13-131

Halloween. (2013, October 31). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 31, 2013, from

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