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?
- Google and the Future of Search: Amit Singhal and the Knowledge Graph, Tim Adams, The Guardian/The Observer, 1/19/13
- 15 Years On--and We’re Just Getting Started, Google Inside Search [blog], 9/26/13
- FAQ: All About The New Google “Hummingbird” Algorithm, Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land [blog], 9/26/2013
- Google Unveils Major Upgrade to Search Algorithm, Richard Taylor, BBC News, 9/26/13
- Meet Hummingbird: Google Just Revamped Search To Answer Your Long Questions Better, Robert Hof, Forbes, 9/26/13
- The Google Hummingbird Patent?, Bill Slawski, SEO by the Sea [blog], 9/27/13
- What Google's Hummingbird Update Means For You, Denis Pinsky and Eric Enge, Forbes, 9/30/13
- Google’s Hummingbird Update: Should You Be Concerned?, Ken Wisnefski, Wired, 9/30/13
- Google 'Hummingbird' Algorithm to Elevate Niche Websites, Gerry Brown, The Telegraph, 10/3/13
- Can Users Trust Google’s Knowledge Graph Results?, Chris Crum, Web Pro News [blog], 10/3/13
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 http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Halloween&oldid=579633315.