Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Avi Rappoport (avirr) Sat 24 Jun 00 18:19
They try... My instinct is that they fail, that the Web search engines have trained people to ask simple questions and expect intelligence in the presentation of results. By the way, Web searching is the best way ever to find lyrics to obscure songs. I used to help out in a library research unit (BARC to the cogniscenti) and old songs were one of the hardest things to track down. Now you just type some of the words in as a phrase, and there they are!
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Sun 25 Jun 00 08:57
Here's one situation where I, painfully and regretfully, disagree with Reva. (cat-fight! cat-fight!) Much as I like the attempts by Oingo and SimpliFind to disambiguiate, they're still much to dumb to really help with a complex query. What we really need, IMO, is something that *can* do what we librarians call a reference interview (user needs assessment, in IT-ese). "Are you looking for overview information? Best-in-breed examples? The latest news on this subject?" I agree with Avi on both her comments - Web search engines have raised expectations beyond their capacity to deliver, and they're fabulous for finding lyrics of songs remembered from 25 years ago.
Reva Basch (reva) Sun 25 Jun 00 09:55
We actually don't disagree, mebs. I brought up the disambiguation engines as an example of how the same linguistic analysis technology used by advanced natural language search engines is being used on the web today. My results with both SimpliFind and Oingo have not been great; I don't think either of them is ready for prime time at this point.
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Sun 25 Jun 00 14:28
The one thing I *do* use Oingo or SimpliFind for is to get synonyms if I'm having a bad brain day and just can't think of alternative ways of expressing something. Sometimes I think that that's the hardest part about online research - getting beyond thinking about what you want to find to where you're thinking about ways that the answer would be expressed.
I kiss your hand... (coop) Sun 25 Jun 00 17:45
Oooh. Good tip, mebs! Let's talk Boolean for a moment. Or Not. (Haaaaaaaaaaaaa!) Ahem. On pages 29-37 or so you give a very good tutorial on George Boole's brilliant system, upon which most professional, gated services rely. Now, how many of the Yahoos of the Net accept these types of searches? And do they really *use them or do they just jump over them and use the search terms we input?
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Sun 25 Jun 00 19:21
Actually, many search engines and catalogs use some form of Boolean logic (AND, OR and NOT), but they don't always make it easy for you to figure out. Your best bet is to look for a link on your favorite search tool to [Advanced Search] or something similar. (Hotbot is an exception - you can use a pull-down menu to indicate AND and OR relationships right from the main search screen.) Say you're looking for information on backpacking in the Rockies. In Yahoo, you click [Advanced Search], then type in your words (backpacking rockies), and click the "Matches on all words (AND)" button. In Google, I click the [Search Tips] link and find that Google automatically connects words with AND, and there's no way to do OR. Bummer if you don't want all the words, but for my example, I'll just type in backpacking rockies. In Alta Vista, I click [Advanced Search] and in the search box, type backpacking and rockies Note that boolean logic is ONLY supported in the Advanced Search search box. Try looking for similar links in YOUR favorite search engine...
I kiss your hand... (coop) Mon 26 Jun 00 14:53
This seems like a sort of "dumming down" in search options. Will search engine folks wake up and realize that the world is changing and that more than some average end-users do, in fact, understand Boolean Speak? Or are we watching an endless spiral of complex systems which will assume that the Man on The Web doesn't know "or" from "not"?
only taking care of the room (sd) Mon 26 Jun 00 16:45
Gee this is a great topic! At our house we subscribe to Dow Jones Interactive, ProfNet, local Atlanta paper archives (well, this is actually pay per use but so is DJI after the initial cost the way we use it) and Burrelle's database that comes out with updates every-so-often in much the same way as microfiche in the days of old. We also pay for the Well (MY favorite) and a DSL connection. We use most of this for my wife's business but find that each service enriches us individually, too. We are always looking for other services which is one of the reasons I wanted to read this wonderful book. I'd read Reva's post a while back about gated communities being a wonderful resource and that has made all the difference. As for search engines, I used to use Dogpile thinking that more was better but now have had Google set a the start page at home, on the laptops and at the office for months. Hotbot was another old favorite especially for 'flipping' sites to see who is linked to them. I have a feeling that it was among the best sites for my needs when it first arrived but that it has not entirely kept up with the times. The best search options I've found are beginning to appear on the competitive job hunting sites. Some will specifically allow you to filter out recruiters or .edu accounts for example. They include features like multiple word searces for required and requested words so that the requested words (theoretically) can bring the desired job or job candidate closer to the top of the heap. Many have filters to include only resumes or jobs posted in the last 30, 60, etc. days. I'd be happy to find a general search engine with such common sense features. Any ideas? Also, don't you think that most folks are reasonably comfortable with boolean? It seems like such a simple thing to use that you'd think it could easily become part of the grammar school curriculum.
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Tue 27 Jun 00 11:48
Wow, Alan. I don't think most people have their own personal Dow Jones account! To answer your question (and coop's) about Boolean... I think many people are comfortable with Boolean in the sense that we all intuitively know the difference between AND and OR, but that doesn't always translate into search engine use. For starters, in many conversations we actually use AND when we mean OR and vice versa. Listen to yourself and you'll see. So people often tend to use AND in a search construction when they mean OR. And search engines don't always encourage Boolean searching - in fact, sometimes I think they're busy engineering the algorithm to discourage us from Boolean and to encourage us to just throw a bunch of words in and hope for the best. If we users aren't rewarded (by getting more relevant results) when we use Boolean, why should we become proficient in it?
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Tue 27 Jun 00 12:13
Perhaps it's because there are standard ways to search for phrases (quotes) or exclude a term (minus sign) and those are good enough for most searches. And an OR can be done by doing more than one search.
Reva Basch (reva) Tue 27 Jun 00 15:46
Thanks for the good words, Alan. I'm curious about what your wife's business =is=. I'd love a world in which kids are taught Boolean logic along with their ABCs, because that would mean a world in which adults are intuitively at home with it, and maybe then we'd see a more graceful integration of Boolean precision into our search engines. We sure ain't there yet.
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Tue 27 Jun 00 16:44
In once sense, we *are* taught Boolean logic - remember those Venn diagrams we had in grade school? And was I the only child of an MIS geek who got WFF 'n' Proof to play with as a kid? The problem is that that wasn't translated over into a Web application (duh, because there wasn't a Web when some of us were growing up). Perhaps today kids are being shown why they're learning those Venn diagrams.
only taking care of the room (sd) Wed 28 Jun 00 01:31
Thanks for the explanations. I love the suggestion to listen to our own misuse of 'and' for 'or'. My wife is a one woman PR firm who's clients include a CFP a college business department and a large law firm. Speaking of PR, congratulations for the mention in tuesday's special money section of USA Today! Page 2E of the McNewspaper contains a mention of <reva> and <mebs> and the book in the last paragraph! Almost any PR person will tell you that USA Today is just about the best print hit in the country. The special section , "Taming Technology" and the article, "You, too, can be Holmes on the Web" were good places for the mention to occur. Too bad that they couldn't have included a little review.
I kiss your hand... (coop) Wed 28 Jun 00 12:40
You beat me to it, Alan! I rarely have acces to McPaper, but was on the road yesterday and bing bang boom, there was ROFD IN THE NEWSPAPER! The section, "How To Tame Technology" was actually alright. I loved the Geek Meter, showing the level of expertise needed to handle whatever the article was about. Flipping along here...to listservs...oops, LISTSERV(TM) L-Soft. (See p. 157) Can you tell us YOUR favorite mailing lists; those about professional info things. Oh, ok, you can tell us about The Dead lists too, if you must. What helps you the most? Which are most active?
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 28 Jun 00 13:26
Hey, this is the first I've heard of that USA Today mention! The only mailing list I subscribe to and read (well, at least scan) regularly is AIIP-L, for members of the Association of Independent Information Professionals. It's terrific for networking, collecting research tips, getting help on software or on some aspect of running your business, reality-checking difficult client situations, and so on. The Special Libraries Association has several lists; I've subscribed to BUSLIB-L, for business researchers, off and on over the years. I'm also on and off CBP-L, a list for computer book authors, publishers, and others in the trade. My favorite list, though, is totally un-work-related: It's a local list for people who live in my tiny li'l isolated coastal community. Members range in age from their 20s to their 90s. Some people bought computers and became online-literate just to join the list. We talk about everything -- local issues like where to buy firewood or whom to call for home repairs; global political-environmental stuff; community politics. It functions like an old- fashioned 3x5 card bulletin board, too: Somebody needs a ride to Santa Rosa. Somebody needs something picked up in Santa Rosa. Somebody's selling furniture. Somebody needs the loan of a baby crib. Much like the WELL, in topics like Experts on the WELL, information gets exchanged very quickly and very effectively. People for whom this little list is the first experience with online community are just amazed. Getting back -- although we're really not that far off the point -- to the research uses of listservs and mailing lists, the point is that not all information is embedded in documents and that, even when it is, people can be a tremendous shortcut in getting the information you need. They can tell you directly, or they can point you to a specific source, or they can give you some pointers about where to look, whom to call, what else you might try.
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 28 Jun 00 18:16
Only peripherally for researchers is CE-L. It's for copy editors, but it's fascinating in the depth and breadth of information they are looking for in order to copy edit the books, magazines, newspaper articles, etc. that their authors bestow upon them. (I know you were asking <reva> and <mebs>, coop, but...well, there it is!)
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 28 Jun 00 20:49
Hey, no problemo.
No "punch the monkey" banner ads. (vard) Wed 28 Jun 00 22:37
Would you two be willing to hazard a guess as to the look of the online landscape five years from now w/r/t reliable information for free? I think about sites like imdb.com and what a tragedy it would be if they failed because the ad revenues weren't there. I'd gladly pay a small amount to have access to any site that useful, and if everyone did the money would be there to keep them going. Do you foresee a system of micropayments for formerly advertiser-supported information resources? Or will they disappear? Or will the advertiser model evolve to allow them to survive somehow?
only taking care of the room (sd) Thu 29 Jun 00 02:30
reva! The idea of a local mailing list is brilliant! I live in the little town of Stone Mountain, GA. My neighborhood is always trying to put out a newsletter a quarter or so and I'd thought about doing a website but the mailing list is a much better idea! Thanks.
Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Thu 29 Jun 00 06:12
One interesting thing that people are starting to do is use paypal to allow people to make contributions to the ongoing maintenance of a site. If you like what you read, you can quickly and easily pay a voluntary subscription fee if you have a paypal account. It will be interesting to see if this takes off, and is kind of a grass roots move toward micropayments.
only taking care of the room (sd) Thu 29 Jun 00 07:57
Paypal is wonderful. I know lots of folks who use it now. Micropayments to co-workers like for a couple of stamps or a share of the lunch check or contributions to a group gift are one of the killer apps for me. CE-L is pretty entertaining.
Reva Basch (reva) Thu 29 Jun 00 10:05
Let me know if you get that list going, Alan. MEB and I have a colleague whose DC neighborhood has a thriving community list, too. I'm sure this isn't an isolated phenomenon. SUCH a good question, Vard. I keep waiting for the micropayment idea to take off. It seems like such a natural, and yet so many companies have fallen by the wayside trying to implement one or another scheme. I don't think it's the IMDBs we have to worry about. The sites that already have a critical mass of loyal users are the ones the advertisers flock to. But ad revenues alone may not be enough to cover the costs of gathering, mounting, maintaining, and updating the information. I'm by no means an expert on Internet economics, but it seems to me that you need a direct e- commerce tie-in, something that offers an opportunity for retail therapy everywhere you click. Or you need something else -- clubs, memberships, special reports, individual consultants, whatever -- that adds value and that people are willing to pay for on a one-off or a subscription basis. I think we'll see more sites that give info away for free up to a point, but make you pay for premium data, the really good stuff. And I think -- I =hope= -- that the people who've always contributed excellent content to the Net just because they have a passion for the subject and the willing to share it will continue to do that. Figuring out some way to compensate those people... well, I guess that's what the "ask an expert" services like About.com are supposed to be, ah, about.
I kiss your hand... (coop) Thu 29 Jun 00 14:41
I am with Reva on the micropayment concept. Rafe, I haven't heard about Paypal. Can you explain a little about how to use it? Is it easy? Reva, Mebs, I'm booting the CDRom thingy in the back of the book and I suspect I'll have some questions. Has anyone else here booted it? What do you think about it?
better run thru the jungle (sd) Thu 29 Jun 00 22:25
I think that the CD ROM is fairly slick. I like the color scheme which follows the dummies marketing plan. Are all of the links in the book on there? It looked about right. I've decided that the local mailing list will start off being very local for my square mile subdivision. I'm planning to kick it off with a website that includes a mailing list signup and then a non-virtual sign at the only exit from our little cul-de-sac village. Details will follow.
Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Fri 30 Jun 00 05:26
I just registered for Paypal myself, but basically you just sign up and enger your credit card number, and at that point you can email money to people really easily. Or, you can send payments to sites that accept Paypal, I think.
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