Dec. 3, 2014 – A significant number of researchers start, and sometimes end, their search with Google. It is not surprising then that Google continues to control the search engine market. More than 65 percent of Internet users use Google.1 Individuals seem to prefer the clean interface and the comfort of using a tool that has historically provided them quality results. Google strives to make the search experience positive and efficient for its users. However, many people are not aware of the gems hidden in plain sight when running a Google search.
Bev Butula is the manager of library of services at Davis & Kuelthau, Milwaukee. She is a past president of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin. Butula has written articles and spoken to numerous groups on issues such as effective Internet research, evaluation of websites, and legal research. Prior to obtaining her Master’s Degree in Library Science from UWM, Butula was a litigation paralegal.
One such gem is Google’s Knowledge Graph.2 The Knowledge Graph was introduced in 2012 and is a collection of information pertaining to the search. This visual summary is typically displayed on the right side of the search screen3 or in a carousel directly under the search box, and can be a great launching point for research. The searcher not only obtains facts, but ideas for related searches. All Google users have seen a Knowledge Graph and possibly extracted valuable information from it.
For example, searching “Pablo Picasso” generates a summary that includes a picture, biographical information, pictures of artwork, and related artists. Or, a search for Judge Posner generates a Knowledge Graph that includes a biographical summary, his awards, books he authored, and a list of other jurists.
The Knowledge Graph can also include 3D images for molecules and certain mathematical equations. Local Knowledge Graphs may include hours of operation, pricing, or reviews (for example, for a museum or restaurant). Many times, Google includes the source of the information, which is found directly below the summary. However, it should be noted that the Knowledge Graph may not always be accurate.4
Another Google gem is its ability to understand, based on the query, certain search commands. Google has developed numerous features to improve search results.5 Need the weather in New York City? Enter the words “weather New York City” into the search box and execute the search. In addition to a result list, you will receive the real time weather and upcoming forecast.
Hungry for sushi? Enter “Sushi” and a zip code to generate a listing of area restaurants. This list was found within Google’s Local Carousel. The carousel was located at the top of the screen and, in addition to the restaurant name, included pricing and reviews. However, as of mid-November, Google removed this black carousel and replaced it with a stacked list of results containing the same information. With the carousel, several businesses could be viewed. This this new look is limited to three results with an option to view more.
Google supports several of these “thinking” functions. A few favorites include:
Google Calculator: Google can recognize and complete a variety of mathematical calculations. This includes simple problems to advanced trigonometry functions. Nancy Blachman at Google Guide offers a nice “cheat sheet” summarizing all the options.
Dictionary: Access definitions, word origins, synonyms, and much more by using the “define” function. Start a search with the word “define,” then insert the word or words that need to be defined (for example, define injunction).
Currency Conversion: Type in the amount and the two currencies (for example, 850 GBP to EURO) to obtain the equivalent. Google states that the rates need to be confirmed. This function is great; however, the searcher needs to know the proper abbreviation for each of the currencies. USD is “United States Dollar,” GBP is “Great Britain Pound,” and EURO is Euro. An alternative is to “Google” the phrase “Currency Converter.” A Knowledge Graph box will then appear that provides a fill-in-the-blank template.
Medications: To gain information about a particular drug, enter the drug or generic name into the search box. A summary of the drug’s purpose, the CAS ID number, along with other drugs in the class is provided. Selecting the hyperlink discussing a drug’s side effects directs the searcher to the National Institute of Health.
Unit Conversion: Quickly convert units, including height, weight, distance, speed, time, temperature, and volume, by entering the two figures (for example, 158 kilos in lbs). Google can perform this type of search for a significant number of units of measure. Some of the more uncommon units include electric charge, flow rate, and light intensity.6
Public Data: Gathering public data can occasionally be overwhelming. Google can assist and creates a clean presentation of information from a variety of data sets. In addition to the actual data, Google clearly identifies the source. A search for unemployment rates in Boston (for example, unemployment rate Boston) indicates that the information was taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The researcher should always look for the “explore more” link to obtain additional data and specifics regarding when it was last updated.
An additional option when public data is needed, is to search Google’s Public Data Explorer.
The Public Data Explorer has been around since 2010 and covers a large variety of topics including crime, health, wages, election results, housing, and energy. Google has created a help center to assist the researcher in finding and creating data sets.
Google also has a sense of humor. Baby Boomer researchers can guess Google’s response when the query entered is “loneliest number.” Researchers familiar with the six degrees of separation to Kevin Bacon game can find the “Bacon number” of celebrities. Start the query with “Bacon number” and enter a celebrity name. Another favorite is searching for the term “recursion,” which is the process of repeating things, whereby Google asks if the searcher meant “recursion.”
Many legal researchers can become a bit overwhelmed with the entire search experience. Google has a solution for that as well. Enter “Atari Breakout” in Google Images and play a quick game to relieve some of that built up tension.
Like all search engines, Google strives to make information easily available. It wants researchers to search efficiently and obtain quality results. It continually develops new features and enhancements so the search process becomes easier. This article touched on a select few. Google also often removes or modifies search features and enhancements.7 There are also many other features that can assist legal researchers, including using the “advanced search” or employing specific search syntax. That discussion is for a future article.
Google, like other engines, is far from perfect. It is important to execute a search in more than one engine or look to specialized databases. It is also important to remember that not everything is online. When searching in Google, however, it might help to understand what is hidden right in front of you.
1 Ashley Zeckman, Google Search Engine Market Share Nears 68%, Search Engine Watch (May 20, 2014).
2 Google provides a nice summary and video. See Amit Singhal, Introducing the Knowledge Graph: Things, Not Strings (May 16, 2012).
3 Google announced that it is testing an additional location of the Knowledge Graph information. See Introducing Structured Snippets, now part of Google Web Search (Sept. 22, 2014).
4 Barry Schwartz, Site Owner: I Am Going To Be Sued Over Wrong Data In Google's Knowledge Graph (May 27, 2014); Lily Faden, What To Do When Google’s Knowledge Graph Provides the Wrong Data about You or Your Business (April 8, 2014).
5 Google Search Features.
6 Google Calculator and Unit Converter.
7 Wikipedia, List of Google Products – Discontinued Products and Services; Elisa Gabbert, Google Products Graveyard: Mourning Google Reader and Other Discontinued Google Products and Services. The WordStream Blog (July 27, 2013).