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Power Search – Know your results

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Search engines are indispensable for finding information quickly.  Most of the time you’ll find the answer you need immediately, but sometimes you have to delve a little deeper.

Learn the techniques you need to become a power search ninja in this occasional series.

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Google Dictionary

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Google has taken yet another step towards fulfilling its mission of “organizing the world’s information” with the launch of Google Dictionary.

Google power users will be used to typing a word into the search engine, and rather than clicking one of the search results, opting for the [definition] link towards the top right of the page.  Take this from the results page for “set”:

A search for "set" shows the number of results, along with a link to the word's definition

A search for "set" shows the number of results, along with a link to the word's definition

Before this weekend, clicking “[definition]” took the searcher to the relevant answers.com page – a comprehensive collection of general dictionary definitions, synonyms and antonyms, along with discipline-specific (e.g technology, science, marketing) definitions and even text from the corresponding Wikipedia article.

Google now presents a page on its own site with a series of definitions and links.  It’s typically sparse and content-focussed – easy to scan with very few distractions and currently advert-free.

It’s a triumph of simplistic design.  As a user, I can now check a spelling or definition or appropriate context quickly and easily.  And it does a reasonable job of being a simple research tool – or as reasonable as any dictionary can be.

By taking the dictionary in-house, Google is keeping the user on its Web properties.  It’s the latest in a line of services Google now offers in-house, from Web mail and Word Processing to Web analytics.  If Google can provide answers without sending the user elsewhere, it will build and strengthen its position as the primary search provider.

It’s a sobering reminder of how powerful Google is becoming.  With answers.com now likely to wither into an also-ran, and other publishers falling by the wayside in a similar way, Google will not only organise the world’s information, but become the only credible gatekeeper to it.

It cannot be healthy for society for any individual, group or organisation to have a monopoly on something as fundamental as information – the bed rock of our economy and increasingly our social fabric.  However ad-hoc the Internet has been to date, it has thrived on being open and competitive.

On a lighter note, a factoid for trivia fans – we chose “set” to demonstrate Google Dictionary as it is the word in the English dictionary with the most meanings – 464 according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Google only manages a meagre 73!