Friday, 17 April 2009

New Google features mimic professional research platforms

One of the features I have always loved about ProQuest and various other research databases is the way they recommend alternative or refined searches based on your original search. For example, the results page for a Proquest search on Knowledge Management offers around 15 suggestions for refining your search, starting with “Knowledge management AND” Organizational learning” and ending with “Knowledge AND Management development”. Similarly, if you conduct a search on the soon-to-be launched CCH IntelliConnect platform, you have the option to refine your search by options such as format or practice area.

This is very comforting when you first launch into a topic and aren’t 100% sure about your keywords. It’s also useful if you’re a touch compulsive (like me) and want to make sure you have every possible relevant article on the topic at hand. In my university days I would spend hours surfing the recommended search terms and additional subject headings on Proquest or the library catalogue.

Now Google have introduced a similar feature on their standard search. At the bottom of the search results page for “Knowledge Management” there is a collection of “Searches related to Knowledge Management”, including “knowledge management articles”, “knowledge management definition” and “information management”. These appear rather basic but as you drill down into a topic they seem to grow increasingly sophisticated.

Unlike research databases and library catalogues, Google’s related searches are algorithm-driven rather than manually indexed. If or when these algorithms will match the quality and sophistication of human indexing is a very interesting question.

In the meantime, the Google related search is a great feature to point out to less experienced searchers who aren’t sure whether their keywords are really relevant. Plus it’s a great way to wander through a topic area – just like browsing in the library.