Study Finds Best Results for Those who Stick to One or Two Search Engines
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According to researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the University of North Carolina, Internet users who stick to one or two search engines and learn those well will have better results than users who try the same query on various search engines. The research is detailed in the paper, "The Effects of Search Engines and Query Operators on Top Ranked Results," presented recently at IEEE's International Conference on Information Technology: Coding and Computing."The paper was written and presented by Bernard J. Jansen, assistant professor of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) at Penn State and Caroline Eastman, Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of South Carolina.

Just as we stress in our live research training seminars, Jensen said, "there are no wholesale rules about structuring a query that will work on multiple search engines. And what works on one engine, such as narrowing a query, can have the opposite effect on other search engines."

The researchers' central question was how the use of Boolean operators such as "and,"and "or,"or markers such as "must appear" and "phrase," affected searches on Google, America OnLine Search (AOL) and Microsoft Search (MSN). Searches utilizing such Boolean operators and markers yield better results and more relevant information, but only about one in 10 Web users write queries with those operators, Jansen said.

To determine the effectiveness of the Boolean operators and markers, Jansen and Eastman selected 100 queries containing Boolean operators or markers from the transaction log of a major Web search service. The top 10 results generated by each search engine were noted for comparison .

After removing the Boolean operators and markers, the queries were resubmitted to the search engines. If the results were different, then the Boolean operatorsand markers were doing their job of providing better results.

But on average, 60 percent to 70 percent of the results were the same whether the query had the Boolean operators or markers or not, a result that surprised him and others, Jansen said.

Furthermore, different Boolean operators and markers yielded different results depending upon the search engine. The "or" was the only Boolean operator to significantly change the results from Google while the number of results with "must appear" returned identical results fewer times on MSN than on Google and AOL.

That's why users who understand how best to search on one or two engines should employ them until systems designers figure out how to personalize information retrieval, Jansen said. Law firms can help their attorneys and legal staffs save time and money by teaching them how to conduct quicker, more effective searches via in-house seminars.

"We need to find something beyond Boolean markers that recognizes when someone is having term problems and that can change a phrase to something else without the user even knowing," he added. "Personalization of systems and intelligent systems would better help users."

The paper is available for purchase from the IEEE web site for $19.00.

For those interested in by-passing search engines, and going directly to the facts they need on the Internet, the American bar Association will soon be publishing "The Lawyer's Guide to Fact Finding on the Internet."


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