Archive for the ‘search’ Category

File Under: Browsers, search, Web Basics

Google Discontinues Site-Blocking Service

Image: THOR/Flickr

The hits just keep getting killed off. Google is shutting down yet another service — the company’s domain blocking tool, which allowed logged-in users to block unwanted domains from Google’s search results.

Google’s site-blocking tool was originally aimed at “content farm spam,” but Google hasn’t done much with it of late, and it even stopped working for a while, despite being available via a link from your profile.

Now the service is officially gone, replaced by a Chrome add-on that does nearly the same thing. Unfortunately that means the ability to ban sites from Google’s search results is now limited to those using Google’s Chrome web browser. For more on the Chrome add-on see our earlier review.

The bad news about the Chrome extension is that it’s client-side filtering, not server-side. That means that if Google returns results from domains you’ve blocked those results are simply hidden (sometimes there’s even a brief flash of the blocked results).

That means you’ll end up with fewer search results than you would with the server-side solution, which filtered out your blocked domains before the results were sent. For example, if there are ten results on the first page and three are from domains you’ve blocked, using the add-on method you’ll only see seven results, whereas the server-side method would have fetched the next three results to show a total of ten.

If you used the account-based version of the blocking tool, you can head over to your account and grab the list of sites you had blocked. Just add those sites to the Chrome extension and you’ll be back up and running in no time, with not an Experts-Exchange, Quora or W3Schools link to be seen (or whatever you consider search results spam).

Home Page Photo: Carlos Luna / Flickr

Find the Droids You’re Looking for With GitHub’s Powerful New Search Tools

GitHub’s Octobi Wan Catnobi. Image: GitHub

Open source is about building on the work of others and not having to reinvent the wheel. But if you can’t find the code you need then you’re stuck reinventing the wheel. Again.

To help you find exactly the wheels your project needs, code hosting giant GitHub has announced a new, much more powerful search tool that peers inside GitHub repositories and offers dozens of filters to help you discover the code you need.

The new search further cements GitHub’s place as the go-to source not just for publishing, but also discovering, code on the web.

While GitHub’s new search lacks the web-wide reach of more general code search engines like Google’s once-mighty Code Search (now a hollow shell of its former self), it’s likely to return more useful results thanks to some nice extras like the ability to see recent activity and narrow results by the number of users, stars and forks.

GitHub’s advanced search page now supports operators like @username to limit results to just your repositories (or another user’s repos), code from only one repository (repo:name) or even code from a particular path within a repo. You can also limit by file extension, repo size, number of forks, number of stars, number of followers, number of repos and user location.

While the advanced operators make a quick way to search, there’s no need to memorize them all. The new advanced search form allows you to craft your query using multiple fields, while it displays the shorthand version at the top the page so you learn as you go.

Under the hood GitHub’s new search is powered by an ElasticSearch cluster which live-indexes your code as you push it to GitHub. The results you see will include any public repositories, as well as any private repositories that you have access to.

The GitHub blog also notes that, “to ensure better relevancy, we’re being conservative in what we add to the search index.” That means, for example, that forks will not be in search results (unless the fork has more stars than the parent repository). While that may mean you occasionally miss a bit of code, it goes a long way toward reducing a problem that plagues many other code search engines — the overwhelming amount of duplicate results.

GitHub’s more powerful search has turned up one unintended consequence — exposed data. It’s much easier to search for anything on the site, including, say, usernames and passwords. As it turns out many people seem to have everything from SSH keys to Gmail passwords stored in public GitHub repos. There’s a discussion about the issue over on Hacker News. The ability to find things like exposed passwords isn’t new, but the new search tool does make it easier than ever. Let this be a reminder of something that’s hopefully obvious to Webmonkey readers — never store passwords or private keys on a public site. And if you find someone doing that, do the right thing and let them know.

For more details on everything that’s new in GitHub’s search page, head on over to the GitHub blog.

File Under: search, Web Basics

Pull Your Site Out of the PageRank Gutter With Google’s ‘Disavow Links’

If your site has ever been, as Google’s Jonathan Simon charitably puts it on the Google Webmaster Tools blog, “caught up” in linkspam, Google has a new tool you can use to disavow those inbound links and clear your site’s name.

Google cautions that its new Disavow Links tool should be thought of as a last resort. It’s far better to get any spammy links actually removed from the web. In fact “the vast, vast majority of sites do not need to use this tool in any way,” writes Simon. But for situations where you can’t make the offending links go away — for example, with a client who might have made some bad SEO decisions in the past — Disavow Links offers a solution.

It’s worth noting though that Simon says that any links you disavow will be seen as “a strong suggestion rather than a directive — Google reserves the right to trust our own judgment for corner cases.”

Inbound links are perhaps the best known thing that Google uses to calculate PageRank and order search results. While PageRank is just one of more than 200 “signals” Google looks at to determine where your site will be in search results there’s no question that better inbound links mean your pages end up higher in search results.

There’s a flip side to inbound links though. If the wrong sort of sites point at your site it hurts your PageRank. If you’ve got inbound links from known paid link or other shady link-swapping schemes that violate Google’s guidelines, you can quickly find your site has disappeared from Google’s search index.

For more info on how the Disavow Links tool works, check out the video below from Google’s Matt Cutts. Also be sure to read through the FAQ over on the Google Webmaster Tools blog.

File Under: search, Web Services

Experiment Puts Gmail, Documents in Google Search Results

Everything in its right place. Image: Google.

If you’ve ever wished you could search all your mail and documents from the main Google.com search box, your day has arrived. Google is expanding its experimental integrated search features to make your mail and documents part of the Google.com search results.

Sign up for the trial and when you’re logged into your Google account you’ll be able to search Gmail and your Google Drive documents directly from the Google search page. Your mail and documents appear in a sidebar next to the usual results from around the web.

Google kicked off the Gmail search results on Google.com earlier this year with a limited “field trial.” Now, after what Google Software Engineer Bram Moolenaar (perhaps best known as the creator of Vim), calls “very positive feedback from those of you testing it out,” the company is expanding the universal search feature to a wider audience.

As Moolenaar writes, “when you search on Google.com, your results will include relevant information and messages from Gmail … and now — new in this field trial — also files, documents, spreadsheets and more from Google Drive.”

The updated trial also brings Google’s instant search results to Gmail. When you search in Gmail links to relevant email will pop up in the search bar as soon as you start typing — just like Google.com.

The new integrated search still isn’t the default behavior by any means, but it certainly looks like Google is moving in that direction. For now you’ll still need to sign up for the trial if you’d like to experiment with it. Note that the trial is only available in English and to those with @gmail.com addresses. (Google Apps accounts are out of luck for now.) If you opt in and decide you hate it, you can always go back to the sign up page and turn universal search off.

File Under: search

Microsoft Goes Social With Bing Search Overhaul

Microsoft has taken the wraps off some new social features for its Bing search engine. The revamped Bing now uses a three-column layout and pulls in additional search results from your friends on Facebook.

A preview of the new version of Bing has been available for some time, but as of today the new layout and features are now available to everyone in the United States. So far there’s no word on when the same features might come to international users.

If social search features leave you feeling cold, fear not, the new Bing doesn’t follow Google’s lead and integrate social results right into the main search results. Instead Bing has completely overhauled its look and now sports a three-column layout. To go along with the new layout Bing has cut back on the chrome and other UI elements so even though there’s quite a bit more info on the page, it still feels relatively uncluttered.

The new look pairs the traditional search results — still on the left side of the page — with two new columns — a so-called snapshot column in the middle, and the new social results on the far right.

The most intriguing of the three is the snapshot info, which varies according to your search. The basic idea is to add extra, relevant information and services alongside your search results. For example, if you search for a restaurant Bing might provide a map or some reviews. Other searches will pull in relevant info for that search, with Bing doing a reasonable — though far from perfect — job of guessing what you might want to see.

The new social results require you to connect your Facebook account to Bing and will pull any relevant content from your friends into the far right column on Bing’s search page. There’s a new “Friends who might know” heading, where you’ll find a list of Facebook friends with any activity related to your search terms (including tagged photos). Unfortunately, in my testing not many queries brought up anything relevant from Facebook friends (which could say more about my friends than the new Bing, YMMV).

For more info on everything that’s new in the social revamp, be sure to read through the earlier announcement and check out the overview video from Microsoft Bing Director Stefan Weitz: