Searching for meaning…no, really!

With so much information raining down upon us on a daily basis these days, we hunger for ways in which to pare it down to the meaningful nuggets that we each need to go about our day and attain the goals with which we set out. Some of that has to do with keeping up with and  knowing which tools to apply to which needs – productivity tools, social media tools, real time and regular search tools, professional aggregation tools, etc. Sometimes it means being able to approach these tools with a sharper blade and to cut out the unnecessary clutter that is inherent in the bulbous, living mass of Web content. We can do that by learning how to apply search techniques to get the machines to filter out some of the irrelevance for us.

If we’re lacking in ideas or acumen about our intended information target, we can use keyword tools like the one supplied by Google as part of their AdSense suite to determine how folks are searching for a given topic, what words they are applying to it the most and what some of the other good options are. We can also look at any number of social sharing sites, such as YouTube, Flickr or Delicious, to get ideas for tags that others are applying to a given subject.

But a friend reminded me of another trick recently that I had forgotten about, this one meant to fill you in on all of the ways the term you’re targeting can be misconstrued, and therefore give you some idea as to what you might want to build in to your search as exclusions to eliminate that clutter: The disambiguation page.

Go to any Google search box and type in  a term that has a lot of different meanings, adding either the word “disambiguate” or “disambiguation” to it in the search box. In the results set, you’ll see a list of disambiguation pages, many of the good ones from none other than Wikipedia. I stumbled upon an example that we’d all love to know about, which I’ll use as an example here: The disambiguation page for Life.

Wikipedia begins by giving us the definition of Life as “a characteristic that distinguishes objects that have self-sustaining biological processes from those which do not.” The page then goes on to tell us all of the other things that the word Life might refer to, some that you can assume like the cereal, the board game and the magazine, and others that might surprise you, such as a 2004 Spanish drama entitled Whore with the alternate title of The Life, a Formula One racing team, a Boy Scout rank, and a private label brand of Shopper’s Drug Mart. There are also dozens of television and radio shows, the Life Act U.S. immigration law, and even a rapper by the name Life.

Let’s try another one, just for fun. How about the term “Fox?” As you can probably guess, there are plenty of Fox Broadcasting terms listed in various categories, from companies to shows. But did you know that the Fox 40 is a whistle commonly used in sporting and lifeguarding? How about Fox, Indiana? Remember the Audi Fox? It’s listed under Transporation, along with the Ford Fox Platform, a yacht by that name used by Francis Leopold McClintock to explore the Arctic, and the British Fox Armoured Reocnnaissance Vehicle.

All of this stuff floats out there on the same networks, and despite the rise of the Symantic Web, machines for the most part still only see words as words. We have to help them think smarter by digging around and trying to stay a step ahead of them when telling them what it is that we want to see.

What are your tricks for searching the Web?


About diannawiggins

Information and Knowledge Management professional with experience from Fortune 500 and nonprofit industries. I exude a love of learning and
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