Wondering how to use Google’s new Knowledge Graph? The resulting panels to the right of the main results are meant to move research beyond simple data retrieval into deeper topics. At the same time, the new tool could serve as a better way to use key words.
The new sidebar shows key facts that users might want when they run specific types of queries, such as people, animals, and geographic locations.
How can this tool be used for student searches? Here are some ideas.
A student searching for [Tolstoy] would see this box to the right of her regular search results:
Precisely which data points appear in this panel are largely based on a combination of two things: what facts searchers most often look for when they Google [Tolstoy] and which facts are actually verifiable through an automated process.
For students, this quick presentation of facts can free up time to dig into the deeper questions. For example, what's the link between Tolstoy and Henry David Thoreau? Imagine a whole new version of the “Six Degrees of Separation” game, where these panels inspire deeper research into a James Burke-esque set of connections among entities.
How can we confirm the information presented? The main image for each topic lists a source, and the topic summary is often from Wikipedia, but what about the rest of the information? Playing around with the information in the boxes reveals some insight into this.
When a search triggers a box, each fact in it actually has one or more hyperlinks. Check out the results for Sagittaria, the genus including the now-famous Katniss, and note that the classifications all have blue text, indicating hyperlinks.
Clicking on any of the blue text will cause Google to search for the term, often triggering the Knowledge Graph information on the right:
There are other links, as well. Notice how in the box below, when the mouse is pointing to a subtitle, a line appears beneath it? Try clicking…
…and get a new search covering that precise topic. You can then click on the “Show details” link:
What about "facts" that are harder to verify? Often, these include methodology-dependent data, such as net worth. You can recognize these, because they also have a source listed in the box:
Of course, when information is high-stakes, it's worth digging further into the regular web results to confirm the answers in this panel, just as you would for facts you find elsewhere.
KEY WORD CHOICES
One of the ancillary benefits of the Knowledge Graph is that the searches Google runs as students navigate through them provide models of the difficult skill of choosing good search terms.
Notice that Google points out that there are two common interpretations of tiger. If you click on the animal’s box, note how the terms in the search box automatically change:
The automatic addition of the term species demonstrates exactly how a searcher can use a common factor, same notion as searching by color, to find excellent results. This is one of the most important tricks educators teach about selecting search terms: pick ones that will appear on almost every page about your topic. Traditionally, good searchers consider the fact that many pages that address the topic of tigers will mention the word species, much as pages about the metal mercury will mention that it is an element.
For each of the links in these panels, Google has algorithmically determined a query to get results specifically about the entity in question. The Knowledge Graph can actually move beyond matching the search term [eagles] to every page with the word eagles on it, and start determining if individual pages are about the animal, the band, or the football team. This distinction is factored into the query that is selected, so the search terms that Google offers returns the results that you want. Students attending to the word choices Google makes will build an understanding of what makes a successful search term for web-based content.
The Knowledge Graph is in its early days. As it moves forward, there will be more opportunities to explore unexpected connections. Keep an eye out for new ways it can help students learn about not just the world around us, but search itself.
How do you imagine using this new feature with students?