January 16, 2022

Apparent Changes to Google's Define: Syntax But No Official Word

As Search Engine Roundtable first reported a few weeks ago and Google Operating System reported today, the Define: syntax from Google no longer appears to work or perhaps better said doesn’t work the way it used to work.
There are several posts in the Google Web Search Forum reporting the same thing.

Now, instead of taking the searcher directly to a page with definitions it places a definition with links to other sources at the top of search results page.

Btw, you might notice the definition that’s provided does NOT include a source. Even if you click from the result page to the dictionary page, the name of the source used is not provided.

Please Google: Speak Up!

Several times a week Google announces a new or enhanced features and services. For example, earlier today Google announced several new or enhanced Google News features. More here.

As Danny Sullivan points out, you can now remove blogs and press releases from news results. Where there were distinctions a few years ago they’re all but gone today. For example, mainstream news sources (Washington Post, NY Times, The Atlantic) now publish blogs. There are web only publications and some of them also provide blogs. What about personal blogs from actors, business executives, politicians, etc. Will they be excluded. Google does not provide any info about how they define a blog, what will and will not be included, and any of the criteria they use to make the determination.

Why not make the info/documentation about a change available at launch

So what does this have to do with the define: syntax?

Whatever Google has decided to do with define: it has never been announced.

One way you might be able to find out if something was no longer available is to check the documentation.

However, if you look at this page with a number of Google Search Features the info provided about define: is incorrect. Here’s another page with “Define” info. It shows an incorrect image (vs what’s seen today) and we checked and the define: syntax was not even mentioned back in January.

Confusing to they the least.

Google does have a user forum but even if (and it’s a big if) they do comment it’s often difficult to locate what the Googler has to say. How difficult would it be to post a response from a Google in the thread where the question was asked but also in a separate folder only open to Google staff.

It’s sad how many users (with legitimate questions or problems) who take the time to post a message never get a response.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense that with the vast resources Google has that they can’t do more to:

1) Keep users updated as to changes, features no longer available, etc.
2) Do something to respond to questions in the forum if they’re asked a certain number of times in a specific period of time. I don’t think it would be difficult for a Google engineer to create a Google version of this technology.

From a Google Web Search Help Page:

The Basic search help article covers all the most common issues, but sometimes you need a little bit more power. This document will highlight the more advanced features of Google Web Search. Have in mind though that even very advanced searchers, such as the members of the search group at Google, use these features less than 5% of the time.

We appreciate the fact that even Google search team members don’t often use advanced features. However, this doesn’t mean that others use them more often (even 5% is a massive number of searches). If Google is going to offer advances search features and have search trainers who sometimes discuss an advanced search tool or technique why can’t they do more to support them.

As we said, it’s not like they don’t have them resources to do it. Plus, were only talking about making a simple public announcements on a specific web page about changes. Google is all about providing online access to all of the world’s info and in many cases do a great job. However, when it comes to advanced search why can’t they do the same thing and simply share what they know.

Finally, we’ve experienced circumstances similar to what we’ve report about here. This is not an isolated incident.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.