08 News Search exercises


In today's exercises you're going to do the following:

  1. explore in-depth some familiar general news and news search sites,
  2. make some RSS feeds from searches on those sites,
  3. explore Google's news archives,
  4. use three different visualization tools related to the news, and
  5. use a couple of news sites that focus on providing a variety of tools for in-depth exploration of a specific news topic.

I am going to have you work through specific examples as you learn about these Web sites. At specific points in these exercises, I will point out times when you might work on queries related to your term project.

Looking at the general news services

We're going to start with two highly capable, keyword-based, general news search sites. Our goal here is to be sure that we know all of the different capabilities that these sites provide.

  1. Yahoo News
    1. Search for [samoa earthquake OR tsunami]
      • Be sure to put the search terms in the "news" search box and not the "Web" search box at the top of the page. Confusing!
      • After you run the query, look at the results page:
        • At the top of the page there are pointers to news photos and news videos
        • You can also sort the result by relevance or date
    2. Click on the "Advanced Search" text at the top of the page.
    3. Note the different choices you have here: location of the search term (article, headline, URL), sort key, publication date, source, location, and categories.
    4. Browsing Yahoo News
      • Go back to the Yahoo News homepage
      • Click on the "Politics" tab
      • Look at all of the different parts of the page that help you monitor or explore the news in different ways.
    5. Near the bottom of the page you also have the opportunity to subscribe to RSS feeds related to the news.
    6. As you might guess, each of these features is also available for the other topics, including "Business"
  2. Google News
    1. Search for [samoa earthquake OR tsunami]
      • On the results page, you have a whole bunch of things to look at:
        • You can choose "all news" or just images
        • You can filter by a range of times and dates (including the amazing Google News Archives)
          • Be sure to click on the Archive button
          • Then click on different bars in the timeline (going back to the 1800s!) and see what stories appear.
    2. Click on the "Advanced news search" link near the top of the page
      • Note the different choices you have here: date, source, source location, story location, author (a new feature in the last year), and location of the search term.
      • You can also sort the result by relevance or date (and other specialized choices)
    3. Browsing Google News
      • Go back to the Google News homepage
      • Sign in to Google if you haven't already.
      • Personalize your news front page by clicking on the link on the right side of the page to edit this "personalized page"
      • Click on the "Business" link on the left side of the page.
      • Again, look at all of the different parts of the page that help you monitor or explore the news in different ways.

Creating RSS feeds

You are now going to use either Yahoo or Google to create some RSS feeds relevant to your term project.

  1. Go the the appropriate home page.
  2. Enter a query relevant to your project into the news search box.
    • Go to the advanced search page and limit the results to the last day.
    • Sort the results by relevance.
    • Keep refining it.
    • Only stop when you're happy.
  3. Once you have found a news search that you're happy with, subscribe to the page with your RSS feed reader.
  4. Do this as many times as you would like for as many search queries as possible.
    • You will probably continue to add to, and refine, these queries for the rest of the semester.
    • For the queries you end up using in your RSS feed reader, in your project wiki you should have a description of the query and the source of the data (i.e., Yahoo or Google) and what type of information a user might expect to find in the feed.

This is very powerful and very convenient. Think of the ways that you might use this:

  • Suppose you have an interview coming up with a company. Define a query on this company a couple weeks before the interview, create an RSS feed on it, and then be up-to-date on that company when you walk in.
  • Suppose you were following a topic for a semester project (hint hint). Define several different queries about your topic using both Yahoo and Google, compare and contrast the results that you get over several days, see which one (if either) is better than the other, and then use those query results to stay current on the topic for the rest of the semester. Every other day pick out a big story and make a timeline of stories (and referenced articles) related to your topic.
  • Suppose you followed a sports team. You could define a query, subscribe to the results, and get the news about that team delivered to your RSS feed reader every day.

And so on.

Historical news

Over the last year, Google has quadrupled the size of its archive of old news stories. If you are interested in exploring a news item from more than 10 years ago, this site is an absolute gold mine.

  1. Go to Google News Archive search
  2. Enter [atkins diet] as a search term
  3. Look at the range of dates from which stories are available. We're interested in the stories from the early 1970s, so click on that bar.
  4. This brings up a second barchart. You can now see that the bulk of the references came in early 1973. This was right around the time that the book was published.
  5. Now let's look at the timeline that Google provides. Click on the word Timeline at the top of the page. What does this appear to actually do?
  6. See that there are stories from the 1860s. Since Atkins wasn't even alive then, what could those be about?
  7. Click on those bars and then look at the item shown in 1864 from an article in the Guardian titled "What they said about…".
  8. Click on that article link.
  9. This is an article from August 2005. What's going on here?
  10. This should change your answer as to what you think appears in the timeline. So, what does appear in a timeline?

Visualization and the news

A couple of organizations have tried some visualization techniques with news information with more or less success. Jamesoo was one of the early innovators but it has been surpassed in my opinion. Here we'll take a quick look at three of the more recent attempts at making the news more visually interesting and compelling.

Google News Timeline

  1. The Google News Timeline is an effort of Google Labs. As stated on their site, this site "allows users to view news and other data sources on a browsable, graphical timeline."
  2. Enter [Goldman Sachs] in the search box and run the query.
  3. Look at what information is displayed.
  4. Click on the "Save" button next to "Goldman Sachs News" near the top of the page.
  5. Play with the "Show", "Size", and "Date" options to see how they change the display of information.
  6. Now run a query for [Bank of America] and save that query, too.
  7. You can switch between the queries by double-clicking on the text.
  8. Now look through all of the different types of queries that can be run by choosing a different item from the drop-down box next to the search box (it probably contains "News" right now).
  9. The top seven items listed should be of interest. See what these different queries return for you.
  10. Try this tool with a topic of your own interest (e.g., your term project).

Fast Flip

This tool is primarily focused on making daily news stories quickly scannable and readable. It appears to be an attempt to make a digital version of a paper newspaper. It's not the same, but it's trying to provide the same experience.

  1. Another effort out of Google Labs is Google Fast Flip.
  2. Be sure to sign in once you get to the site.
  3. Here on the home page you can see thumbnails of Web stories organized in four different ways: by popularity, by section, by specific topic, and by sources.
  4. Explore each one of these to get a feel for how you would work with this site.
    • For example, click on the Business Section.
    • Click on one of the stories.
    • Look at all of the options you have on this page:
      • You can read the first page of the article.
      • You can read the full text of the article on the original site.
      • You can share the document through Google Reader, Twitter, Facebook, Digg, or Delicious.
      • You can email the document to someone.
      • You can flip to the previous or next article.
  5. Now let's run a search and see how it works.
  6. Search for [Bank of America].
  7. A series of articles are returned.
    • But not too many. Why not? What's going on?
  8. Scan through the article snapsnots. Click on any one of the articles that looks interesting.
  9. Now use the arrows to flip through the results.
  10. Try this tool with a topic of your own interest (e.g., your term project).

Newspaper front pages at rayogram

This tool is a very simple tool with one purpose: to show you the front pages of major daily newspapers from around the world.

  1. Go to Rayogram News. This site is not a major research site. It is a site that some company put up because, as far as I can tell, it thought it was cool and possibly useful. (From their Web site, "rayogram is an inter-disciplinary creative services studio developing traditional and interactive strategies to ensure our clients leave an impression.")
  2. Scroll the page to the left and right.
  3. There's a definite gestalt that you get by seeing all of these papers and the information that different ones put on their front pages.
  4. Note that you can also go to the supporting Web site and/or download a PDF of the page.
  5. That's it.

Exploring the news

Now we're going to explore two very powerful Web sites for in-depth exploration of a news story. SiloBreaker has been one of my favorite Web sites of any kind since I became aware of it last year when teaching this class, while NewsSift, only recently launched by the Financial Times, has the power and features to possibly do the same. Let's see what you think of them.


  1. Go to the SiloBreaker page.
  2. Click on the "Business" topic link at the top of the page.
  3. There's a lot on this page; let's look around:
  4. Down the main column of the page, popular top business stories are listed. For each story, it links to the specific document, related documents on the Web, a short snippet from the beginning of the news story, and the categories of news that it can be classified under.
  5. Going down the right side of the page now…
  6. At the top of the column is a set of videos.
  7. The In Focus box appears to contain links to different types of things (look at the icons: people, companies, organizations, etc.) that are currently in the news.
    • Mouse-over any link in this box (actually almost any link on the page) and see what happens.
  8. Back on the Business page, the Content Volume box shows how much volume and what type of documents were indexed from that date range (related to the topic on the page).
  9. The Network box shows a network of concepts in a graph. Click on the icon that makes this box larger.
    • You can now see that the graph shows news topics and how they're related.
    • Pick out one of the items on the graph.
      • Hover your mouse over its icon.
      • Hover your mouse over the text of the item.
      • Double-click on that item. Watch the graph change.
    • Now let's change the mix of items in the graph so that it includes more organizations.
      • See the sliders at the top of the graph? Reduce "Keyphrase" from its maximum to about half way.
      • Now take the "Organization" slider to the maximum. How did the graph change?
  10. Let's go back to the Business page. The Hot Spots box shows where the most Business stories have come from.
    • Click to enlarge this map. Look over the map that appears.
    • You can change the date range at the bottom of the graph.
    • In the search box at the top of the page, type "Bank of America" and watch the suggestions that appear below it. Choose "Bank of American Corporation [Company]". Why would you make this choice from the list other than just typing in "Bank of America"?
    • Any stories in Asia that refer to this company (or, actually, to the this company or the concepts it is filed under!)? Click on one of those circles on the map and see what comes up.
  11. Again, go back to the Business page. The Trends box shows the relative volume of stories on particular topics. Click on the icon to enlarge the box.
    • There is a wealth of tools on this page. You can see a few trend lines superimposed on bar graphs of absolute business article volume.
    • You can add a keyphrase to the trend lines by clicking on the terms just above the graph. Do this now, and then click on the "Refresh" button.
    • Click on the drop-down box containing Keyphrase and see what other types of terms you can add to the graph. Try one or two and refresh the graph.
    • Add a search term to the graph (from the search box on the graph) and Refresh the graph again.
    • Change the time period to the last 3 months and see how the graph changes.
    • Note that all of the information in the right column is linked to the terms that you added to the graph.
      • For example, I added "Financial crisis", "Bank of America Corporation", and "Washington DC". All of the information in Network, Hot spots, and Trends come from the set of documents that are retrieved related to those terms.
  12. Go back to the Business page. The Blogs box lists blog entries relevant to business.
    • You can sort these entries by date or by relevance.
  13. Finally, at the bottom of this column is Audio/Video, and it contains just what you would expect.
  14. Do another search for "Bank of America Corporation".
  15. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and look at More Content. Notice the counts of different types of content. It is dominated by News and Blogs; however, there are also Reports and Fact Sheets. What are these? Let's try to figure this out.
  16. Scroll back up to the top of the page and click on "Advanced Search Options". Here you can select different content types. Let's check the box next to Fact Sheets. Now click on the Search button. (I have yet to figure out what the Filter button does.)
  17. Now look under More Content. Click on "Fact Sheets" in order to get them to show up on the page.
    • Who are these companies and these people? Why do they appear on this page? Where does this information come from?
  18. Now let's repeat this search and choose "Reports" this time.
  19. Notice the information is presented somewhat differently this time.

That's all we're going to look at right now. You can explore this site for a while and continue to get a better understanding. You might look at the links at the bottom of the page under "How to Use" (especially "Silobreaker", "RSS", and "Widgets"). You might also do some research (probably for an extended period of time) on your term project.


NewsSift uses textual understanding to provide a powerful search for business information. You will be rewarded for searching for information based on the tool's knowledge rather than using the usual keyword-based search.

  1. Go to the NewsSift site.
  2. Type [bank] in the search box and let the boxes below (business topic, organization, etc.) become populated with terms.
  3. Click on "Bank of America" under "Organization".
  4. After the results appear…notice that you can sort the results by relevance or date, and you can also change the date range of the results.
  5. Let's look through some of the information that appears on the results page:
    • Down the middle column are Articles from the search results. These come from selected business resources — not the full internet.
    • Now look at the left-hand column.
    • At the top is basic information about the company.
    • Below that is an analysis of the Sentiment of the articles as determined by the web site's algorithm.
    • The Sentiment Trends graph shows how the balance of sentiment has changed over the last few months, while the Positive and Negative Sentiment lists show the most popular themes within those article groups.
    • The Article Sources graph shows the relative and absolute numbers of documents by type within the results. You can click on any one of those types in order to restrict the results (and thus reload the whole page).
    • The Top Organizations shows the organizations mentioned the most times within this set of documents. Again, you can click on any one of these organizations in order to restrict the results. Similar lists are shown for Top Places, Top People, and Top Themes.
  6. Now let's look at other very powerful ways that you can explore your query, modify it, and save it.
  7. If your current page is not the results page for Bank of America Corp, then you should re-run that query.
  8. See "Organization/Bank of America" at the top left of the page? Put your mouse over the company name and see what pops up.
    • The topics above the name are more general topics; the ones below are more specific sub-topics.
  9. Now, let's assume we're interested in stories related to BofA and its relationship with the Federal government. Under "Theme", click on "Federal Government".
    • Across the top of the page, the query representation is updated.
    • In the rest of the page, all the rest of the information is updated to reflect the new query.
  10. Now let's suppose that you're interested in investigating other organizations that are mentioned in these articles about BofA and the federal government.
  11. Click on "More Options" under "Organization".
  12. Look at that huge scrolling box of organizations that appear! Click on the House Committee on Oversight.
  13. As of this writing (October 2009), 4 articles appear in this list.
  14. You can share the results of this search in a variety of ways (email, Facebook, Twitter, delicious, etc.) by clicking on the "Share This" button at the top right of the page.
  15. Realize that you can delete terms from your query by clicking the close-box icon associated with the search term.
  16. Now explore items under "Insight with Newssift".
    • I clicked on the question "How many netbooks will be sold in 2009?" This brings up a saved search just like the one that you created above.
    • Look through the structure of the query and compare it to the question that is asked. This will help you get better at creating these queries within NewsSift.

That's all we're going to look for now. You can explore this site for a while and continue to get a better understanding. You might also do some research (probably for an extended period of time) on your term project using this site.

Possible blog entries

There are so many possible blogging topics today, you could write entries the whole semester on just today's activities. Really. In case you're looking for inspiration, here's what I can come up with off the top of my head:

  • Demonstrate the use of SiloBreaker on a specific topic. Point out specific insights that the different parts of SB gave you on this query.
  • Demonstrate the use of NewsSift on a specific topic. Point out specific insights that the different parts of NS gave you.
  • Compare the results of using Yahoo News and Google News on a search.
  • Discuss your reaction to the two tools from Google Labs, the Timeline and Fast Flip.
  • Describe examples of when you might use a general news search engine or one of the news exploration sites (SB, NS).


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