Google erodes its utility, loses iGoogle, Reader, RSS Alerts, Tilde …

Google: They say it so well ...

I’m pretty frustrated, fed up, however you want to say it. It’s part of my job to check out new online services. and I’m fairly accustomed to those innovative small shops getting bought up and closing down. I know the whole world is made up of changes, large and small, and we keep moving on.

That said, I don’t expect a lot of shutdowns and shut-outs from a major player in shaping the Internet, like Google. I don’t expect the destruction of highly valued professional tools and resources, without the courtesy of any engagement with the primary audiences for those tools. But Google does, and it has become so common that people have developed a term for this — Google Graveyard [via Gizmodo, PC Magazine, Pinterest, Slate, Technorati, and Wordstream ].

Slate's Google Graveyard

I recently blogged here about the Google Reader shutdown. At least there are other tools in the same category, even if they aren’t exactly equivalents.

What really broke my heart was losing the tilde in search. It was an essential part of my 8-Fold Path to Web Searching Power.

Google for Life Science Researchers (24,725 views)

And it was so USEFUL! The tilde command in Google search strings allowed you to search conceptually related terms. This didn’t work for technical jargon, but only for fairly common words, such as those found in Roget’s thesaurus. I often told people to think of it as a “thesaurus search” tool.

Here’s an example with ~child yielding results with the terms children, childhood, babies, infants, kids, family, and so forth.

Google Tilde Command Examples

Here’s an example of it going wrong, when it mapped to a term that actually made the search strategy worse, but confusing concepts that were’t really related, when “cancer” is tied in with not only the relevant (chemotherapy and oncology) but also words that are plain and simple too broad and not specific to the original idea (pain).

Google Tilde Command Examples

But it was still SO useful when searching concepts where there were associated terms that you might not think of right away. Here’s an example searching for technical standards in which the tilde mapped to specifications and protocols. Very useful.

Google Tilde Command Examples

I also loved searching with the tilde because I so often hit the upper limit of Google search strategy character length, and the tilde allowed me to construct complex searches with fewer characters. I used it often to keep a search from becoming long and complex. Compare how I searched for the idea of “disability” in the following two searches.

Without Tilde:
(disabilities OR disability OR blind OR blindness OR deaf OR deafness OR impaired OR “fine motor control” OR autism OR asperger OR dystrophy OR sclerosis OR ADHD OR “attention deficit” OR dyslexia) (gaming OR “online games” OR “computer games” OR videogames OR “virtual worlds” OR “second life” OR “world of warcraft”)

With Tilde:
(“web accessibility” OR ~disability) (achievement OR award) (japan OR site:jp)

You see? Without the tilde search for “disabilities” took 197 characters, with the tilde took 11 characters, saving 186 characters in the search strategy. WOW! Just Tuesday, a student asked me, “I see how useful it is to search with all those different terms for my idea, but how do you FIND them???” Until recently, I had a good, quick, short answer for that. Try the Google Tilde search. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best I’d found. But … we can’t do that anymore.

Google’s Tilde Operator No Longer Works:

Google drops the tilde operator:

There is a lot of conversation about what a huge loss this is, and whether it is a loss, for power searchers and librarians, with some of the best comments archived at this post in Google Plus from AJ Kohn.

AJ Kohn: Google’s Tilde Operator No Longer Works:

Some of the comments highlight the fact that Google now almost automatically integrates thesaurus-style searching without you needing to ask them to do so. Personally, I’d prefer more control, and being able to turn this feature on and off, so I’m still unhappy. AJ had previously described some of the ways in which he had used this in another blogpost from 2011.

Google Related Searches:

Following on the heels of Google Reader closing and the Tilde command disappearing, Google has also recently removed RSS feeds from their Alert service, resulting in conversations and comments like these.

In addition to TalkWalker mentioned above, here are a few other options.

7 apps to help you replace Google Alerts

Now, the next big thing librarians and academics have been worrying about is the future of Google Scholar, especially following on Google removing it from their main menu options.

Zera: Environmental Indicators: Face with Tears (Detail)

2 responses to “Google erodes its utility, loses iGoogle, Reader, RSS Alerts, Tilde …

  1. I think this might be helpful. Alerts to RSS are about to launch a replacement for Google Reader providing an RSS feed for Google Alerts at


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