Until recently, the term “googling symptoms” has generally had strong negative connotations among health professionals, bringing to mind visions of patients carrying stacks of mostly-useless articles that they’ve found online to their doctor’s visits. This seems to be changing, however. As often seems to happen, a term like “googling symptoms” that starts out being pejorative and negative changes its sense, and becomes more positive.

As reflected in the screenshot for the googling symptoms search at left, a large part of the reason for the changing view of “googling symptoms” among healthcare professionals has been an article in Time Magazine by physician Zachary Meisel — Googling Symptoms: How it can Help Patients and Doctors — which takes a positive view of the matter (see excerpts below).

The search screenshot gives an interesting perspective on how the recent positive view of “googling symptoms” is nudging its way up Google’s list, “in hot pursuit” of the older, negative articles above it. The other positive article on the list, in support of Meisel’s Time article — Patients Google their symptoms, doctors need to deal with it — is by prominent physician blogger Kevin Pho (kevinmd.com). The results for the googling symptoms search, of course, will change constantly, and so won’t necessarily be exactly the same on any particular day. But it will be interesting to watch over time to see if the positive view of the term continues to move up and multiply.

A few excerpts from the Meisel Time article:

There is no question that patients routinely benefit from going online before visiting the doctor. To debate whether patients should or should not Google their symptoms is an absurd exercise. Patients already are doing it, it is now a fact of normal patient behavior, and it will only increase as Internet technology becomes ever more ubiquitous. Doctors and nurses are going to have to shed the presumption that the Internet makes patient care harder. It’s a problem if doctors continue to walk into the exam room with the belief that patients always need to be disabused of the wrong and sensationalistic information they picked up while trolling the Net.

Googling Symptoms & Patient Empowerment: A Watershed Moment

Noted activist patient-advocate Dave deBronkart (@ePatientDave) has also seen the Time article as “a sign of shifting winds … a watershed moment (boldface added).” He suggests that health information providers capitalize on the moment by “developing tools to teach smart info-shopping” to help the empowered patient find the best online medical sources – Medical Librarians take Note!

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Earlier today I tweeted about blogger Jeff Hamilton’s hare-brained idea that the recently implemented top-of-the-search links to NLM’s PubMed Health is some kind of government-Google conspiracy. I tweeted about Hamilton’s tweet, which had a link to his article on his own blog — Ha Ha, funny, right?

The way I came across Hamilton’s article, however, gives it a bit more seriousness — I found it when I was searching in Google for pubmed health, as in the screenshot at left — The first 6 hits are links that are well-known to the medical library community. But #7 is Hamilton’s article — that seemed so laughable on his own blog — in PageRank-powered Psychology Today, which means Google takes it seriously!

The lesson here, I think, is that NLM needs to say something about PubMed Health! As I discussed in my earlier article on it, and as Nikki Dettmar has discussed, it’s very strange that PubMed Health has been launched and assumed automatic #1 rankings in Google searches with no announcement or discussion of any of it by NLM or Google — If it had been talked about, assuredly it would be reflected in the Google search results in the screenshot. Instead, as these results show, there’s sort of a “vacuum” of information about the whole situation — which is just waiting to be filled by “passing spectators” like Hamilton ;-)

For the record, I’m including a screenshot of Hamilton’s article in Psychology Today that’s linked in the Google search:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

I just noticed last week that Google is now ranking pages from the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Health encyclopedia at the top of search results for disease words (accompanied by an attention-getting red icon) as shown at left for asthma. Other disease examples putting NLM at the top of search results are diabetes, migraine, lupus, and chickenpox. So, Congratulations, NLM! — A great new opportunity to lead people to the wealth of information at your site!

There are questions though — I was surprised to find this prominent placement for NLM (which replaces less prominent placement in the Health OneBox group of links at the top of Google searches that I wrote about in 2009). There apparently has been no announcement of the change, either from NLM or from Google, as far as I can find in searching. Beyond that, I also can’t find that NLM has announced the launching of the PubMed Health (PMH) encyclopedia that’s linked from Google. It was mentioned as being in development in summer, 2010, but there’s been nothing since saying that it was completed and ready to use.

There are also questions about the PubMed Health pages that are linked from Google (first screenshot below). These are from the ADAM Health Encyclopedia, and the same content is also part of NLM’s MedlinePlus (second screenshot below) — Why is NLM maintaining two different versions of the same content? Also, the PMH page that’s linked from Google (in the first screenshot below) has no link to MedlinePlus (MLP). The MLP version of the ADAM content, on the other hand (in the second screenshot below), is tightly integrated into the wealth of other information in NLM’s flagship MLP resource.

Below is the PubMed Health page that’s linked at the top of the Google search for asthma. This page has no link to MedlinePlus, in contrast to the MLP version of ADAM content, in the second screenshot below.

Here’s the MLP page for asthma, that’s well-integrated into other resources in MLP. So, NLM, how about asking Google to link to MLP instead of PMH? Otherwise, if the Google link continues to go to PMH pages, make a link from those to MLP!

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Siva Vaidhyanathan is a frequent commentator on the Google Books Settlement, and my impression has been that he’s generally on the “anti-Google” side. In a long interview by Andrew Albanese in Publishers Weekly, however, Vaidhyanathan presents a more nuanced view. He continues to be unfavorable to the Settlement, and to the part played by libraries in scanning their books for Google. But he also acknowledges the failure of public institutions, especially libraries, in taking the initiative to digitize the world’s books. The interview is full of interesting insights on a wide range of Google-related subjects. Here are some excerpts on Google Books (boldface added):

The Google Books plan is a perfect example of public failure. The great national, public, and university libraries of the world never garnered the funds or the political will and vision needed to create a universal, digital delivery service like Google envisions. Public institutions failed to see and thus satisfy a desire—perhaps a need—for such a service. Google stepped in and declared that it could offer something close to universal access for no cost to the public. The catch, of course, was that it would have to be done on Google’s terms.

Here Vaidhyanathan’s mixed sentiments about Google and the Settlement start to show — He says that if Google had proceeded in its legal battle as he would have preferred, the legality of Search might have been undermined — Which apparently would be OK with him — Even though he says earlier in the interview that he “loves Google” and relies heavily on its Web Search, so acknowledging that he’s like the rest of us, caught on the horns of the Google good-evil dilemma:

[On Google's Fair Use defense in the Books Settlement] Say, Google had decided to fight in court, rather than settle. And say it won before the Supreme Court. Congress was never going to let them just win. Congress would have listened to the major content providers, and it would have intervened in a way that would have restricted fair use. That in turn could have undermined some fundamental practices of the Web, like search. …  But with books, Google reached from the digital world into the analogue world and said to publishers, “You now need to operate by the rules of the Web.”  … As a policy argument, there is something to be said for running copyright the way Google wants to run it. If we were testifying before Congress about such a change, I would be right up there with Google. But as it stands, that’s not what Congress has said, and that’s not what the courts have said.

And here, he seems to be acknowledging that if Google had followed the conventional legal procedures that other companies have to do, there’s a pretty good chance that the scanning project wouldn’t have gotten off the ground yet:

[On the Settlement as a corporate end run around the legislative process] Google figures that if it creates good products and they get popular, the courts and Congress will be less likely to undo them. But that is an arrogant, audacious perspective on the legal and legislative system, and it’s fundamentally antidemocratic. Google should have to do things the old-fashioned way: hire lobbyists to bribe legislators to get their agenda passed [laughs]. Seriously, though, that’s what every other company has to do. And as sick as it sounds, that’s the way the game is played. If Congress thinks it is a bad idea to permit a digital library like this, then we fight harder to convince them why it is a good idea, and we make those arguments in public.

In concluding the interview, Vaidhyanathan returns to the high road, calling for the people of the world to finally take up their responsibility and create the universal digital library:

[On the argument that libraries would never have been able to do the project that Google is doing] If we, the people of the world, the librarians of the world, the scholars of the world, the publishers of the world, decide that we should have a universal digital library, then let’s write a plan, change the laws, raise money, and do it right. If we’re going to create this with public resources, let’s do it in the public interest, not corporate interest. There’s nothing wrong with Google pursuing a books project, of course, and, yes, there are benefits. But we have to understand that what Google has created is first and foremost for Google.

See the complete interview for additional interesting insights: Sergey Brin and Google as the mind of God; the “brilliant story” of Google Search; and why publishers will like Google eBooks more than Amazon.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Google has been under attack recently, because its search results often seem to be overwhelmed by spam-generated links. On the other hand, Wikipedia has gotten many laudatory commentaries on the occasion of its tenth anniversary.

The timing here is interesting — Google, which is driven by computer-generated algorithms, is being “outsmarted” by human SEO engineers who have figured out how to “game” the system to get their sites a high ranking in searches. And Wikipedia, powered by smart human curators, has risen to become “a necessary layer in the Internet knowledge system.

I’ve looked at several of the tenth-anniversary commentaries discussing the uniqueness of Wikipedia, and it’s surprising that I haven’t seen any that note the significance of its being a human-generated tool. TheAtlantic had a good round-up of commentaries by 13 “All-Star Thinkers” — Some of them do talk about the importance of collaboration in the working of Wikipedia, but none of them make the more basic, and, to me, even more acute observation that, in this age of the computer, it’s done by human beings!

In the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia, in the section The Nature of Wikipedia is this interesting quote from Goethe:

Here, as in other human endeavors, it is evident that the active attention of many, when concentrated on one point, produces excellence.

Indeed — As my library school teacher used to say “if there were enough smart humans we wouldn’t need to rely on computers.”

So — Librarians Take Note! Have you ever considered becoming a Wikipedia editor? — On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is making an effort to foster more diversity in curation — He especially mentions reaching out to Libraries for help.

Finally, on a related thread — Another notable aspect of Wikipedia that hasn’t been mentioned in anniversary articles — Not only is it done by humans, but it’s done by humans on a volunteer basis — As I discussed in an earlier article, Daniel Pink uses this as a classic example of “intrinsic motivation” >> Wikipedia vs Encarta: The Ali-Frazier of Motivation.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

In an article on the most popular online stories of 2010 in the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World, Whitney Mathews discusses writing headlines with “‘Google juice’” to attract traffic — In other words, using the principles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) — Mathews talks especially about a syndicated AP story in April for which they made the headline “iPad vs. Kindle” — With this short, pithy headline, the article has consistently been in the top ten hits in Google searches ever since (which I confirmed several times in the last few days), and of course has brought a lot of traffic.

I’ve been aware of the importance of choosing language carefully to bring search engine traffic since the early days of Hardin MD, before SEO became big business, and I’ve been surprised that libraries have been so slow to put it to use. Recently I’ve been paying attention to publishing and journalism because I see that people in those fields are thinking about many of the same digital-future questions as librarians. So I was glad to find, in the Lawrence story, that journalists ARE thinking about crafting their stories to be found by Google. A bit of googling (searching for SEO newspapers site:edu) showed that Lawrence is not alone — There’s a lot on SEO and newspapers.

How about libraries? …

Comparing journalism to librarianship, searching for SEO libraries site:edu finds very little — Actually, I’ve been doing this search periodically for several months, and have never found anything in the top ten, until today I did find one piece, a Word document from Binghamton University Libraries (YAY!) on using SEO for their web pages.

In the dotcom part of the online world, SEO is a givenWhy have libraries not used it more? I’ll be writing more about this in the next few weeks, so keep watching.

What’s Chocolate got to do with the story? …

It just happened that this week, as I was reading about SEO in Lawrence, I was also following a NY Times story with the catchy title Giving Alzheimer’s Patients Their Way, Even Chocolate. This was a lengthy article about an innovative Phoenix nursing home, with only incidental mention of chocolate, but the smart headline writer with some SEO-savvy used the word to get attention — The story was in the top ten most emailed NYT stories all week, and I suspect the chocolate hook had a lot to do with that.

And finally, with my mind on chocolate and libraries, I found this cute little article that was my most popular tweet of the week, no doubt showing the (SEO) power of chocolate! …

ericrumsey: How about a Library with Chocolate instead of Books? NY Educ Dept says NO! http://nyti.ms/fJoGlI

Thanks to my son Brian Rumsey, who lives in Lawrence, and brought my attention to the Journal-World story.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Sometimes Google spins off new services and experiments so fast it’s hard to keep up. The first couple of weeks of December were an extreme case of this. Early in the month it was Google eBooks (aka Google eBookStore). Then the next week, out rolled the Body Browser and the Ngram viewer.

I was struck by the closely timed launching of these tools because they all relate closely to my interests, in eBooks, medicine, and history. It’s especially striking because the three projects were apparently developed by unrelated teams at Google — Maybe each of the teams was as surprised by the other two launches as the rest of us!

More of my comments on these new Google treats: Google eBooks, Body Browser and Ngram Viewer.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Google Ngrams is a fascinating visualization tool for studying word frequency over time in the 15 million books that are part of the Google Books project. The research that led to the creation of Ngrams was a cooperative effort between Google and Harvard University.

The little screenshot snippet below shows Ngrams in action, making it easy to see at a glance how cancer has come to predominate over infectious diseases in the 20th century. Other examples show similar trends in related diseases, medical specialty fields, and the practice of healthcare. Ngram viewer IS case sensitive and results vary quite a bit depending on capitalization, so play around with it …

Especially of historic interest:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Google’s elegant, new 3-D anatomy viewer – Body Browser — is best experienced seeing it in live action. Since it’s not viewable on some commonly-used browsers (notably Internet Explorer) a good quick introduction to it is in video. Here’s the one that seems to be the standard on YouTube:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KidJ-2H0nyY[/youtube]

The maker of this video is apparently Hetman Ostap — From his channel page in YouTube (noobfromua), it looks like he’s a student in Ukraine. This is another example of what I wrote about earlier this year, that people outside the US, often in obscure places, seem to do great work on the Web — Making a video of the Body Browser seems like such an obviously good thing to do — Why did it take a Ukrainian student to do it?

http://bodybrowser.googlelabs.com/ … If you’re using a supported browser, this link will put you directly in the Body Browser. If not, it gives information on browsers that work.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Internet Archive (IA) has long had an excellent “thumbnail view” of book pages, in the DjVu format, which I described two years ago as being arguably superior to Google Books for viewing books with a lot of illustrations. In April of this year, IA announced an additional thumbnail view, as part of their BookReader format, which I think is even better than the DjVu format. As with the DjVu format, however, getting to the BookReader thumbnail view is a bit tricky for the user. The steps are shown in the graphic below, starting at left on the IA book home/details page. The first step is to click “Read Online” at the top of the list of formats (some books in IA don’t currently have a BookReader version, in which case the “Read Online” link doesn’t appear). The next step, in the middle shot, is to click the rather inconspicuous grid-shaped icon in the top menu bar to view thumbnails.

It would be to the benefit of the Internet Archive project to make their excellent thumbnail views — DjVu and now BookReader thumbnails — easier to find. As I reported recently, Google IS finding IA versions of books, along with its own Google Books versions. And significantly, Google is often choosing to link to the DjVu format, out of the many different formats available in IA. I suspect this is because Google “has a nose for” anything that smells like it’s related to pictures (which I’ve experienced with Hardin MD picture searching for many years).

So, in closing, I’d suggest that the people at Internet Archive do some creative Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which the IA’s Peter Brantley suggested eloquently for libraries a couple of years ago — A bit of tweaking of IA pages might help Google to “find the (graphic) jewels” that they contain — The thumbnail views and formats that the world is looking for!

Finally, I can’t resist adding a BookReader thumbnail example from an elegant 19th century series of botanical prints — Click the screenshot to feast your eyes on more:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey