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The Evolution of Search (and What it Means for the Future) – ReadWrite

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The Evolution of Search (and What it Means for the Future) - ReadWrite


It’s easy to take online search for granted. If you’re looking to buy something online, connect with an old friend, or just figure out who was in that movie you just watched, you’re a short query and a few seconds away from getting what you want thanks to Google and other search engines. It’s been that way for so long that there’s an entire generation of adults who don’t remember a time before search was available.

But the truth is, online search has a long and storied history — and it wasn’t always very effective. Over the course of decades, online search evolved to the masterful form it exists in today. And learning about this path of evolution can help us understand – and prepare – for what search has in store for us next.

The Origins of Online Search

Online search originated as a kind of digital transformation for historical archive and searching functions. Rather than consulting the Dewey Decimal System and combing through card catalogs — an automatic algorithm could connect users to the resources they want to find.

The earliest known search engine was Archie Query Form, a program from 1990 designed to search FTP sites and automatically create an index of files that could eventually be downloaded. Throughout the 1990s, as the internet became more widely known and accepted, a number of competing search engines arose to serve the general public.

Names like Yahoo!, Lycos, WebCrawler, and AskJeeves became household names, and people began getting used to the idea of using search engines to direct their online traffic.

The Rise of Google

Of course, it wasn’t until Google arose that search engines became streamlined and universally popular. Google wasn’t the first search engine – in fact, it didn’t launch until 1998, almost a decade after the earliest known search engine. But it was easily the best to date.

There are several factors that gave Google the edge, including:

  • Faster speed. To the average user, speed was a top factor for consideration – if you could get results 10 times faster with Google than with other search engines, why would you use anything else?
  • A deep index. Google’s bots crawled webpages constantly, always discovering new information on the web. Within a year of launch, searches were capable of generating tens of millions of results.
  • Simplicity. Yahoo! and other search engines attempted to make their search engines a small component of a bigger web service, offering news, products, and services in addition to search and complicating the online search process. Google’s homepage only included a search bar and two simple buttons. It was remarkably easy to understand.
  • Quality of results. Thanks in part to PageRank, people could reliably get high-quality results –in terms of both relevance and authority.

Accordingly, it was only a matter of years before Google became the absolute dominant search engine. It remains in that position today. But how has it grown?

SERP Evolution

Some of the earliest updates to Google were focused on improving the functionality of components that already existed (such as Googlebot and PageRank). From there, it was a matter of perfecting search engine results pages (SERPs). Early updates attempted to streamline SERPs, making them easier to see and comb through, and incorporating extra features – like separate tabs for News and Images (and later on, Videos).

Future updates would advance SERPs even further, eventually morphing them into the form they enjoy today. But from the start, the focus was on providing a faster, simpler, more streamlined process for search users.

Anti-Spam Measures

Early on, people began to realize just how much potential SERPs had to make websites more visible and easier for potential customers to find. To take advantage of this, webmasters tried to game the system, stuffing their websites with keywords that might help them rank for relevant terms and spamming links across the internet.

Google quickly took notice of the black-hat-hackers and put measures in place to prevent and address the most egregious offenses. But these “black-hat” tactics in search engine optimization (SEO) persisted for many years, until Google took more serious efforts to combat spam. Google’s efforts were in the form of the much-needed algorithm updates.

Panda and Penguin

The Panda and Penguin updates, from 2011 and 2012, respectively, drastically changed Google – arguably for the better.

Panda was released to improve Google’s ability to detect (and reward) content quality. Websites that stuffed keywords into content, hired non-native speakers, or engaged in other low-quality content production practices were penalized with lower rankings. By contrast, websites with high-quality content were greatly rewarded with higher rankings.

Penguin was released a year later to apply higher quality standards to the world of link building. In the old days of SEO, you could get away with spamming links recklessly, without much planning or forethought. Today’s link-building practices, post-Penguin, are much more sophisticated, prioritizing quality and relevance over all else.

Hummingbird and Smaller Updates

From there, Google rolled out Hummingbird, designed to improve Google’s capacity for “semantic search.” In short, Google wanted to “understand” the intent behind a user’s query, and not simply look for keyword matches on the internet. A follow-up to Hummingbird, RankBrain, introduced a machine-learning algorithm to get better at understanding complex user queries.

After around 2015, major updates stopped coming. Instead, Google introduced small tweaks and minimalistic updates on a near-constant basis, refining the algorithm progressively.

Voice Search and New User Interactions

Over the years, Google and other tech companies have also introduced more ways to search. Instead of typing a query into a search bar, you can search using your voice. Instead of using a desktop computer, you can use your phone, a tablet, or even a “smart speaker,” with no visual interface whatsoever.

The Goals of Search Evolution

All of Google’s updates have focused on one or more of the following goals:

  • Quality and accuracy. To make money, Google needs people to use and trust its search engine. That means prioritizing content quality, relevance, and accuracy. Disinformation and “fake news” continue to be problems, but today’s search engine experience is very streamlined.
  • Speed. Speed is a non-issue today, but it took time to get to a point where users could get information in a fraction of a second.
  • Intuitiveness and convenience. It should be easy even for a novice to get accurate search results. Voice search and other mechanisms have simplified the search experience even further.
  • Reduction of manual effort. Recently, Google has leveraged the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to improve its search algorithm automatically – with no manual human design or development.

What Does the Future of Search Look Like?

Knowing all this history helps us understand what has made Google so successful, what Google’s priorities are, and how the search engine must operate if it’s going to survive. So what does that mean for the future of search?

For starters, we’ll see more efforts to automate search engine improvements — learning more from user interactions and constantly refining how search results are found and presented. Quality standards could grow to become more significant and more impactful, eventually targeting disinformation and inaccurate content.

We could also see the development of more interactive forms of search, such as the development of advanced chatbots that can work with users to help them find what they’re looking for. Gesture-based search and other advanced forms of input could also catch on.

But we also need to recognize that novel forms of technological advancement are often fast, and so novel they’re unrecognizable. While Google keeps making iterative improvements and taking baby steps, we could see the next leap forward in search from a young, agile competitor – with a model for online search we’ve never even considered.

In any case, online search remains an important technological staple of the modern world, and it’s come a long way from its humble beginnings. Whatever the future holds in store for search, it’s bound to be amazing.

Image Credit: christina morillo; pexels

Timothy Carter

Chief Revenue Officer

Timothy Carter is the Chief Revenue Officer of the Seattle digital marketing agency SEO.co, DEV.co & PPC.co. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO and digital marketing leading, building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams. When he’s not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach…preferably in Hawaii with a cup of Kona coffee.

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A Quick Guide to Understanding Your phpMyAdmin Area

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phpMyAdmin


If you use a WordPress website, it probably uses a MySQL database. Another one that it might use is called MariaDB.

Every website needs one of those to store information like passwords, posts, and user data. When WordPress can’t connect to your MySQL database, your website probably won’t be accessible.

There are a handful of reasons why it’s important to understand how it works. Here are a few that I can think of.

  •   You may need to delete old data or tables
  •   You may need to update the titles of a ton of different posts at once
  •   An individual database table might need to be imported or exported

In order to get to the area we’re going to talk about, click “phpMyAdmin” from your website’s control panel. It may say “Access PhpMyAdmin” or some similar variation like mine does below.

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

The next screen you should see looks like this:

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

On the left-hand side, click the database that corresponds to your website. In my case, it’s “backupweathersite” below “New” in the tree. Then, you should be at the screen we’re talking about:

phpMyAdmin

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

The menu highlighted in red has some useful tabs on it for doing the types of things I mentioned above. Starting with Structure, here’s what you can do with each one.

Structure

Structure is probably the most important of all the tabs because it lists the tables of your database. Each table has its own set of options, like emptying it if you want to delete all the data. You can also drop the table if you want to get rid of the entire thing completely.

Be very careful with that. Instead of deleting everything, you can clear out things like old posts by running SQL queries.

SQL

Selecting SQL will give you this screen:

phpMyAdmin area

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

There, you can run SQL queries. For example, on one of my sites, I need to remove expired jobs pretty often. If I don’t, the database fills up even if the jobs are deleted on the frontend. This causes the site to slow down a lot, and I can’t add new posts or other data.

The solution? Running this query: delete from `wp_posts` where `post_status` = ‘expired’

That takes care of thousands of old jobs in about a second, which is pretty nice!

As a side note, the screenshots in this article are from a local WordPress installation I have for a different project.

Search

Search does what it sounds like it would. When you put something in the main search field, it will automatically go through the entire database, looking for anything that’s a match. 

Here’s a tip that might also help: you can choose to include or exclude searching specific tables if you want so it doesn’t search everything.

phpMyAdmin

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

Query

The Query tab essentially does the same thing that the SQL tab does, except it offers guidance for creating the query. You can select the table that you want the query executed in from a dropdown and then click “Update query” to see it in the window below.

phpMyAdmin screenshot

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

Export

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

Export allows you to download all of the tables from your database. This is useful if you want to do manual backups periodically (although there are some great plugins that can handle that). You can export the tables in a bunch of different formats, too.

These include SQL, PDF, CSV, XML, and a handful of others that you’ve probably never heard of. Mainly, Texy! Text and YAML.

Import

The import function allows you to bring in outside database tables to yours.

phpMyAdmin

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

You can only import a table if it doesn’t exist in the current database. If the table exists already, you will get an error, and the import won’t finish, according to DreamHost.

The file can be compressed or uncompressed in a few different formats. Those include bzip2, gzip, or zip files. Something you may not be used to is the compressed file name.

It needs to be structured like “.[format].[compression]”. An example of a common one is “.sql.zip”.

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

 

You can choose from a handful of different formats. These include CSV, ESRI Shape File, MediaWiki Table, OpenDocument Spreadsheet, SQL, and XML.

There are also a number of different SQL compatibility modes. The compatibility mode setting will dictate how MySQL works. We won’t go into each one and talk about the differences, but your options for those are ANSI, DB2, MAXDB, MYSQL323, MYSQL40, MSSQL, ORACLE, and TRADITIONAL.

Operations in phpMyAdmin

This tab gives you the ability to perform a handful of different operations, like creating a table and renaming the database. In order to create a new table, just put in a name, and the number of columns, and click Go.

Siteground has a great tutorial for creating tables since things can get kind of complicated. Below that, you can rename the database. The check box that says “Adjust privileges” is there because MySQL does not adjust the original privileges related to the database on its own.

When you check that box, phpMyAdmin adjusts the privilege table, so users have the same privileges on the new items. If you do that, the privileges for all the database-related elements are also adjusted to the new name. That includes things like tables, columns, or procedures.

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

This section also allows you to do things like copy the database to another one and change table collations. A collation is a set of rules that defines how to compare and sort character strings.

You probably won’t ever need to mess with things like collation, but it’s nice to be semi-familiar with that, just in case.

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

 One other thing is that you can’t really rename a database. When you do that, phpMyAdmin will create a new one (example below) and drop the old.

phpMyAdmin area

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

Routines in phpMyAdmin

The Routines section looks like this:

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

“Filters” won’t do anything unless you actually select a database to search. Putting a word into the “Containing the word:” section will find all of the tables containing that word in your database.

Routines are procedures and functions that do various things, like the job data cleanup function mentioned earlier. You can add one there, and it will be displayed under that tab.

Events

In the event scheduler tab, you can create and run tasks automatically based on a schedule. The schedule can vary a lot, like running a task every couple of seconds to every few weeks. In order to use it, you will need to manually turn it on by clicking where it says “off” in the picture and then clicking “Add event”.

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

Triggers in phpMyAdmin

A trigger is a named database object that is associated with a table and that activates when a particular event occurs for the table. You could use a trigger to perform checks of values to be inserted into a table or to perform calculations on values involved in an update.

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

Privileges in phpMyAdmin

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

The Privileges section allows you to make changes to current user privileges or export them to a new database. There are a handful of options for editing the privileges:

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

Designer

The Designer tab can be kind of a mess, as you can see (it’s in the “More” dropdown):

Image Source: Bob Buckley; Thank you!

The Designer feature is a graphical way of creating, editing, and displaying phpMyAdmin relations. These relations are compatible with those created in phpMyAdmin’s relation view.

To use this feature, you need a properly configured phpMyAdmin configuration storage and must have the $cfg[‘Servers’][$i][‘table_coords’] configured. It’s unlikely you’ll ever need to do anything in this tab.

Wrapping Things Up

Going into the phpMyAdmin area for a WordPress site can be pretty daunting. If you find yourself in that position, it’s important to be familiar with all the different aspects of the dashboard. Understanding the basics of what each section does will help you navigate and get things done a little quicker with less of a headache.

Featured Image Credit: Provided by the Author; Thank you!

Bob Buckley

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How to Help Women in Business Get Past Gender Barriers to Management

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Free Your Money: Strategies for Keeping Your Money In The Best Place Possible - ReadWrite


According to a recent Women in the Workplace study from Lean In and McKinsey, the most significant barrier women face in business these days isn’t the glass ceiling. Instead, it’s the floor—the barrier to entry-level management positions.

Although women now own 4 out of every 10 businesses in the U.S. and are making great strides at the top of the career ladder, they’re still missing from entry-level and middle management positions. That’s something companies of all sizes need to address.

Women in business means greater success

It’s not just about diversity (although that’s a worthy goal in itself). Statistics suggest that hiring women for positions of leadership helps your company succeed. For example, one study from Peakon revealed that when a company’s management includes 50% or more women, its employees feel more loyal to the company and its products or services.

2017 Morgan Stanley report echoes these findings, suggesting that gender diversity in a company translates to enhanced productivity, more significant innovation in product and service design, improved decision-making, and decreased employee turnover, with an associated higher level of worker satisfaction.

Try implementing these three strategies to fix that broken rung at the bottom of the career ladder and get more women into entry-level management roles.

1. Start from the ground up.

As the Women in the Workplace study suggests, the first task for any business committed to helping increase the number of women in leadership positions is to hire and promote women more often.

Your job is to make your workplace more attractive to diverse candidates. Start with neutralizing your job notices and ads. Go over every ad line by line before you release or publicize an open position. Avoid potentially off-putting terms like “rock star” and “ninja.” Some of the more qualified female candidates might interpret those as code for “male candidates preferred.”

Also, consider following the example set by Buffer. Based on the understanding that women are far less likely than men to apply for a job if they don’t precisely match the image created by the ad, Buffer encourages all candidates to apply, even if they feel they don’t meet every single qualification.

If you want to reach more women candidates, consider going where they are. For example, open up your job search by sharing the job notice on platforms and websites with audiences with a significant female component.

2. Commit to taking action

Set actionable goals for both hiring and promoting women into first-level management. Clear establishment of metrics and a commitment to meeting those metrics can help foster positive change for your company as you seek to diversify its management.

For example, if there are two candidates, one male, and one female, the female candidate has a 50% chance of winning the job. However, if there are three female candidates and one male candidate, the possibility that one of those women will win the job goes up to 67%.

However, if you reverse that scenario, with three men and one woman, her chance of winning the job plummets. One way to combat this kind of unconscious bias is to set a concrete goal of advancing an equal number of men and women to the final round of evaluation. Creating this type of rule helps you see beyond mere lip service to the ideals of “promoting the qualified candidates” to truly evaluate your candidates based on their qualifications without unconscious bias.

Finally, seek to establish clear, neutral evaluation criteria. Ensure your hiring and promotion evaluation criteria are based on the actual duties required in the position, not on some outdated assessment that hasn’t been standardized and edited for gender neutrality.

3. Get to the root of unconscious bias.

Training evaluators and supervisors to spot and combat unconscious bias can help root out the obstacles to promoting women to leadership positions in your company. But how do you identify a bias when it’s not consciously held?

One way is to test your systems. For example, the next time your company is hiring for a potential leadership or feeder position and a female candidate is weeded out at a pre-interview stage, consider advancing her to the next round regardless. If she proves herself qualified at the interview based on the feedback you get, you might have some bias at work in your processes.

Additionally, implement committed-based evaluation processes. Groups with balanced representation can help root out and neutralize individual biases. At the same time, they can help provide a more robust assessment of each candidate’s strengths and challenges.

Published First on Due. Read Here.

Featured Image Credit: Photo by RODNAE Productions; Pexels; Thank you!

Due

Know exactly how much money you will have going into your bank account each month. No tricks, no gimmicks. Simple retirement for the modern day human.

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Simplifying AI Can Optimize Your Entire Business

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Simplifying AI Can Optimize Your Entire Business


Artificial intelligence is becoming less of a futuristic technology and a more integral aspect of today’s business landscape.

The usage of AI across the business universe is revolutionizing every industry, and Gartner reports that at least 75% of organizations use deep neural networks today.

In financial departments, AI is automating menial tasks and reducing errors in traditional manual workflows.

AI’s unfounded fears

There’s no doubt that businesses utilizing the right AI for the right reasons are seeing exponential benefits. Unfortunately, not every business unit is as excited about the available AI solutions that finance departments are gifted with. Change management is a significant component of failure when implementing any transformative technology.

Many humans still have unfounded fears about it gaining sentience or replacing them, and workers are wary of becoming obsolete once their daily tasks are automated.

But that’s never been the point of AI, machine learning, and automation because they augment human intelligence.

Humans are still very necessary

Take OpenAI’s GPT-3 and Dall-E 2 text- and image-generating models for example. Although they can generate a 1,000-word blog post with images within seconds, there could be a lot of legal liability issues if you were to publish raw content generated by one of these models directly on your website.

The content is never 100% accurate; human interaction is still essential to train, implement, and use AI across the business.

Simplifying AI for the average worker

AI data sets and outputs need to remain accessible, and making them accessible means tapping into everyone throughout the organization to apply their professional judgment to the data sets. This provides the machine’s velocity, variety, and veracity as it learns.

AI in financial departments

AI’s use in financial departments is so successful because payroll, compliance, accounting, taxes, etc., is complicated — especially when you’re a multinational corporation or utilizing the remote global workforce unlocked by the pandemic.

Expansive data sets

But you can import expansive data sets into AI to make it more useful. Streamlining all of this and optimizing processes not only reduces errors, but it frees up human workers to perform more advanced analytics that are closer to the reason they got into the industry in the first place.

How simplifying AI can open up usage possibilities

Simplifying AI for the average worker means they can focus on less menial, more innovative tasks and accomplish much more in less time.

GPT-3 and Dall-E 2 may not have flawless, production-ready outputs, but they utilize neural networks on large datasets of about 175 billion parameters across 45TB of text data. As a result, they’re perfect for ideation and conceptual work to get a firm visual image of the final product to work from.

Pass it around

Although their outputs seem wildly different (text versus images), both of OpenAI’s creations work similarly. While it seems like AI leads to faster advancements, what really happens is we discover one important concept that opens the door to new possibilities.

This is why getting the technology in as many hands as possible is important to see how others find use in the outputs it creates.

How AI brings more value to a business

As the quality of content-generating AI debate rages in the media and online forums, the technology’s uses for internal business functions are even more remarkable.

New ways of looking at things — skilled data scientists

AI across the business continues to open new ways of looking at things and allows skilled data scientists to develop complex models to predict anything you need to know — from machine health to possible market conditions and forecasting.

AI across the business can and will go beyond personal assistants, voice-to-text, and personalized recommendations to bring value to the roles of individual employees.

Better use of time

Leveraging specific AI technologies throughout the business keeps human workers at every level working only on tasks that cannot be automated. This includes processing exceptions to the rules (which there will always be), analyzing AI-generated outputs, and more.

Instead of spending our days manually putting together reports, we will be analyzing pre-generated reports and making advanced intelligent decisions.

Embracing artificial intelligence

When GPT-3 and Dall-E 2 were released, both writers and designers feared for their jobs. However, those fears were relieved as they tested the tools and got more comfortable with them. These tools can generate amazing work to assist writers and designers, but it still requires skill to understand how to prompt it for the desired results.

A professional can edit and polish it throughout the process in a variety of ways that will always require human instinct.

And an experienced photographer or graphic designer will get higher-quality outputs and know how to fix them in posts.

Focusing on higher priorities

Familiarizing yourself with these types of tools helps to better understand what they’re truly capable of and how they can be implemented into existing workflows while seeking better, faster, and more optimized ways to do things. That’s how finance departments leveraged AI to accomplish the most laborious and error-prone aspects of their jobs so they can focus on more important things.

And it won’t be long before AI transforms every aspect of every business.

Featured Image Credit: Sergey Zolkin; Unsplash; Provided by the Author; Thank you!

Melissa Chan

Director of Customer Success at MindBridge

Melissa Chan is Director of Customer Success at MindBridge. She has made it a mission to innovate accounting and auditing.

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