Last week, I wrote a piece answering a question I’m frequently asked — how to do something about a football club owner that one is unhappy with. While the feedback from the piece was good, it raised an ancillary question. How does one go about finding specific information online?
Anyone who knows the work I’ve done regarding Birmingham City FC will tell you a lot of it has been based on online research. Some people are a bit sniffy about that; after all, anyone can use Google, right?
The truth is that while anyone can use Google, some people can find stuff online better than others. Good online research is an art form — and in this piece I want to teach you some of the tricks.
Sign up for alerts
It seems obvious, but the most obvious thing to do first is to have information come directly to you. Signing up for alerts and notifications are really useful when you have a set criteria which you know will always be of interest.
There are two kinds of alerts I set up.
The first are Google Alerts. These are easy to set up, providing one has a Google / Gmail account. Simply navigate to https://www.google.com/alerts, and set up what you would like to be alerted to news about.
It’s key here to use search terms which are definite and specific. I use a few tricks to ensure I only get alerted to what I’m interested in.
For example, if I wanted to receive alerts on Birmingham City, but not about Birmingham City University, or Birmingham City Council, and nothing from the Birmingham Mail, I’d use the following string as my search:
“Birmingham City” -university -council -birminghammail
If I only wanted to receive alerts when two specific things are named together, I’d use the plus symbol, to get something like:
“Birmingham City” + “Jude Bellingham”
When alerts are set up, email notifications are set up which email you with new results. This is why it’s important to make these as specific as possible otherwise you’ll be bombarded with irrelevant stuff.
The other kind of alerts I set up are with specific websites, which issue regulatory notices.
In my case, two good examples are Companies House and the HKSE. I’ve set up accounts with each which allow me to set up monitoring alerts for companies I’m interested in. This way, when a new announcement is made I receive an email to let me know that something has happened.
It’s definitely worth thinking about which regulatory bodies oversee the specific things you want to keep an eye on, and looking to see if they offer an alert system.
Sometimes, you might have to pay for it. I’m lucky in that I have access to a credit reference checker, which I use to notify me when changes in credit records happen. This is useful for dealing with UK companies which might be struggling with debts or similar.
Keep Notes and Documents
Again, this might seem like something obvious to mention but it’s a really important thing to do if one is conducting online research.
Whenever I’m looking into new things, I use the notes app on my Mac to make notes of people’s names that crop up when reading documents and information. I also copy down URLs so I can find stuff quickly again, along with things I want to think about in connection with what I’ve read.
I’ve found that by making notes like this, it helps me to remember names of people and companies. Then, when something new comes out that refers to a name I’ve come across, I’ve got more chance of being able to quickly cross reference it.
I do the same with documents.
I’ve got a file of maybe 100 or so company documents that I’ve built up. Some are absolutely relevant to what I’m working on, and some are more tangential documents I’ve downloaded to try and build a bigger picture.
Again, this has helped me with cross referencing new names and companies when new information comes out. It also helps me to cite research which I’ve published on my blog — which is important if you want credibility to be seen as factual.
A good thing to think about here is disaster recovery. I know that computers can get broken, that things can get wiped and for that reason, I keep my documents and notes in three separate locations. As well as keeping them on my PC, I also have them stored on a USB stick I keep in a secure location and on cloud drives secured with encryption. That might seem paranoid but I’m conscious that most stuff does until things go wrong.
Search in Multiple Languages
One of the biggest problems people have found when looking for information into Birmingham City is the fact that the owners are Chinese. Google Translate is a useful tool for reading documents, but how does one find information when it’s often not in English.
The first piece of advice I would offer is that while searching in English is the easiest thing to do, one should not rely on English results when looking for stuff in other languages because often most documentation and information isn’t translated.
It’s also key to understand that second and third party sources like business registers aren’t perfect for companies in locations such as the People’s Republic of China. The closer you can get to the original source, the better — something that is true with any documentation.
Before searching for something in a language which is not English, have a look to see if Google is the right search engine to be using. While Google is predominant in the English-speaking world, other languages do use other search engines. Examples of this are Yandex, which is very useful for Russian, and Baidu which is best for Chinese.
So now you know where to look, how do you look?
The easiest way is to use a direct translation of what you are searching for. For example, if I want to search for “Birmingham City” in Chinese, one might think to put “Birmingham City” into Google Translate, which would give you “伯明翰市”. This doesn’t work for what we want — and is where context is important.
“伯明翰市” literally means “the city of Birmingham”, which isn’t what we are looking for in this instance. So how do we find the proper translation of Birmingham City?
The easiest way I have for doing this is using Wikipedia. I navigate to the Birmingham City page, and then using the language tab on the left click the one for Chinese (which looks like 中文). I know the title of the page is “Birmingham City FC”, so I can leave the page in the original language and copy the title to get the correct Chinese transcription 伯明翰足球會.
This method of translation works for anyone or anything that is well known enough to have a page in both English and Chinese on Wikipedia. If you’re looking for someone who doesn’t have a page on both of these, it gets a little bit harder.
In this case, the next thing I do is to look if there are English and Chinese copies of the same documentation, which I can then put side by side. This works well for documents from the HKSE, as when there are English documents there are ALWAYS Chinese versions too.
An example of this was the recent piece I wrote about the new shareholders in Birmingham Sports Holdings. I wanted to search for the two new people in Chinese, but I only had the English versions of their names. I know enough Chinese to know that every syllable has many different pictograms associated with it, making it important to make sure I have the right ones.
As you can see from these screenshots, I’m looking for the Chinese version of the name Jia Yuchuan.
I’ve matched up these two sections as being the same from the little bits of English available. I know that the name Jia Yuchuan appears in the paragraph which starts “Global Mineral”, so now I will copy that into Google Translate
Google Translate is useful because below the pictograms, I can see the text transliterated into English, in what is called “pinyin”.
I can see “jiayuchuan” in the pinyin, so I now delete the text slowly until I just have that showing
Because I know this is from the official document, I know that these are the correct pictograms for Jia Yuchuan. I can now use the copy/paste tool to add this to my notes, and to paste it into search bars to look for more information on this person.
A bigger problem occurs when you have a PDF which doesn’t allow you to copy paste the text. This requires a bit more thinking outside the box.
The above screenshot is from a HK Company registry document. I know that the name in Chinese is a transliteration of what it is in English, but it’s an image. I can’t copy the text — so what do I do now?
Luckily there are several tools online which can help. Using a pinyin to Simplified Chinese character converter such as this one, I can input the pinyin “Wang Feng” and then compare the characters it offers to the ones I’ve got.
As shown above, I can see when I input “feng” the fifth character generated is the right one. I did this for both characters and quickly got “王蜂” which I can then use to search.
The worst situation to be in is if you have a Chinese name with no literal transliteration.
I know that the Chinese name for the business is not the same as the English one; these names do not transliterate and in this case I need those exact characters. How do I input them when I don’t speak Chinese very well and don’t know the Pinyin for them.
This is when you need a tool where you can draw the Chinese characters, such as this one.
My Chinese calligraphy leaves a lot to desired with a pen, let alone using a mouse, so this is extraordinarily hard and requires a lot of patience. However, as you can see, my version of the character for “wang” has shown up as the first character below. I can then copy paste that to my notes, and once I’ve got everything I’m ready to go with searching for stuff.
This is an example of how I do it in Chinese, and the logic process I used to find the search terms. While the tools might not be the same, the same logic process could be used to find stuff in other alphabets too.
I’ve mentioned this before, but context is the absolute killer.
For example, in China there are 1.3billion people, but what feels like about 100 family names. There are about 92million people with the family name 王 (Wang), so you can imagine if you’re searching for a Mr Wang you have to properly check your info before assuming you have the right one.
This is why notes on peripheral people and businesses around your main target is important, as that will help to confirm that you’ve got the right person. Likewise, autobiographical data such as date of birth or passport numbers are excellent tools.
Businesses are the same. I’ve found so many Chinese businesses with the same name or partial name that I’ve given up in frustration when I’ve been looking for things. Using Chinese business reference sites like qcc.com helps because they delineate businesses by their registration numbers, helping you to make sure you’ve got the right one.
As I said at the start, online research is an absolute art form. It’s taken me more than ten years of practice and learning to get to the point I’m at now, and I’m still finding new tricks and ways of doing things.
If you are serious about looking for stuff online, take it seriously. Don’t assume that the first thing you’ve found is correct, and back up everything. I reckon for every one hour I spend writing, I’ve done three hours worth of research; for every one piece of research I’ve cited I’ve got another ten that are in the background.
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