STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Vol 45, Issue 3

January/February 2006

STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

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STC Houston - Dateline Houston - January/February 2006

Google: From the Basics to the Features No One Knew Existed

by Robert Delwood

If ever there was a simple application, it's Google (http://google.com). Three new books expose the details and workings of this application. But who needs a book on it, much less three of them? The answer is equally simple: any one who thinks he or she knows Google.

Although everyone knows how to use it (and might even take it for granted), Google goes beyond just being an easy search tool. It's about finding the exact information you need from among four billion Web pages and getting the most from your time. The 31 words on their home page and the intuitive interface hide a surprisingly complexity.

The Basics

In spite of its simplicity, (the I'm Feeling Lucky button is trademarked by the way), the quality of the results you get depends directly on the quality of the search that you specify. The easy stuff first. The default is an AND search. That is, Google will look for pages containing all the words you specify. When you specify:

Olympics synchronized swimming

Google looks for pages with all three of those words.

You can combine logic operators:

Olympics synchronized OR swimming

which is the same as using parentheses to reorder the search:

Olympics AND (synchronized OR swimming)

The results have to have "Olympics" and either "synchronized" or "swimming".

Exact phrases should be set in quotation marks:

Olympics "synchronized swimming"

Finally, you can exclude words and phrases by using the minus sign:

Olympics -"synchronized swimming"

which probably makes for better Olympics anyway.

Another basic search principle is knowing that Google is case insensitive. Word order matters because more search weight is assigned to words in the beginning of the list than later words. Curiously, repeating words affects the search, although Google is not forthcoming about why it does. Small words such as "the" and "an" are usually ignored unless they are in quotation marks or are preceded by the plus sign (+). You can use wildcards but only for whole words. Google does not support stemming (partial wildcard searches). Therefore,

synch*

does not search for variations of "synch," such as "synchronized," "syncopate," or "syncytium." However,

"red, *, blue"

looks for patterns such as "red, white, and blue" and "red, green, and blue."

Google limits searches to 10 items. Phrases inside quotations are considered one item. The wildcard character itself is considered one item, although it can return any number of words. Google limits you (actually, your IP address) to 1,000 searches per day-hardly a problem for anyone except hackers.

Specialized Syntaxes

The searches become more specialized with syntaxes. Syntaxes are searches that specify a part of a Web page only. For instance, the syntax "inurl" limits the search to only the URL. So that:

inurl:help

finds the word "help" in Web addresses. Here are some other syntaxes:

Syntax

Meaning

intext

Searches the body text.

inanchor

Searches the anchor phrase or the text displayed as part of an HREF statement.

daterange
Example:

imclone daterange:2452439-2452441

An undocumented feature allows searching by date range. The numbers are ranges, expressed as the number of days since January 1, 4713 B.C. Perhaps they'll work on this feature a little more.

site

Searches a domain name.

cache

Searches the Google cache for Web pages (handy if you're looking for older Web material).

phonebook

Searches the Google phonebook.

Syntaxes can be mixed with other searches such as:

homeschooling filetype:pdf

Other Google Features

Many (but not all) of these searches are also available in the advanced search page. Google is becoming more than just Web searches. Obvious services on their home page include searching images and news, but they also have groups and Froogle (a price-comparison service and an intentional pun with "frugal"). The More categories are often interesting to look at. These may be additional or experimental services. Google Answers provides a professional research service so that you can ask any question for a fee or, to be technically correct, a tip. You offer a price (usually not less than $25) and if they think it's worth it, they'll find the answer for you. Google Labs provide experimental services, but those are not always officially supported. Subject to change (they've since removed a speech recognition service but added a Froogle wireless one), it's worth the occasional visit.

Although it's the interface that Google is best known for, they're taking Web searches to new dimensions. First, you can write your own HTML code that submits a query. This is convenient if you want to incorporate a search in your own page or to be able to share that search with others. Taking that one step farther, Google released its API (application programming interface) in April 2002 so that you can have programmatic access to Google. Common implementations include a company's Web pages that let you search only their Web site. Third-party companies also make contributions. XooMLe wraps Google results into XML for Web services; search results may be parsed or saved to files. You can also get results back by e-mail. This is useful if you need to schedule queries or if your mobile device (such as wireless phone) handles e-mail better than it does Web browsing.

References

Three books cover Google in excellent detail. Addition details can be found through the links.

Google Hacks: 100 Industrial-Strength Tips and Tricks
Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest
O'Reilly Books, 352 pages, ISBN: 0-596-00447-8
Google Hacks is a programmer or technical approach. It is written precisely and tersely (a touch of light writing takes edge off the hard edge) but is rich in detail with plenty of examples. It covers the use of the search effectively, but most of the book addresses the Google API and programming Google. It provides copious code samples, usually with PERL, but uses .NET also. There are 100 hacks, although 50 seem to be tips.

Google Pocket Guide
Tara Calishain, Rael Dornfest, and D.J. Adams
O'Reilly Books, 140 pages, ISBN: 0-596-00550-4
Google Pocket Guide is a variation of the Google Hacks and the same authors wrote it. The book compiles the nonprogramming topics from Hacks and keeps the details and interesting aspects. True to its title, it does fit into a shirt pocket.

Google: The Missing Manual
Sarah Milstein, Rael Dornfest
O'Reilly Books, 311 pages, ISBN: 0-596-00613-6
The Missing Manual explains Google in a conversational tone. Marketed with the tag line question "Why would such an easy-to-use program need (a manual)," the manual not only looks at the basics of searching but also goes into the news, Google groups, Google Answers, and new technology, such as bookmarklets. A chapter covers improving your Google rating for helping others to find you and gives you tips to decrease your rating if you're out for Web anonymity.

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