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Getting More From Google
Technology Review ^ | 6/4/03 | Simson Garfinkel

Posted on 06/12/2003 9:25:20 AM PDT by Valin

Google is a triumph of high technology, supreme usability, and hacker chic. But you can make it work better by investing a little time to learn a few Google tricks.
Surprisingly, I’ve found it difficult to get many people to learn these tricks. Most computer users aren’t interested in the details, options, and preferences available to them when they use a piece of software—they just want to get their job done.
These are the people who are determined to work harder, not smarter, when faced with a daunting task. If you are one of these people, stop reading now. Otherwise, open up a browser window and follow along.

Whenever I run a new piece of software for the first time, the first thing that I do is look at the program’s "preferences" panel. By clicking through the options here, I rapidly learn what a program can do and what its shortcomings are. Google is no different. After you go to the Google home page, click on “Preferences” next to the search box. The most important setting, located near the bottom of the page, is “Number of Results.” By default, Google returns just 10 results for a search. Since Google’s search algorithms are so accurate, this default saves Google both computer resources and bandwidth.
But I always increase the default to 100. Although such searches take a little longer to download (especially over a dial-up connection), getting back 100 results saves me time when I’m searching for anything out-of-the-ordinary: it’s much faster to scroll through a Web page than to manually click through 10 pages of intermediate results.

Other preferences that I like to set are to turn off Google’s SafeSearch filtering (I’m a big boy) and to open results in a different window. Once you change a Google preference, click Save Preferences; this stores the settings in a cookie on your hard drive.

Search as I say

You can search for an exact phrase using Google simply by putting that phrase inside quotation marks. Want to find out whose life Google has changed? Search for “Google has changed my life” and you’ll get Bob Metcalfe’s profile in the September 30, 2002 issue of Computerworld.
Searching with quotes is like using a pair of needle nose pliers to pull index cards out of a hat: the search can be so precise that it’s easy to miss stuff that’s similar but slightly different. I was surprised to discover just a single hit when I searched for “Google has changed my life.” I changed the search string to “Google changed my life” and found six more. You can search for them both at the same time by typing:
"Google has changed my life" OR "Google changed my life"
Be sure that the word “OR” is capitalized. If you want to be cool, you can use the vertical bar (|) instead of the word “OR."

Searching for a star

Frankly, I’m still rather surprised to find fewer than ten admissions of people who claim that their lives have been changed by Google. You can broaden this search further still by replacing one of the quoted words with an asterisk. Try this search:
"Google has * my life" | "Google * my life" Br>You’ll find people whose lives were alternatively saved, ruined, or simply enriched by Google. One person whose Web page was returned by the search even went so far as to say that Google runs his life. Scary thought, that.

Use the Googlebar

Google’s main search page has a link that invites you to make Google your home page. If most of your Web voyages start with a Google search, clicking on this link might make a lot of sense for you. But you can do better.
If you use Internet Explorer on Windows, download the Google Toolbar from toolbar.google.com. The toolbar modifies Internet Explorer to add a Google search field right underneath the address bar. Once installed, you can do a search simply by typing the string into the toolbar.
The Googlebar also opens up additional Google features. Instead of searching the whole World Wide Web, for instance, you can restrict your search to the site you are currently looking at: just click “Search Site” instead of “Search Web.”
For example, if you use the Googlebar to search for my name on the technologyreview.com site, you’ll get 157 hits, starting with my columns that have been the most widely cited. Underneath the Google Toolbar’s “Page Info” you can search for “Similar Pages,” “Backwards Links,” and see cached snapshots of the Web page (in case you think that it may have recently changed).
The “Similar Pages” feature is a neat way to meet new friends: A few years ago, I asked for “Similar Pages” to my home page and was directed by Google to humorist Madeleine Kane—a strange choice, on the face of it. But it turns out that Madeleine’s politics and mine are incredibly aligned, and I’ve enjoyed reading her stuff and corresponding with her. Without Google, I doubt I ever would have met her.

Gaming for Google

Many people ask me how they can increase their placement on the Google search results. The answer is simple and guaranteed: buy an advertisement.
Surprisingly, though, most people don't want to spend money to buy an advertisement on Google. I say that this is surprising, because these same people are willing to spend a lot of time and effort in an attempt to game the system. Such approaches are called “spamdexing,” a contraction of “spamming the index” that originated back in the days when the AltaVista search engine reigned supreme. Back then, people could improve their position in the search results by including a word multiple times on the same Web page.
People who ran pornographic sites put entire dictionaries (with tens of thousands of words!) on their Web pages in an attempt to increase their hits.

Google’s value comes, in part, from its use of algorithms that help defend against spamdexing. If you don’t want to buy an advertisement, the easiest way to increase your page rank is to make your Web site as useful as possible.
Link to other sites; encourage people to link to yours. But don’t link randomly: try to keep things on topic and on-target. Google’s algorithms seem to reward good Web citizens. For example, two sites that heavily link to each other—and nowhere else—are ranked low.

One way to dramatically increase the usefulness of your site is to load it up with a lot of freely available documents. These documents can be HTML files, Microsoft Word files, Excel spreadsheets, or even PowerPoint presentations: the programmers at Google have figured out how to download all of these files, turn them into text, and add the salient information to Google’s index.
What Google generally can’t search is images. If you have, say, an old birth certificate that you’ve scanned and put on your site, you’ll need to put a few sentences describing the document on the page where the document’s link appears. That’s because Google’s engine doesn’t do OCR—that is, it doesn’t use optical character recognition technology to turn images into text.
The same is true of Google’s image search system. Click on the Google “Images” rectangle and type in a search string and you’ll find all of the images that are on Web pages that contain your search terms. Google tries to be smart by using various hints that it can find on the Web pages, but it’s fundamentally trying to solve an extremely difficult problem.
If you want people to be able to find your images with Google, it’s best to write a short description of what the image contains.

Those tips will put you well on your way to Google virtuosity. Here are a few other resources and amusements:

Google Labs: If you are really interested in learning more about Google, check out
http://labs.google.com/.
There are a bunch of neat products there, some of them half-baked. Computer science buffs will enjoy perusing the papers written by the Google employees
http://labs.google.com/papers.html
Froogle: a great comparison shopping service that Google operates
www.froogle.com
Google API: If you are a programmer, you should investigate Google’s API (application programming interface). It’s an interesting way to incorporate Google results into your own programs. Find more at
http://www.google.com/apis/. Cookin’ With Google
www.buzztoolbox.com/google/goocookin.shtml
lets you type in a few ingredients and search for recipes that have them.
Googlism
http://googlism.com
will search for all of the simple declarative sentences about your subject; search there for “Simson Garfinkel” and you’ll many interesting facts, all bundled up in one handy place.
Googlefight
www.googlefight.com
pits one search term against another to see which "wins" by generating the most hits. Try Technology Review Magazine vs. Fast Company Magazine.
Book learning: Check out the new book Google Hacks, by Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest (O'Reilly). It promises "100 industrial-strength tips and tools," and is probably the most comprehensive well of Google information that you can get without actually taking a job at Silicon Valley’s most happening company.


TOPICS: Technical
KEYWORDS: techindex

1 posted on 06/12/2003 9:25:20 AM PDT by Valin
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To: Valin
Thanks for posting. I google everything, even random stuff when I get bored.
2 posted on 06/12/2003 9:33:38 AM PDT by leadpencil1
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To: leadpencil1
Google your name and see what you could have been!
3 posted on 06/12/2003 9:35:09 AM PDT by Hatteras (The Thundering Herd Of Turtles ROCK!)
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To: Valin
download the Google Toolbar from toolbar.google.com

Concerns that Google Toolbar violates your privacy

4 posted on 06/12/2003 9:36:23 AM PDT by martin_fierro (A v v n c v l v s M a x i m v s)
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To: Valin
Other preferences that I like to set are to turn off Google’s SafeSearch filtering (I’m a big boy) and to open results in a different window.

For some searches I find that temporarily turning Safe Search to the max weeds out a LOT of bottom-feeding garbage masquerating as legitimate websites.

5 posted on 06/12/2003 9:37:28 AM PDT by HiTech RedNeck
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To: Hatteras
Google your name and see what you could have been!

LOL.
I've done that before, but since I have a fairly uncommon name, some of my own genealogy web postings were among the first results.

6 posted on 06/12/2003 9:41:47 AM PDT by Constitution Day (Visit constitution-day-flag.com)
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To: Ernest_at_the_Beach
ping
7 posted on 06/12/2003 9:42:37 AM PDT by Libertarianize the GOP (Ideas have consequences)
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To: martin_fierro
From your link

The problem with the Toolbar is that, if the app's advanced features are running, Google also keeps a record of every single site you visit

Just use the Google toolbar but not the Advanced features if you are concerned. And from Google's toolbar privacy statement:

Use of the Advanced Features of the Google Toolbar requires that information about the sites you visit be sent to Google. This is needed to make these features possible. With all advanced features disabled, no information about the sites you visit will be communicated to Google.

Google respects and protects the privacy of the individuals that use the Google Toolbar. To learn more about the privacy protections we have built into the system, please read our Toolbar privacy policy.

You can select which advanced features you wish to use below or on the Toolbar options page. To learn more about each of the advanced features, consult the Toolbar button help page.

8 posted on 06/12/2003 9:43:52 AM PDT by leadpencil1
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To: Valin
bump for latter read
9 posted on 06/12/2003 9:51:35 AM PDT by VOA
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To: Hatteras
.... or Google your phone number and get ready to be startled ...
10 posted on 06/12/2003 9:52:15 AM PDT by The Duke
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To: Valin
Good article.
11 posted on 06/12/2003 9:53:06 AM PDT by kcar (T)
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To: Libertarianize the GOP; *tech_index; Dog Gone; Grampa Dave; blam; Sabertooth; NormsRevenge; ...
Thanks, very useful info!

OFFICIAL BUMP(TOPIC)LIST

12 posted on 06/12/2003 9:55:46 AM PDT by Ernest_at_the_Beach (Recall Gray Davis and then start on the other Democrats)
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To: Valin
Where on google do you go to see the most popular searches? I remember shortly after 9\11 seeing a google chart on the number of times that Nostradamus was searched, along with a few other keywords. I've forgotten where on google that info is kept. Thanks!
13 posted on 06/12/2003 10:01:19 AM PDT by nolaw0ady (come for the funeral, stay for the pie.)
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To: Valin
Oh, yeah? Does it have the regex power built into FR?
14 posted on 06/12/2003 10:04:59 AM PDT by Glenn (What were you thinking, Al?)
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To: Glenn
regex would kill Google.
15 posted on 06/12/2003 10:08:48 AM PDT by HiTech RedNeck
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To: Valin
Excellent advice. I went to preferences and up my count to 50 and to open each page in a new window. I had been using the 'right click' and selecting Open in a new window. It is much easier when automated.

I checked my web site with a search for "Varmint Al" and I must be doing something correct on my pages. It sure got a lot of listings.

Good Hunting... from Varmint Al
16 posted on 06/12/2003 10:09:23 AM PDT by Varmint Al
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To: Hatteras
I did. Seems I've been at FR.

Who woulda thunk it?
17 posted on 06/12/2003 10:11:37 AM PDT by 4mycountry (Japanese drain pipe is so tiny, please don't flush too much toilet papers.)
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To: The Duke
Google your phone number and get ready to be startled ...

I did. It wasn't very startling. All I got was a directory result, listing - surprise - me!

18 posted on 06/12/2003 10:15:48 AM PDT by tdadams
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To: Valin
Good stuff! Thanks for the post.
19 posted on 06/12/2003 10:16:58 AM PDT by facedown (Armed in the Heartland)
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To: Valin
[I] was directed by Google to humorist Madeleine Kane—a strange choice, on the face of it. But it turns out that Madeleine’s politics and mine are incredibly aligned...

Kane is an avid Bush hater and so-so humorist.

20 posted on 06/12/2003 10:58:17 AM PDT by beckett
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To: Valin
Google Groups is also very useful. It is a searchable archive of past and present News Groups (UseNet) postings, a better form of DejaNews (which now points to Google Groups)..
21 posted on 06/12/2003 11:44:52 AM PDT by evilC
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To: Valin
Bump!
22 posted on 06/12/2003 11:48:18 AM PDT by DaughterOfAnIwoJimaVet ("I like puppies, but I don't think I could eat a whole one." - Anonymous)
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To: Constitution Day
... but since I have a fairly uncommon name, ...

I don't guess too many people named their kids Constitution, Mr./Ms. Day.

23 posted on 06/12/2003 11:55:41 AM PDT by VoiceOfBruck (you can never be too thin, too rich, or too paranoid)
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To: VoiceOfBruck
LOL. I am a "Mr."
24 posted on 06/12/2003 11:57:13 AM PDT by Constitution Day (Visit constitution-day-flag.com)
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To: Valin
Also thanks for posting, good post. I use Google a lot, seems to return more hits than others. Use others for different reasons. Hotbot seems good for technology stuff.
25 posted on 06/12/2003 5:45:55 PM PDT by roadcat
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To: Valin
Thanks...bump for thorough read!
26 posted on 06/13/2003 1:49:42 AM PDT by lainde
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To: nolaw0ady
Hey, I remember seeing that too, and my curiosity led me to find it again - it's within their press release info tab. Interesting info, isn't it?
http://www.google.com/press/zeitgeist.html

27 posted on 06/13/2003 5:16:03 PM PDT by JLO
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To: Varmint Al
I have been to your very usefull and interesting Site many times. Thank You for all your unselfish efforts.
28 posted on 06/29/2003 6:57:28 AM PDT by reloader (Shooting- The only sport endorsed by the Founding Fathers.)
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To: Valin
That's a good article. Thanks. Very helpful
29 posted on 06/29/2003 7:02:41 AM PDT by Centurion2000 (We are crushing our enemies, seeing him driven before us and hearing the lamentations of the liberal)
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To: Valin
Unfortunately the Google toolbar does not yet interface w/ the new Netscape Phoenix browser.
30 posted on 06/29/2003 7:14:00 AM PDT by Helms ("The opportunities at Walmart are absolutely endless")
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