BOOT CAMP 275 (13/05/03)
THE GOOD GOOGLE GUIDE
As everyone who has been following the Who Wants to be a
Millionaire fraud trial now knows a ‘googol’ is the name given to the number
one followed by a hundred zeros. The big number idea was the inspiration for the
name of the Internet’s favourite search engine, Google, and the numbers are
indeed mind-boggling. Google currently handles more than 200 million searches
every day using an index of more than 3 billion web pages stored on over 10,000
Linux server computers.
This week we’re taking a close look at how Google works, some
of its hidden features and utilities plus some hints and tips that should make
your searches faster and more productive.
Google is popular because it’s fast, there’s no clutter and
no adverts. On a bad day you can wait 10 seconds or more for some rival search
engines just to load their front page; Google appears more or less instantly and
the first page of results usually take less than a second to display. Results
pages are clearly presented and easy to understand, there are no banner ads or
fancy graphics to slow things down. It’s not entirely ad-free but the ‘Sponsored
Links’ down the right side of a results page are unobtrusive and often relevant
to what you’re looking for.
The real secret of Google’s success is the way it seeks out
information. Conventional search engines scan documents for matching keywords
but Google combines this with an analysis of the document’s content and a
technique called ‘PageRank’. This rates pages according to the volume of links
or ‘votes’ to it from other web pages, which improves the quality of the search;
the bottom line is that you are more likely to find what you are looking for in
the first page or two of ‘hits’.
Having established that Google works well, there are ways to
make it even better. You can make it more accessible by making it your home page
(in Internet Explorer Tools > Internet Options, General tab), if you specify
the UK site (www.google.co.uk) this will
eliminate US advertising and helps page ranking to return more relevant
UK-centered results. Better yet, install the Google ‘Toolbar’ and put a Search
window on every web page. There are two versions; the ‘Advanced’ Toolbar reports
back to Google with the URLs of the pages you visit to help with page ranking,
the other one doesn’t, so if you are concerned about privacy select the one
‘without Advanced features’. You’ll find the Toolbar by clicking on Services
& Tools on the Google home page.
While you are on the Services and Tools menu have a look at
Google Labs, there you will find experimental utilities like the Google Viewer.
This displays search results automatically and could proved useful if you have
difficulty using the mouse or keyboard.
The trick to searching for information on Google, or any
other search engine for that matter, is to choose your search terms carefully
and know a little bit about how the process works.
Google isn’t case sensitive, so you can save time and effort
by not bothering with capital letters; it also ignores so-called ‘stop’ words.
These are common characters and words it doesn’t stop to look for and
include ‘a’, ‘in’, ‘the’, ‘to’, ‘how’, ‘where’ and so on. However, if the word
is essential to the search you can include it by putting a plus sign (‘+’) in
front of it, or surrounding the words or phrase with quotation marks. For
example, try searching for: to be or not to be and the only word Google
will look for is ‘not’. Try it again with “to be or not to be” (in double
quotes) and you will get a completely different set of results.
Although Google doesn’t support full Boolean searches it does
recognise the logical command ‘OR’ (it must be in capital letters otherwise it
will be treated as a Stop word). You would use this to narrow down a search for
documents or web sites that contain one word or another. For example, to confine
a search for a digital camera to two specific brands (single words only) you
might type ‘digital camera sony OR nikon’. In this example you can further
reduce the number of irrelevant hits by adding ‘uk’ and this will increase the
chances of UK companies selling the products appearing at the top of the list of
Google also recognises a number of other commands that you
can use to refine your searches, such as ‘link:’ which will list all of the web
sites that have a link to a page, and ‘related:’ which details pages that have a
similar content to the one you are looking for. A list of these Advanced Query
Words and how to use them can be found at: http://www.google.com/help/operators.html#link.
If all that sounds like hard work then just click the Advanced Search button for
a simple to use set of search filters. Incidentally, don’t exclude results just
because they are in a foreign language. If it’s in Italian, French, Spanish,
German, and Portuguese just click the Translate link and it will be turned into
a pretty fair rendering of English.
definition is automatically included in most searches; you’ll find this at the
top of the results page, underlined on the Web search tab just below the Google
logo. You’ll also find a link to a Thesaurus on the dictionary definitions page.
Other useful shortcuts include an automatic search for stock market quotes when
you key in a three-letter ‘ticker’ code and this will be shown at the top of a
You will notice that most results end with an underlined
‘Cached’ link. This will take you to the web page or document where Google
originally found your keyword or search term. These are stored on Google’s vast
array of server computers and this facility can come in handy if the page is no
longer available or the web site is off line.
Finally, if you’re bored with Google’s English wording have a
little fun with some alternative languages. Go to Preferences on the home page
and on the Interface Language drop down menu try Bork bork bork!, Hacker or
Next week – LP TO PC TO CD
Advanced technique using logical commands such as AND, OR,
NOT etc., to refine a keyword or document search
Powerful computer operating system used in many high-powered
or demanding applications where speed and stability are crucial
Resource Locator - a standard Internet address
TIP OF THE WEEK
Google provides a fascinating insight into what it is being
used for and what’s hot and what’s not on the Internet. On the ‘zeitgeist’ page
you will find lists of the most frequently used search words, terms, phrases,
names and patterns based on the 55 billion searches carried out in the previous
year. Click on the Archive link for month-by-month breakdowns on everything from
railway related searches to top TV shows.