BOOT CAMP 275 (13/05/03)




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 ( 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 search results.


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: 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.


 A dictionary 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 results listing.


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 Elmer Fudd.


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



Uniform Resource Locator - a standard Internet address




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.

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