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From Sree's widely acclaimed workshop on "Smarter Surfing: Better Use of Your Web Time" (more than 10,000 professionals in eight countries have attended)...

Better Googling: Things You Didn't Know Google Does
By Sree Sreenivasan, WNBC-TV Tech Reporter & Columbia Journalism Prof
Also see: Figuring Out Blogs & Whatever's Next

 

When it comes to search engines, most savvy users swear by Google and use it to start their Web hunts. It's my default search engine - I go there first. Every time. I have converted hundreds of people over the years to Google and will continue to do so, until something better comes along. Of course, I am NOT on Google's payroll, I just find it the best of the lot. But it won't necessarily always be first - keep your eyes open for new features on other sites.

But there’s more too Google - eight years old in Sept. 2006 - than the simple search function. Here are some additional Googling tools, along with alternatives that you should try.

updated: Jan. 22, 2007

  • TOOLBAR: Instead of going to Google.com each time to search, it's much faster to have Google built into your browser. Several options:
    • My preferred browser for PC or Mac is Firefox <getfirefox.com>, which already has built-in Google. You should download the free Googlebar extension <googlebar.mozdev.org> or the official Google Toolbar <toolbar.google.com> (the Google Toolbar also works on PC Explorer). Faster searches; pop-up blocker; highlighting; word find (go directly to a word/phrase on a page). Be sure to get the Cool Iris extension for Firefox, which lets you preview Google results.
      ALSO: Yahoo toolbar, MSN toolbar

  • DESKTOP <desktop.google.com>: For Windows only - a way to search your computer's contents faster than any built-in finder function. Works very well when it comes to searching Word documents, AOL IM messages, web searches, etc. You can pause it if you don't want what you're doing to be indexed by Google. The information isn't shared with Google itself (you know this because it works even if you are offline). Be sure to read the FAQ. Mac folks get the same functionality in the Spotlight search built into Tiger, the latest version of OSX.
    ALSO:
    MSN and Yahoo
    offer similar products for Windows.

  • GOOGLE ALERTS <google.com/alerts>: Allows you to receive e-mails as soon as a phrase you wish to track shows up on either the main Google Index (web) or on Google News (news). Excellent way to track particular stories and topics that interest you - including items about you. You can set up and delete alerts as necessary. For those who need more, there's GOOGLEALERT.COM, a pay site not affiliated with Google. You can also do your own ego surfing: create alerts for your name.
  • NEWS <news.google.com>: Allows you to search 4,500 constantly updated news Web sites at once. Saves you the trip to various new sites to find out what's going on. The new personizable version (see upper right on the page) allows you to layout the page as you like it, including personalized news searches. eg, I have it set up so that news I am interested in - India, New York Yankees, New York Jets, golf, etc - are displayed when I go to the site.
    ALSO: Yahoo News

  • VIDEO <video.google.com>: Now you can search transcripts of certain American TV news programs. Not as good as Nexis transcripts, but, hey, it's free. Am sure it's coming soon: video clips.
    ALSO: YouTube, Yahoo Video

  • SCHOLAR <scholar.google.com>: Specialized search of just academic journals and similar publications.

  • US GOVERNMENT SEARCH <usgov.google.com>: I use FirstGov.gov as a portal for all things dealing with the US government, and FedStats.gov. Google now offers a site with links to government news and search functions.

  • PRINT <print.google.com>: On a regular Google search, look for a book icon that allows you to search inside a book. Example: search culture wars.

  • MAPS <maps.google.com>: What's different? You can click-n-drag across the maps; fast magnification of specific spots along the map; satellite and hybrid images - all using Web 2.0

    See these Google Maps mashups (web application hybrids):

    ALSO: Local.Live.com, Ask.com Maps

  • CALENDAR <calendar.google.com>: Google's version of web calendaring offers drag-n-drop changes to events and the ability to synchornize with Gmail and to share with others; another good feature: ability to import public calendars. I recently switched after five years with Yahoo's version.
    ALSO: Yahoo Calendar

  • NON-BROWSER GOOGLE:
    • VIA CELLPHONE <google.com/sms>: Send text message to GOOGL (46645) to receive Google results on your phone.
    • VIA E-MAIL: Send an e-mail to google@6url.com with a search term in the subject line - get top 10 Google results via e-mail. Useful from a Blackberry or similar device.
  • LANGUAGES: Google can search pages written in dozens of languages. Also, it can translate text or Web pages from French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and more to English. Very useful when looking at foreign news sources.
    ALSO: FreeTranslation.com
  • CALCULATOR: You can use the regular search box to make certain calculations and conversions. Examples: 2+99= will get you 101; 2*2= will get you 4. To run conversions, use the following format: 100 miles = ? km or 100 pounds = ? kilos. Need to convert US dollars into Indian rupees? 1 USD = ? INR. See details.
  • GMAIL <gmail.com>: Google's attempt at free e-mail. Instead of the 2-6 MB of free space that Yahoo and Hotmail used to provide, Gmail gives you 2,600 MB (and growing) of space (this has already caused Hotmail and Yahoo to raise their amounts to 250 MB and more; AOL.com now gives you 2,000 MB free). I have been using it for 1.5 years and it's terrific and fast. One caveat: Google runs small, text-ads on the side of the screen, based on content of your e-mail messages. That's scary to a lot of people, though Google promises no human will ever see your messages, just those Google servers (remember, however, that all e-mail can potentially be scanned by various systems). I don't use it as my primary e-mail. I use it in two ways, with two accounts. One is an account to which I send messages, photos, PDFs, I want to save for future access, including big messages that I don't want taking up space in my regular inbox - kind of a "greatest hits" collection. The other is an account that get a copy of every e-mail message I get, so that it's all backed up and available in one place. It is NOT widely available yet, but you can create an account by using this link (and a cellphone; it's complicated) or e-mailing me at sree@sree.net (subject = "Give Me Gmail!") and asking for an invitation.
    TO READ:
    My Poynter Web Tip on Gmail | GmailTips.com
    How to use Gmail as your second brain | as a backup e-mail solution | GmailWiki.com
    TO GET:
    Virtual GMail Drive (PC only)
    ALSO: Inbox.com offers 2GB, Yahoo offers 1GB

  • ANSWERS: Pay a researcher to find answers to things you haven't been able to elsewhere (starting at $2.50).
    ALSO: Yahoo Answers
  • DEFINITIONS: If you type apple into Google, you get the computer company, not the fruit (because the rankings work on Internet buzz). But let's say you didn't know what an apple was and wanted a definition of the word. Then, typing define:apple will give you definitions. BTW, an apple is "a fruit with red or yellow or green skin and sweet to tart crisp whitish flesh."
  • SUGGEST <google.com/webhp?complete=1&hl=en>: This version of Google, being tested right now, gives your suggestions as you type a query. EXPLAINER: "As you type into the search box, Google Suggest guesses what you're typing and offers suggestions in real time. This is similar to Google's "Did you mean?" feature that offers alternative spellings for your query after you search, except that it works in real time. For example, if you type "bass," Google Suggest might offer a list of refinements that include "bass fishing" or "bass guitar." Similarly, if you type in only part of a word, like "progr," Google Suggest might offer you refinements like "programming," "programming languages," "progesterone," or "progressive." You can choose one by scrolling up or down the list with the arrow keys or mouse."
  • IMAGES: Use this feature — click “images” on the front page — to find photographs on the Web. Of course, just because you find a photo doesn’t mean you can reprint it (for that see my image usage tips)
  • PHONE DIRECTORY
    • PART 1: In the regular search box, type in a person's name (or a business name), followed by city and state and you should get telephone number. Example: Starbucks, New York, NY. To get even more specific results, you can type in the words "rphonebook:" for residential listings or "bphonebook:" for business listings. Example: rphonebook: Smith, New York, NY. It only gives you the first 600 results, so you might need to be more specific.
    • PART 2: The regular search box also works as a reverse phonebook. Type in a phone number and if the number is listed, you will get back who owns it. Example: 212-854-1754.
    • PART 3: For its phone listings, not only does Google provide you with a number, but often, with a map as well. Since some people don't want such personal information available on the Web, Google does help you remove it from their database. Removing it from Google does NOT remove it from other parts of the Web, however. See my article on how to remove yourself from Google.
  •  
    WHO LINKS TO A SITE: Type in link:www.nytimes.com to find out how many sites have a link from their sites to the NYT (these are actual hyperlinks to nytimes.com, not just mentions of the paper).
  • DOMAIN SEARCH: Allows you to restrict a search to a particular domain or website - thus cutting down on the number of results you get. Here's the Google explainer: You can use Google to search only within one specific website by entering the search terms you're looking for, followed by the word site and a colon followed by the domain name. For example, here's how you'd find admission information on the Stanford University site: admission site:www.stanford.edu
  • INTITLE & INTEXT: Will restrict searches to title or text of the web page. A regular search for sreenivasan yields 20,000+ results; a search for intitle:sreenivasan brings in less than 1,000 pages that have "sreenivasan" in the title itself (ie, the blue stuff that gets bookmarked). Another example (from reader Joe Lira): If you are trying to find a page that had "red apple" in the title and "sauce" in the text you would search for intitle:apple intext:sauce. This is especially invaluable for trying to recover URLs you may have forgotten.
  • FROOGLE <froogle.com>: Search through thousands of shopping sites at once. The name is a play on the words "frugal" and Google.
  • GOOGLE GROUPS <groups.google.com>: This a way to read the Usenet Newsgroups - people discussing tens of thousands of topics - that predate the Web. Great source for info, connecting with people, finding obscure facts (and fiction). And now, you can build your own groups as a substitute for YahooGroups, Topica, etc.
  • LABS: Keep track of all Google developments here.
    ALSO: Yahoo! Next: Yahoo's answer to Google Labs -- a showcase of current research projects. Some good ideas here.
  • ADVANCED SEARCH: All sorts of advanced search tips, including Include Search, Synonym Search, OR Search, etc. Something new: type in three * mice and it will bring back results for three blind mice, three green mice, three blue mice, etc.
  • MY SEARCH HISTORY: Now if you log into you Gmail or other Google accounts, you can keep track of your search history on Google.
  • GOOGLE ZEITGEIST: This sections, aimed at journalists, gives you a sense of search trends.
  • GOOGLE TRENDS: This new site can help you track and compare searches by keyword and location.
  • FREE MONITOR FOR GOOGLE: A PC-only product that allows you to track word/phrase and page rankings on Google.
  • GOOGLEFIGHT.COM (not affiliated with Google): A fun site that allows you to pit two keywords against one another, and see which one has more Google mentions.
  • GOOGLERACE.COM (not affiliated with Google): Rank the candidates for the U.S. presidency on various topics. From the folks who produce one of my favorite sites, FundRace.org
  • GOOGLISM.COM (not affiliated with Google): A fun(ny) site that tells you what Google thinks of certain people, places and things. Not very accurate, but funny.
  • COOKING WITH GOOGLE (not affiliated with Google): Think of this as a "reverse recipe book." Type in names of ingredients you have in your pantry and you will get a list of suggested recipes. Pick from general, vegetarian and international recipes. It's not 100 percent reliable, but is more fun than trying to track down the esoteric ingredients that recipe books often call for.
  • ELGOOG: Just for fun, see Google backwards. Some people have a lot of free time on their hands.
  • Tips on using Google
    Be careful when quoting Google hits
    (from Jon Dube)
    Various tips
  • GOOGLE: THE MISSING MANUAL: This book (yes, I am recommending a book!) covers search techniques, must-have tools, and the little-known corners of Google.
  • News about Google
  • BEYOND GOOGLE
    • Snap.com: A new search engine that allows you to keep your search results in one place and preview the sites in question.
    • Ask.com: AskJeeves is gone, replaced by this site - lots of neat features including "save" and the "binoculars."
    • Twingine: Put in a search term and it displays the results from Yahoo and Google SIDE-BY-SIDE.
    • DoubleTrust: This site takes the results of Google and Yahoo and shows you which ones show up on BOTH and also which are unique to Google and unique to Yahoo. An interesting concept. Think of it as a BLEND of the two sites.
    • Yahoo! Next: Yahoo's answer to labs.google.com -- a showcase of current research projects. Some good ideas here.
    • In April 2003, Yahoo relaunched its search engine. See my review.
    • Frustrated by regular search engines? Then try Answers.com.
    • Infopeople's Search Tools Chart - a guide to search engine features.

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