I’ll admit it: I’m a frequent Googler. I Google from the office, when I need to research new terms for WhatIs. I Google from home, when I need information about events, people, tide charts or news. These days, I’m Googling from the car and train as well, enabled by the handheld attached to my belt on an o-so-slow GPRS connection, using my MDA as a sort of primitive Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. That’s rather useful, of course, when I need to determine the number from which the meaning of life, the universe, and everything could be derived.
Some time ago, however, I started to be considerably smarter about my Googling, as I realized that with just a bit of syntax ahead of my search terms, I could make much better use of the search field. These additional words are called “operators,” for my semantically-obsessed fellow travelers. They make life easier. Following is my short list of favorite Google search field hacks. If you have some of your own that I missed, please let me know in the comments so that we all can become more efficient Googlers too.
Google Phonebook: I particularly love this one. I stopped using the white pages because of this very feature. Just type in “phonebook: ” and then a name, comma, zipcode. I’m a “victim” of fixed-mobile substititution, so there’s no danger of revealing my digits to the world here in an example. If I did have a landline, however, you’d find it that way. It’s also possible to reverse engineer the lookup by entering a phone number, revealing the attached adress. For those a bit freaked out by this ability, it’s worth noting that you can request that your name be removed ,
Google Weatherman: While I look to NOAA.gov for all-things-meteorogical, if I just want to know whether to grab a jacket, sweater or shorts, typing in weather: zipcode is perfectly effective. For instance, here’s the weather in lovely Needham Heights, Massachussetts today.
Google Movies: I adore this feature. Just enter “movie: zipcode” to get a list of theaters and showtimes near you, with links to showtimes with available tickets and reviews. This stripped down, entirely textual results page is especially useful and usable when I’m mobile.
Google Dictionary: This is spectacularly relevant to my work, given that I write definitions for WhatIs.com. If you’d like to see all of the entries for a term, simply type “define: term” and you’ll be presented with a list of hyperlinks and short summaries. Try define: blog for a comparison of takes on that hotly contested term, for instance.
Google Site Search: While searching the entire Web is undeniably useful, sometimes you just want to look through one Web site, like, say, WhatIs.com. Just type in site: domain name search term (like site: WhatIs.com geek) and you’re off and running.
Google University: Just as you can restrict search to a specific site, you can also focus on certain domain names, like .edu. If you’re a developer, for instance, you could enter [ruby tutorial site:.edu] Of course, these days you can also just use Google Scholar.
Google for Media: Looking for ebooks on Java? Paste the following syntax into your search field:
-inurl: (htm|html|php) intitle:”index of” +”last modified” +”parent directory” +description +size +(.pdf) “Java”
If you replace .pdf with other extensions and Java with a different keyword, you can also find all kinds of other media out there too, though it’s worth noting that relevant intellectual property laws still apply to your actions.
As I wrote initially, this is only a short list the tweaks that I actually use with any frequency. For more information, see Google Blogoscoped’s post about using special syntax or Google’s list of operators, including a printable search cheatsheet.