How The Google Search Engine Works And How You Can Make It Work Even Better
Regardless of what page you are on when you are on the Internet, whenever you type a search query, you are asking a particular type of search “engine” to perform a search for you. The way in which a search engine completes its task, however, varies significantly from engine to engine. For this week’s installment of “Find It Friday,” I am going to explore some of the more important points to keep in mind about Google’s search engine as you conduct online research or investigation. Also, I am going to offer you some free tips and tools that make Google’s searching even better.
Google is currently the world’s most-used search engine, and undoubtedly, it is an amazing piece of technology. While its precise size is unknown, Google has one of the largest database of Web pages, including many other types of web documents. Using Google, you can find blog posts, wiki pages, group discussion threads, documents in various formats (PDF, Word, etc.), and multi-media resources such as streaming audio, MP3, and the like. It is safe to say that you cannot reasonably function online, either personally or in business, without having to use Google at some point to locate Web-based information.
However, while Google certainly has revolutionized the way that millions of people around the world access information and services, Google still relies on a particular type of search engine system to coordinate and present search results. The Google system has its strengths and its drawbacks. In Google’s case, the process emphasizes “popularity,” which in Web-speak means emphasizing pages that are more linked-to by other pages. This approach causes some pages or other sources that might have valuable, though esoteric information to place low in search results. In addition, despite its enormity, Google does not contain all the information that exists on the Web. According to most reliable studies, about 80% of a major search engine’s database exists only in that database. That means you can’t rely on just one search engine – even if it’s Google – to get all the information you may need.
To capitalize on the strengths of Google’s system, however, here’s a nutshell primer of those features most useful to virtual lawyers:
Google Scholar – Google’s massive database is divided into sub-databases around certain types of topics. One such topic is Google Scholar. Google Scholar allows you to search scholarly articles and treatises without having your search results cluttered with more commercially oriented materials.
Google Patents – This nifty feature allows you to search for patent information indexed in Google’s system.
Google Books – This sub-database allows you to search the full text of many thousands of books that Google has put online. This is the project that has drawn the ire and legal team of some of the traditional publishing houses that you may have about online.
Google Directory – Google Directory allows you refine your search by focusing in on particular topics or categories.
Google Blog Search – As its name implies, Google Blog Search refines your search by focusing in solely on blog pages rather than websites, etc. This is particularly useful because more free legal information is being presented online in blog format than in traditional websites, and because of the dynamic nature of blogs, the information definitely tends to be updated more frequently. As a matter of fact, blogs in law have become so common-place you may have seen the slang term “blawg,” meaning “law + blog.” Get it?
Google Maps – This feature allows you to reliably locate businesses or people, get directions, and all the things you may have been doing with services such as Mapquest.com. Google Maps has come to dwarf most of these other services.
Google Translate – Not technically a search feature, but worthy of mention. My bi and tri-lingual colleagues tell me that Google Translate isn’t always exactly correct in its translations inasmuch as it translates words literally as they are written regardless of context. What I am saying is that don’t consider Google Translate as your opportunity to market yourself as bi-lingual or fluent. Yet, Google Translate is an excellent tool for translating foreign words or phrases without having to bother looking them up.
These are just a few of the many sub-databases Google has to offer. If you are the type that likes to have icons in a toolbar in your browser, then you can access these services via a Google Toolbar. I like full-page displays of my search options all in one spot. If you feel the same way, check out iGoogle as a possible homepage.
Myself, I prefer to have the expanded list of Google options (example here) open as one of my home pages. From that page, I can open as few or as many of the services as I like. If you’re a Firefox user, and you want to cut down on the mouse clicks it takes to accomplish this goal, a couple of free add ons that help in this regard are “Morning Coffee” and “Insta-Click,” so you might want to check those out as well.
There are a few other search commands you may not know that will help you funnel or refine Google’s search results, even if you are just searching the Web as a whole.
Timeline Search – Suppose you want to view a timeline for a particular topic. In the search box, type “view:timeline” followed by whatever it is you are searching and Google will return the timeline.
Blocked Sites – Some sites you attempt to access may be blocked. You can get around these in many instances by typing “cache:website address” with the website address being the address of the blocked site to use. You will receive a “cached” copy of the website that Google has stored.
Use A Tilde – Using a ~ with your search term will bring you results related to that search term.
Image Search – Even if you are not necessarily looking for an image, don’t overlook the fact that many websites or blogs post images related to the textual information on the site. For example, as I am typing this post, I have a WordPress feature enabled called “Zemanta,” which is offering me possible related images to use with this post as well as related articles from other sites. I frequently use Google Images to find sites addressing particular topics even when I have no interest in the image itself.
Definitional Search – If you need a definition for a word, don’t reach for a hard copy dictionary. In the search box, type “definition:word” with word being the word you seek to define. Google will seek the definition of the word for you.
Find Businesses Or People – Let’s say you want to find someone or a business. You know their number, but that’s all the information you have. You want to do this “on the fly,” as it were. You don’t want to spend money on complicated tracing or, heaven forbid, a real time private investigator. One of my all time favorite features of Google, which a very skilled paralegal introduced me to couldn’t be simpler. Type the area code and phone number into the search box, hit return, and if that number appears on a web page or other document online, Google will likely return additional contact information to you. If you try it with 800-905-4459, for example, you will get 3 hits (out of billions of possibilities), one of which is an online legal consultancy group started by the paralegal that introduced me to this nifty search “on the fly” feature.
If you incorporate even a few of these tips or tricks into your online search processes, I guarantee you will have your friends wide-eyed with amazement at how quickly and inexpensively you are able to find information.