Friday, June 17, 2005

Searching With Style: Google Hacks


With over eight billion Web pages indexed, the wealth of information available through the Google search engine is awesome, and somewhat daunting. A simple interface hides the powerful search tools available to the cognoscenti. Everyone wants more Google juice, but Google keeps changing the algorithm that delivers their page-ranking.

So it was time for a new edition of Google Hacks, the inclusive reference to tweaking Google searches, written by Google experts Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest, with plenty of hacks contributed by other veteran Google-busters.
Hack #11: Google serves as a searchable archive for back issues of online publications.

The new edition includes dozens of updated hacks from the first edition, plus 25 new hacks that use the enhanced capabilities of Google and its API gateway. A section even covers Gmail, "Google's unique take on online correspondence." The quadrupling of information available from Google since the time of the first Google Hacks edition means that it is even more important now to automate searches.

The book starts with a swift overview of Google's search terms, and some tips on how to fine-tune your search string. Once you have a solid grounding in how to enter search keywords to bring up what you want, the authors begin to introduce the hacks. The first hacks are simple tips about hidden (or simply less-obvious) Google goodies like the Google directories, or the keywords that will help you find weblogs.
Hack #15: Repetition matters when it comes to keywords weighting your queries.

If you haven't used a Hacks book before, you might be a bit overwhelmed by the pages of Perl, CGI, and other code. The good news: the authors walk you through how to create and run the hack program for each one. The better news: if you don't care to enter the program, almost all of them are available, ready-to-use, online. I recommend entering the code yourself if you're interested in learning programming; the step-by-step instructions are a lot more understandable when you've typed them in.

Nearly every hack also includes a segment called "hacking the hack." With these suggestions, you can tweak the program to bring it closer to your own needs. You, too, can generate Web pages from a Google search. You can "scrape" Yahoo News into a comma-delimited file suitable for importing into Excel. Create dynamic Web content that counts keyword occurances, ranks them by "mindshare," or boxes them up ready for your readers.
Hack #24: Let the Google API transform those random ingredients in your fridge into a wonderful dinner.

Google Smackdown is a popular hack, one that regularly maxes out the 1000-API requests per day limit on its online site. I pitted "blonde" against "brunette." Guess which won. Right! Blonde totally smacked-down brunette, with 1,050,000 unique mentions for the blondes, versus 316,000 brunettes. This is really a kind of Google-ranking for keywords. Other hacks use this concept, twisted a bit: Geotargeting (Hack #46), for example, determines the relative popularity of a trend or fashion in different locations.

A short chapter packs a solid punch on searching for images. The authors begin with Google's Advanced Image Search, which lets the user filter images based on type, size and color. Content filtering for images is less than 100-percent safe, they point out, so some images may be questionable for family fare. But several hacks add the ability to find corporate logos, or search for personal photos.
Hack #53: Capture the Map—Put a little Risk into yyour Googling as you try your hand at world domination.

Next come the "add-ons," like Googling via IRC. And what in the blazes is a Search Engine Belt Buckle? This is a hack that "repurposes your PDA to display a scrolling list of 24 hour's worth of all the bizarre and banal things that people are looking for on the Web—right there just above or below your navel."

"Whatever your reasons for trying, switching to or lusting after a Gmail account," the authors say in the opening of Chapter Six, Gmail, "you're sure to be delighted both by its proper and 'improper' uses—the latter being the focus of the chapter." The gigabyte-sized storage of the Gmail account is its major draw. But even if you have one, how easy is it to use? The first hack is how to get an account, followed by how to create custom addresses. My favorite? Using your gig of Gmail space as a Linux filesystem!
Hack #79: Drop a gig of Gmail storage on your Windows desktop, and treat it just like any other drive.

Chapter Seven covers Google AdSense, a site-customized ad service that uses keywords from your content to deliver appropriate advertising to your site. The first hack in this chapter covers click-through rates (CTRs), and how they affect the cost/value of advertising. Further hacks help you generate, scrape from your competitors' sites, and evaluate the worth of AdWords keywords.

Finally, the filet mignon meat of the book is the chapter on Webmastering. Here is the discussion of the mysterious Page Rank and the "even more mysterious ranking algorithm." Strategic linking, "hot and cold running content" that is on-topic, and not linking to bad neighborhoods, as Google calls them, all affect your site's Page Rank.
Hack #89: Be a Good Search Engine Citizen—Five don'ts and one do for getting your site indexed by Google.

The authors round out this substantial offering with a fairly complete list of hacks that detail how to program Google requests in nine different ways, from Perl and Java to C++ and VB.Net. This section also discusses scraping and spidering programs with a focus on keeping your Google operations clean.

In short, this book provides a fascinating hands-on experience in taking Googling to the next level. Like all the Hacks books, it has tips for the timid, and big, bold programs for the brave. You may never look at Google the same way again.

Please join us at BlogCritics to comment on this review.


Blogger Aaman said...


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Aaman Lamba

6/20/2005 8:54 AM  
Blogger BlondebutBright said...

Hey, is this the DrPat that so kindly put me on BlogCritics a few weeks ago? I think I've found your blog!

6/21/2005 1:24 PM  
Blogger samraat said...

4/03/2010 10:39 PM  

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