GOOGLE HAS BECOME synonymous with the internet for many people so I thought I would gather some thoughts about the world's most popular search engine for the readers of Computers in Business. I grabbed the ideas while reading The Google Story last month.
Following anti-virus maintenance on her computer, a county council employee who I know rang up the Help Desk to complain that she had lost internet access. Someone had changed her home page from Google, the place she associated with the sum total of the internet. No one was going to convince her that the internet did not commence at Google. For her entire working life, she had entered all URLs into Google's search bar when traveling around the internet. She knew that was the fastest way to operate.
"Not since Gutenberg invented the modern printing press more than 500 years ago, making books and scientific tomes affordable and widely available to the masses, has any new invention empowered individuals, and transformed access to information, as profoundly as Google." That's how Pulitzer Prize winner David Vise summarises the impact in his new book "The Google Story". The book documents stories from across a wide swath of industries where Google has become more indispensable than the coffee maker, water fountain and toilet.
Well beyond county council offices, people around the world see Google and the internet as a single entity. That's alright by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the search engine's developers.
"Why not improve the brain?" Brin has asked at human genome conferences. "Perhaps in the future, we can attach a little version of Google that you just plug into your brain." If you are a knowledge worker, you can leverage Google without resorting to a Googlebotomy. You might start by considering how you can improve your business day through clever uses of Google on your desktop.
Google as internet gateway. If you use the Google toolbar already, you might consider google.com/ig which works as a fully customisable internet gateway. You can add content to your personalised page, including newsfeeds from more than 700 Irish bloggers, nearly every Irish newspaper and all technology papers. In one click, each feed collapses into a single line. You can follow news, sports, weather, ticket prices, eBay results with this free system. The news comes to you without the distraction of browsing around advertisements and slow-loading pages.
Google as a calculator. Google can do maths for you. Type a math problem into the search box and Google will compute it. You can spell out the equation in words (four plus two, sixty divided by fifteen), use numbers and symbols (4+2, 60/15), or type in a combination of both (four million *pi, 33% of sixteen).
Google as a brand monitor. Google returns high-quality results for short one- or two-word queries, so if you are monitoring a brand name, you are doing well when keeping your searches short. While gathering information on something you are thinking about buying, include the word "problem" after the model number of the product you are searching to discover snags with the item before you purchase it.
Precision counts. Use quotation marks or full stops when precision matters. Adding periods or double inverted commas around a query tells Google to look for occurrences of the exact phrase as it was typed. You need this accuracy when searching for exact brand names or reports on company performance.
Tuppence from Google. If you operate a community website or a personal online journal, Google might pay you for running text advertisements next to your content through Google Adsense. Tweaking the advertisements on my weblog has returned up to $15 a day when the ads ran next to stories about lawyers or mortgages. Most of the time, it's small change but that translates into monthly checks exceeding $100. Google counts people who click on the text advertisements, charging the merchant for each click. Those hosting the ads get a portion of the payments. If you serve more than 10,000 pages a day, you can expect to earn in excess of $100 a day from Google Adsense. Several A-List bloggers now earn more than $2000 a month through this scheme. Google Adsense allowed them to quit their day jobs.
Dictionary. Type "define" followed by any English word into the Google search box and Google snaps back with a quick definition at the top of the search results. Type "define failure" and check out the top listing.
Think like Google with page titles. You can save time and typos by using lower case and by dropping articles and prepositions from page titles on your web content. Google treats uppercase and lowercase equally. Google ignores common words (i.e., and, is, of, the, to) and using them will not improve your results.
Think images when promoting your brand. Simply putting images onto Flickr with the title of your company will give viewers another way of finding you online. Google trawls Flickr regularly, placing Flickr results both in the images search section as well as in the regular query results.
Maps, driving directions, and satellite views. After using Google maps and Google Earth to travel 3090 miles across the southwest USA last May, I can vouch for the accuracy and astounding resolution of the results. We stitched together our itinerary by entering zip codes into the Google search bar and relied on maps.google.com to toggle between a standard map view and overhead satellite imagery. The satellite view gave us pavement angle in several locations, allowing us to see storefronts on Rodeo Drive, ghost towns in Nevada and truck stops in six different States. With two or three mouse clicks, we got business listings for inexpensive motels that provided us two-person sharing at less than €30 a night.
Dial GOOGL. When on my holidays in the States, I discovered I could use my Nokia 9500 to text search engine queries to the number 46645 (GOOGL on the keypad). It cost less to text Google for phone numbers than to dial the local directory assistance with my Irish mobile phone.
Save on books. Third level students whose pocket money does not cover the premium cost of hardback textbooks now browse the world's bookshelves online through Google. They search for a revision topic at print.google.com and find information from actual books that Google has scanned and indexed in its database. Google does not show the entire book but often the snippets of pages are enough to provide an essential reference for an essay assignment.
Using the same search string to look at cached results also illuminates relevant text for students and company researchers. The third and fourth pages inside the Google cache are often forgotten and deleted pages. In my experience as a third level lecturer, these cached pages are ripe for plagiarism because they often contain details that were revised for newer content. Google helps viewers find the relevant passages by highlighting the terms in colour wherever they appear on the page. This critical feature is essential when trawling through 20-page HTML documents. These longer documents occasionally link into journal abstracts at scholar.google.com which is the URL for papers from published sources.
Instant translation. The "Language Tools" link, at the right of the search box, launches Google's automatic translation service. This essential service provides deeper cultural awareness when digging into news reports of race riots or civil unrest reported in other European languages. Google translates web pages simply by entering the URL of the page. The page does not need to be in Google's database.
Earlybird news. Google News, reachable via the "News" link above the search box or directly at news.google.com provides the most timely information for Irish readers before 10 AM because the European outlets feed the most flow onto the 4500 global news wires before noon. Ireland's ElectricNews often appears at the top of the tech news at morning coffee time.
Weather forecast. Type "weather" and "Dublin" from Ireland and Google feeds you Met Eireann data at the top of the results page. You get the current observation along with a four-day forecast.
Get started. You can find these tips on a one-page cheatsheet at google.com/help and most of them drop into view by simply clicking the "more >" link above the Google search box. If you found these short tips valuable, you would discover even more by carefully reading Google's online help pages. If you're a knowledge worker, you're guaranteed to pick up things that improve your business day.
Computers in Business -- "The Search is On" in the December 2005 edition.
Previously on IrishEyes -- "The Google Story"