NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2002
Google is Great
by John Lenihan, Pikes Peak Computer Application Society

Listen to any of the technology talk shows or read articles that discuss "search engines" and you'll see that Google has been rated high for a long time. I find it accurately displays whatever I'm looking for, so much so, that it's like having an encyclopedia of knowledge at my finger tips. Newer engines are coming out, but I still trust Google to find my answers. But have you dug deeper down into what's available with this search engine? Well read on, because there's a lot more to it.

Let's start by using the basic search window found on http://www.google.com. When my computer runs into a problem and can give me enough of an understandable error message, I've found that typing the message into a Google search window usually gives me enough hits to help me narrow the problem. My son called me a few months ago and said he thought he had sent me a virus, and wanted me to delete the file called sulfnbk.exe. It sounded a little fishy, and since he was close to his computer, I asked him to type the file name into Google. He saw the words HOAX come up in big block letters. Google saved me the hassle of trying to resurrect that file later. If you want to narrow your searches to just Microsoft-related pages, you can click on "Advanced Search" and go to the bottom of the displayed page and click on "Microsoft." Thus, if you have an operating system or Microsoft application question, this narrows the boundaries of the search. You can also get there directly by going to http://www.google.com/microsoft.html. Notice from the "Advanced Search" page that other narrow searches can be done for Apple, BSD Unix, Linux, and Government-related sites.

Try doing a "vanity search" by typing your name in the search box. Or even try it with friends you've lost contact with. I've found some long-lost souls just by doing this. Enter a name, city, state, or zip code for a business or a person and see if you get a hit. You may be surprised at how easy it can be to find information about yourself. Enter a phone number and see if you get a name back. If Google recognizes what you entered as an address, you'll get a street map back. Google is so good at finding things that there was even a game called "googlewhacking" where people would try typing in a combination of words that just returned one search reply. It's fairly hard to do unless you use some really obscure word variations.

Looking at the basic search screen on the opening Google page, you'll notice four tabs on top. The default is the Web tab, which we were just using. The next one is the Images tab, taking you to http://images.google.com. This will allow you access to millions of images on the Web. Suppose your child is doing a school report on oak trees. Type "oak trees" into the images search engine and you'll find plenty of pictures for the report. Of course, I need to pass along the disclaimer that lots of stuff on the Web is copyrighted, so you need to be careful how you use what you find. But I doubt you'll get into too much trouble using a picture in your school report. But I did hear that teachers could use Google to search for text phrases in reports to check for plagiarism.

There are thousands of newsgroups in cyberspace, covering thousands of topics, and only so much time in a day. The third tab over is the "Groups" tab and it will let you find out what is (or was) being discussed out there that you would be interested in. For example, if you're thinking of buying a new digital camera, type the model number in the Groups search window. You'll see messages from people in various newsgroups that discussed that item. You can use this method to monitor almost any topic you have an interest in.

The last tab over at the top is the "Directory" tab. Click here and you'll see Web pages organized into directories by topic, much like you'd see at Yahoo. For example, click on "Computers" and you'll see almost 50 computer topics arranged by categories, any one of which takes you to many other Websites. They advertise they have over 1.5 million pages indexed in this directory.

Want to keep up with current news stories? Go to http://news.google.com and enter in a news topic. Say you wanted to stay abreast of the Hayman Fire that burned close to us a few months back. Entering those words into the search window resulted in stories from newspapers all across the country. Google would even tell you how old the stories were, with many only hours old.

For the linguists out there that need help translating short pieces of text from one language to another, there's http://www.google.com/language_tools. Need help translating "yo quiero" from Spanish to English, then give it a try.

Want to see additional tools being worked on by the Google development team? Look at http://labs.google.com. Four tools are listed, the most interesting to me being the glossary. If you come across an unfamiliar word or phrase and go here, you'll get a link or pointer to pages that offer a definition. Another tool at this site is Google Sets, where you can type in a few related words, and it gives you a list of more related items. There's also a voice recognition tool to help you search Google by phone, and a keyboard shortcuts tool that lets you search Google without a mouse.

I hope I've convinced you why Google is great, not only as a search engine for the Web, but also for its many other capabilities for specialized searches. Do you ever wonder how history would look if recorded by the types of searches being done on the Web? Then look at the year 2001 laid out at http://www.google.com/press/timeline.html. You can see what was on the minds of many people that year by the searches that were requested. So search wisely -- historians may learn about us, while we learn about what interests us.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author. This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization to which this user group belongs.

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