Classes in Google-Fu
March 14, 2004 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Classes in Google-Fu

This MeTa thread suggests that some people could perhaps use some tips on how to Google (or otherwise search) more effectively. I often find that I give up on a search because I can't seem to hit on the exact right phrase that gives me what I want, or I get tired of wading through crummy, informationless, auto-generated sort of links. Masters of Googling, enlighten us!
posted by Shoeburyness to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You could have googled this.

JOKING! But this page is a great resource for learning how to construct queries. This is also good.

What that page doesn't do well is helping users avoid "noisy" responses. For instance, any kind of google query on improving your ebay skillz is going to be hopelessly polluted with commercial pages. My default in such cases is to come here...maybe others have better strategies?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:57 PM on March 14, 2004

i just googled for "ebay selling strategy" and got a pile of things that look useful. i think the trick is to find a word (like strategy) that's closely associated with your topic, but not common.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:01 PM on March 14, 2004

try teoma. it sometimes does a better job than google (except it doesn't get rid of machine generated junk unfortunately).
posted by Stynxno at 1:40 PM on March 14, 2004

To elaborate on stupidsexyFlanders' links above, the most useful features of Google, in my estimation, are:

Quotation marks. To find exact phrases, enclose the keywords in quotation marks. "who likes pancakes" will produce far more accurate results than who likes pancakes

+ and - You can use the + and - flags to indicate which keywords must be present or must be omitted, respectively. "chowder recipe" -tomato would be a good search for those of us who prefer New England to Manhattan clam chowder.

site: You can specify the site you want to search using the site: option. For example, if I were looking for dietary supplement information and only wanted to see results from the FDA, I could google dietary supplements. Keep in mind that you don't even need to specify a domain; the TLD or interwill suffice. i.e. site:jp rabbit pancake will provide all pancake bunny information on Japanese domain names.

filetype: allows you to search for specific files. For example, rather than braving the pop-up/spyware/cookie hell that most lyrics sites provide, you can search for plaintext files. i.e. "fly me to the moon" filetype:txt

Keep in mind that all of these techniques can be combined. Also, keep in mind that "FAQ" and "tutorial" are useful keywords to add to common phrases to make them more specific.

Some recent Ask MetaFilter queries, via Google:
"neutralize fish odors"
filetype:drv winspool
"learn shorthand"
posted by Danelope at 1:57 PM on March 14, 2004

Lots of information/tips linked here at Search Engine Watch. I also second a reading of Fravia's tips ssF linked to above.

One Google command I've found particularly handy is "site:(domain)" - i.e. "" after my search terms will only search Metafilter. This is often most useful for me in its negative form for a domain type - an example of the structure would be "ebay strategy -site:com", giving me results from .org, .net, .edu, .gov etc. sites.

Engines I use in addition to Google and Teoma are Alltheweb, Vivisimo and Ixquick. The associated advanced search tips for each engine should give you useful information as well.
posted by vers at 2:08 PM on March 14, 2004

I find the trick is a combination of quoted phrases that, if I were writing an article about the subject, I figure I'd have a hard time avoiding; good use of AND and OR logic; single technical words I'd expect to find in the article; and heavy use of the - (negative-sign) logic to progressively weed out shared words from links that I want to eliminate en-masse (this is particularly effective against meta-tag abusers).
posted by five fresh fish at 2:20 PM on March 14, 2004

Adding to the mention of the site: token, I also tend to use intitle: or inurl: to try and find a very specific result or, in combination with -, exclude autogenerated crap. Something like: foo bar -inurl:commonurlcrap.
posted by thebabelfish at 2:23 PM on March 14, 2004

If I'm getting a certain kind of noise, I try to exclude those sites in advanced search with a well placed "NOT" phrase.
So, for example, if I wanted to look up something about how to trim a bush, I'd be sure to specify I didn't want any sites with the words president or george or white house or dumbass. I might also search for "hedge" and specify I wasn't interested in funds or investments.
posted by Slagman at 2:29 PM on March 14, 2004

if you're having trouble finding any results at all (instead of too much noise), it can be useful to intentionally start with some overly-general terms and refine your way down.
posted by juv3nal at 2:33 PM on March 14, 2004

Altavista has a NEAR operator, which is almost indecently useful. It is the only major free search engine to offer this to my knowledge. It finds two words in close proximity to each other (can't remember exactly how close: 10 words I think).
posted by bifter at 2:36 PM on March 14, 2004

GoogleGuide is also helpful.
posted by hashashin at 3:09 PM on March 14, 2004

I really miss the proximity search from Lexiz.
You can search Bush +5 Corruption (=bush within 5 words of corruption)
I guess this would make the google server farm catch on fire or something.
posted by Fupped Duck at 4:46 PM on March 14, 2004

Google does have an unofficial proximity search; a handy way to use it is through this form. Also, for those who prefer convenience in searching over control, Soople is a quite nifty Google interface that gives easy access to many of Google's advanced features.
posted by vers at 5:07 PM on March 14, 2004

Thanks, all! :)
posted by yoga at 5:22 PM on March 14, 2004

Do not underestimate the power of Google Groups. It offers *decades* of postings, and there are a whole lot of "How do I do X?" questions to be found there. Newsgroup searches have the additional advantage of the "sort by date" option, in case you are mostly interested in recent information.

Newsgroups are especially good for computer-related issues.
posted by Galvatron at 5:41 PM on March 14, 2004

I too would like to thank everyone for this extremely useful advice.
posted by interrobang at 5:53 PM on March 14, 2004

related question:

There are a lot of amazon referrals sites that link to amazon, without providing any additional info. How do I get rid of the noise? It seems that if an item is on Amazon, no other info can be found.

For example, I want to look for reviews / technical specifications (not from Amazon) for an Apple 4 GB iPod mp3 player. ["Apple 4 GB iPod" review -amazon] will not help.
posted by MzB at 8:03 PM on March 14, 2004

MzB: google appears to be a poor choice for that particular search. even excluding specific phrases in the amazon user reviews that turn up in every other site doesn't seem to actually exclude those results. yahoo, on the other hand looks somewhat more useful for that particular query...maybe amazon affiliates are acting as a kind of google bomb?
posted by juv3nal at 8:43 PM on March 14, 2004

Also -- to get a little philosophical here. It can help if you think of your search process as iterative and not just a one-shot deal. What I do and what I tell people to do in the library is this: do a search using the words you think you need to track down what you're looking for. Use the results of that first search -- look at the first 10-30 results, click through a few -- to narrow down your search

1. make sure you are using the right vocabulary and spellings for the words you care about [is it MLK Day or Martin Luther King Day, for example]
2. look for types of results you want to exclude [sometimes I eliminate all listserv threads by putting a minus sign before the term "next in thread"] and find out how to pare them out
3. look for what looks good and try to aim for that stuff by adding other keywords and putting words in phrases where appropriate.

Then, do the search again and only then try to answer your question. I go nuts trying to do searches at the reference desk when people watch me because I often just discard the first search after getting what I can out of it [if it's a complicated problem or one where I don't know the vocabulary]. I think one of the biggest myths about Google is that you can and should find what you want in one good search. Two quick effective searches won't take any more time than one long fruitless one anyhow.
posted by jessamyn at 9:06 PM on March 14, 2004

Yes, two or three passes is essential!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:27 PM on March 14, 2004

The best way to learn Google is to google every question you have, literally. "Google is your friend."

My greatest discovery? Part Numbers!!! At work, we deal with technology dating back to the 70s and finding replacement circuit boards, etc. was a major pain in the ass. That is, until one day I entered the part number from an old component into Google, just the part number, nothing else. I received a list of vendors from around the world who still carried a few. 3 vendors in the US, 2 in Canada, 5 in Japan, and 1 in Germany.

This works well with virtually any identifying string of characters.
posted by mischief at 8:41 AM on March 15, 2004

Google for words as specific as possible, even if they aren't imortant words. Searching for a Palm pilot but keep getting aviation sites? (Bad example, but.) Try ""palm pilot" graffiti" instead of just palm pilot.
posted by callmejay at 9:53 AM on March 15, 2004

If your query can be posed in the form of a question, AnswerBus and BrainBoost are worth a try.

If not, try AllTheWeb in additon to Google.
posted by kindall at 10:22 AM on March 15, 2004

"Try ""palm pilot" graffiti" instead of just palm pilot."

This is fantastic advice. Remember: you're searching an index of the entire document! Take advantage of that fact by including additional semirelevant terms that are likely to appear on the page.

For example, MzB's iPod review search gets additional signal with a few extra search terms thrown in:

apple 4gb ipod review -amazon firewire interface battery"
posted by majick at 10:51 AM on March 15, 2004

Should mention that Google has the "~" operator, which searches variations of the term it's attached to.

~auto would do auto, autos, automobile, car, truck, and maybe even vehicle. Or not. I've never been really clear on just how far it'll go to find a synonym.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:46 AM on March 15, 2004

I often specify the document type I want when I'm googling for research. In other words, if I want info on research papers on computers in Paraguay, I will specify computers Paraguay pdf. That filters out a lot of irrelevant stuff. Similarly, ppt gets powerpoint slides which is how a lot of good summaries for classes is presented.
posted by dness2 at 1:51 PM on March 15, 2004

« Older Something's Fishy   |   PlayFilter Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.