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Why Google Hacks is a Bestseller

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Google Hacks, by Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest, cracked the ranks of the New York Times top ten business paperback sellers for May.

This is unprecedented. It's rare that a technology book sells this well, and even rarer that a book about a search engine is so popular -- especially with a subtitle like "100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools."

But the book deserves its success. Calishain and Dornfest are excellent writers, explaining even the most complex ideas and processes in clear, accessible language. And they illustrate their "hacks" with useful examples -- things that people might actually want to do with Google.

The first part of the book will likely be of most interest to SearchDay readers. In addition to an excellent overview of Google and its capabilities, the first forty or so hacks are dedicated to getting the most out of the search engine for specific tasks.

These are terrific, hands-on tips for ferreting out information in clever ways. The value of these hacks goes beyond the pragmatic -- they also offer revealing insight into the mindset and thought processes used by a highly capable searcher. Studying these hacks is an excellent way to sharpen your own searching skills.

Some of my favorites include one on deconstructing the codes that are returned in Google result page URLs, and how to use them directly to achieve different results. Another shows you how to locate web directories. Still another shows you how to find technical definitions.

The second part of the book is more for the serious hacker who wants to write or run programs using Google Web APIs. If you're willing to do the work, there's a lot more that Google can be used for besides searching the web.

For example, one hack shows you how to blend Google and Amazon search results. Another lets you compare Google results with other search engines. There are also some goofy hacks, like creating Google art, or using Google to create recipes from the random ingredients in your refrigerator.

Even if you're not a programmer, you can try your hand at some of the more advanced hacks by downloading the code examples from the book.

While there are indeed 100 hacks included in the book, many of the hacks offer multiple examples or variations. There are also numerous tips and cautionary notes throughout the book. Google Hacks is loaded with information, and it's a book that's both an excellent tutorial and a handy reference guide to the search engine.

As a bonus, Tara Calishain continues to crank out new Google hacks that she makes available via her excellent Research Buzz newsletter.

So it's really no surprise that Google Hacks has made its way onto the New York Times bestseller list. Kudos to Tara and Rael on your success, and thanks for producing such a useful and eminently readable guide to one of the web's most popular search engines.

Google Hacks
100 Industrial-Strength Tips and Tricks
By Tara Calishain, Rael Dornfest
ISBN: 0-596-00447-8
352 pages, $24.95 US, $38.95 CA, #17.50 UK

Harvard Law Wrestles with Gator

Ben Edelman, a student at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, has published the findings of a nearly two-year long study of Gator, the controversial software that monitors user behavior on many sites and shows its own pop-up ads in response.

"Gator's activities have been controversial -- spurring numerous lawsuits by operators of affected web sites," said Edelman, in an email to Search Engine Watch.

"When web site operators wish to learn whether their sites are targeted by Gator advertisements, they have had to install the Gator client on a computer and check whether Gator displays ads subsequent to repeated requests for their sites. This is an inconvenient and time-consuming process, and it can sometimes give incomplete results.

"Accordingly, I'm pleased to report that I have devised a better alternative: By monitoring the communication between Gator's client software (as installed on users' computers) and Gator's servers, I've learned how to determine whether Gator targets ads at a specified web site, and if so which ads are targeted at which parts of the site."

Yesterday, Edelman released Documentation of Gator Advertisements and Targeting, a report that describes his methodology and findings, including more than seven thousand specific web sites targeted by Gator. The report also offers users a web form for testing whether Gator targets specified sites and, if it does, viewing the specific ads Gator shows.

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