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Hidden Google Tools

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Even if you consider yourself a Google expert, these "hidden" tools and resources let you push the search engine's capabilities to the max.

If you want all of Google's tools and options conveniently displayed on a single screen, try FaganFinder. I like it because I am reminded of all the choices I have and settings I can tweak, including toggling the Duplicates Filter on or off, using the file format search, and setting the number of results per page. It even has handy links for typing non-English letters.

Right now, the only search engines that support the "NEAR" operator (search for this word within X words of that word) are Alta Vista and MSN. But there's a nifty Google hack called Google API Proximity Search (GAPS) that lets you look for two words within one, two or three words of each other.

Google has a synonym feature that lets you search for not only the word you type in the search box but also for some common synonyms of the word. The synonym symbol is the tilde (˜), and the syntax is ˜word. For example, if you type ˜food in the search box, you will also retrieve web pages that have the word cooking, nutrition, recipe or restaurant. Sometimes that's a nifty tool, but it has its drawbacks. I tried ˜aluminum and it not only retrieved pages with the British equivalent, aluminium, and words with the atomic symbol AL, but also pages that mentioned Weird Al Yankovic, Al Jazeera, Al-Anon, and the official page for the state of Alabama. Use this tool when you are looking for a broad category of concepts, and be prepared for a few unexpected results.

One of my favorite Google tools is WebQuotes, through which you can find out what other people are saying about a particular site. Type in a URL, and you'll see how other sites are describing that site. It's a great way to suss out fraudulent sites. Try, for example, typing in www.gatt.org and see how it's described. (Yes, WebQuotes is designed for key words, not URLs, but I really like this application.)

Similar to AllTheWeb's URL Investigator, Google provides some background information on a page if you type the URL in Google's search box using the "info:" operator. For example, go to Google and type info:www.petfinder.org in the search box, and you will see a link to the PetFinder site, a link to Google's cached copy of the page, similar and related web sites, pages that link to that site, and pages that mention "www.petfinder.org"

We're accustomed to looking at Google's search results 10 sites at a time, sorted by estimated relevance. But what if you want to exercise your right brain - that's the creative, non-linear side - and view the results in a more graphic format? Check out anacubis' "Google-enabled visual search." Type in your search terms, right-click on one of the resulting hits and see how you can immediately expand the results to similar sites, or linked sites.

For those of us in the US, a handy new tool is Google's "Search by Number" feature. Google now recognizes the pattern for Federal Express, UPS and USPS tracking numbers; vehicle ID numbers, US patent numbers, UPC codes, area codes, and even FCC equipment IDs and FAA airplane reservation numbers. For most of these searches, you can just type the number into the search box; for patent numbers, you have to add the word "patent" to the beginning of the number, and for FCC equipment IDs, you need to add the word "fcc" at the beginning.

Related to this feature is the ability to see the current status of any US flight. Type the airline name and the flight number in the search box, and you will see a link to the arrival/departure information screen for that flight, provided by Travelocity.

Mary Ellen Bates is the principal of Bates Information Services, a research and consulting business based in Boulder, Colorado.

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