Underneath its simple, sparse interface, Google is loaded with useful tools and services, though they're not always easy to find. A new book offers an inside guide to maximizing the power of the search engine.
Every time I run my advanced Google workshop, I'm surprised at how many features I demonstrate are completely new to most participants -- even experienced information professionals. That's because there's a lot more to Google than meets the eye of most searchers.
Surprisingly, given all of the recent hoohaw about Google, there are few books devoted to the tools and services offered by the search engine. Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest's Google Hacks is probably the best of the bunch, but the lion's share of their book is designed for technically minded (and skilled) readers.
Now we have How to do Everything with Google, a pretty audacious title, but one that's not as hypish as it sounds. This is because two of its authors, Fritz Schneider and Eric Fredricksen, are Google employees, and the third, Nancy Blachman, is an experienced technical writer who also runs the useful Google Guide website. In short, people who really do know how to do most everything with Google and share their knowledge in the book.
The book is essentially an in-depth tutorial on how to best use the variety of Google search tools. In addition to describing features, the authors are generous with example searches and screen shots that put the various search services through their paces. While it's helpful to follow along online and mess around with these examples yourself, the book can stand on its own if you're stuck without a net connection.
The book is full of what the authors call "special elements" -- sidebars that focus your attention on specific, important points. "How tos" are quick "nutshell" overviews of tasks and skills covered in the book. "Notes" provide extra information, such as search tips or cautionary words that can help you avoid search blunders.
I particularly liked the numerous anecdotes that can only come from an insider's perspective. These are often labeled "Did you know?" and are scattered throughout the book. For example, there's a lengthy sidebar on how Google came to rescue and restore Usenet Newsgroups (now known as Google Groups).
Google purchased the struggling remnants of the original Usenet, the Deja Newsgroup Service in March 2001. But this archive only contained postings back to 1995, leaving a huge gap going all the way back to Usenet's origins in 1981.
Google engineer Michael Schmitt took on the task of finding independently compiled backups and archives of the Usenet. The process took months, and ultimately Google found itself restoring data from tape backups, CD ROMs, and other sources. Finally, in December 2001, the entire Usenet archive dating to 1981 was back online.
How to do Everything with Google is a worthwhile addition to your bookshelf, not only for these engaging inside anecdotes, but for the wealth of practical tips and techniques that can significantly improve your searching skills -- and the results that Google provides.
How to do Everything with Google
by Fritz Schneider, Nancy Blachman and Eric Fredricksen
McGraw-Hill Osborne Media; $24.99
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