It would be hard to find an internet user who isn’t familiar with Google. I use it multiple times a day on both my PC and my phone and increasingly with my voice via a Google Home smart speaker.
Like most people, I use it mostly for simple searches to find businesses, news articles, medical advice, recipes and household hints and for work, including finding information I need for my articles and broadcasts, but it turns out that there are lots of ways to use Google that may not be obvious. In addition to being able to conduct simple searches, there are advanced commands and – just as important – strategies that can help you find information and resources that might otherwise be hard to unearth.
That’s where Daniel M. Russell comes to the rescue. Russell has the title Senior Research Scientist for Search Quality and User Happiness” at Google. He is also the author of a new book “The Joy of Search” and hosts a series of free online search classes at PowerSearchingwithGoogle.com.
We spoke the other day (you can listen to the full interview at Larrysworld.com/joyofsearch) to talk about the challenges we face in finding good information online at a time when there is not only a firehose of facts but a growing body of fake-facts and misinformation. And with some exceptions, such as websites that are deliberately hidden from public view or those with no incoming or outgoing links, Google searches pretty much everything. Google doesn’t vet every site for truthfulness. As Russell told me, “if you do a particular kind of query, we will show you the most relevant results for that. Now, that may not be the truth, but it’s the most relevant with respect to your query.” As Russell pointed out in our interview “there are legitimate reasons to find information of dubious quality.”
Some of Russell’s advice comes in the form of tricks and tips, such as knowing how to use some of Google’s “operators” that I’ll cover in a moment. But a lot of what he talked about in the interview and in his book and classes has to do with a broader strategy that requires you to put thought into both what you search for and how you interpret the results.
One way to get better results, he said, “is to be a little bit more precise in the words you use.” He pointed out that a query like “rash” is not going to get you precise information, but you might get more useful results “if you could describe the rash, it’s a crusty rash, or a separating rash or a burning rash. If you can describe it a little bit more, then you have a better chance of getting to the thing that actually is what you’re searching for.”
But, as long as we’re on the subject of medical searches, let me say how I’ve come to approach it. In most cases, I no longer search for symptoms. Every time I do that I wind up with information that scares the heck out of me. Just about any symptom you describe could be a sign of a serious medical condition. A cough might be a sign of lung cancer, but it’s much more likely to be a common cold. Doctors aren’t perfect, but they are trained to put symptoms into context after a clinical evaluation and to dig further, if necessary, with tests that are more precise than a search engine. However, if I do have a diagnosis or am prescribed medicine, I use Google to learn everything I can about the condition and treatment options.
Also, be sure you understand what you’re reading. If a search brings up an article whose title has words you don’t understand, you can search for define followed by the word. You may also get a definition by right clicking on the word when using a PC or a Mac.
How you interpret results is also critical. If you’re trying to evaluate a political candidate, for example, “you have to be able to critically evaluate what you find,” said Russell. “If you read about a candidate who’s invented anti-gravity, be skeptical. You need to be a discerning reader, “to understand what’s a plausible story, what’s an impossible story? “ He said to be skeptical when looking at a website’s About page because that’s where you’re most like to find “self-serving information.”
Tips and Tricks
There are some advanced search techniques and “operators” that can help you find that proverbial needle in a haystack. One is the site operator. You can search only for information within a specific site by typing, for example, “virus site:stanford.edu” to find references to virus only on sites at Stanford. You could widen the search but still avoid a lot of fake information by limiting the types of domains such as searching for “virus site:.gov” to find only U.S. government sites or “Virus site .edu” to find only academic sites. Of course you may find false or inappropriate information on an academic or even government sites (and not all .edu sites are credible institutions), but at least you’re looking for that needle in a much smaller haystack.
I found this very useful when trying to learn about Google operators. When I searched “google operators,” I got all sorts of hits. But when I searched “Google operators Site:Google.com,” I quickly found Google’s official list. You can also put a minus sign (-) in front of site to eliminate searching through a particular domain, which is a good way to find out what others are saying about a company or organization without having to sort through their own pages.
Google has calculators and conversions. You can convert almost any currency or unit of measurements including “how many pecks are in a bushel?”
Do more than one search. Vary the query by adding an additional word such as “review,” “tutorial” or another word that could change the search’s context. Also use more than one search engine to take advantage of their somewhat different algorithms.
Google is pretty good at making assumptions. If you type Bill Gates, you’ll quickly find the Microsoft founder but if you type Stone Gate you’ll get both gates made of stone and Stonegate Apartments. A way to eliminate the apartments would to type “stone gates.” The use of quotes is especially important with longer strings of text.
As you may or may not know, you can search within any webpage by typing Ctrl F on a Windows PC or Command F on a Macintosh.
Google also has a web interface for some advanced searches along with other tools, which you can find by clicking settings (or More on a phone) in the lower right corner of your screen.
Disclosure: Larry Magid is CEO of ConnectSafely, a non-profit internet safety organization that has received support from Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other technology companies.
Published at Fri, 21 Feb 2020 12:00:02 +0000