Hacking your favourite search engine

Google's abbreviated search page doesn't give even a hint of the power and flexibility available in everybody's favourite search engine. It's a topic that deserves its own book. Thankfully, Google Hacks is that book.

Google Hacks by Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest (O'Reilly, $75)

Google’s abbreviated search page doesn’t give even a hint of the power and flexibility available in everybody’s favourite search engine. It’s a topic that deserves its own book. Thankfully, Google Hacks is that book.

Google Hacks is a comprehensive reference on how to use and abuse Google’s vast index. Like others in O’Reilly’s Hacks series, Google Hacks collects together 100 numbered tips, tricks, hints and shortcuts. Google Hacks starts and ends with simple hacks — setting preferences and avoiding appearing in Google’s index — but in between there are a range of interesting and unexpected hints.

A Google reference needs to cover a surprising amount of material. The original Google search engine was early on joined by Google Groups, an extensive archive of Usenet postings covering over 20 years, and Google Directory, a Yahoo-like attempt to arrange the internet into categories. Google Image Search followed. Two other Google services, Google News and Froogle, an index of online store catalogues, are currently in beta.

Google Hacks covers all of these and more. For example, Google Hacks explains how to access US phone books, how to add search criteria not available in the default search forms, how to track stocks and how to query Google’s dictionary. It also provides some tips on how to phrase a search to get the best results. These tips go well beyond anything you can learn from an examination of Google’s advanced search form.

Developers, though, will be particularly interested in the in-depth examination of Google’s web services APIs, and this is where Google Hacks is particularly strong. Thirty-five of the hacks are devoted exclusively to the web API and API applications.

Registering for a Google key, needed to use the web service, is straightforward. The book gives simple examples in the usual common languages — Perl, PHP, Java, Python, C# and VB#.Net — and thankfully avoids getting bogged down in implementation details. The topic is given a general introduction and followed up with a impressive range of hacks using the web API.

The web API is still in beta and the authors warn that it may change. The O’Reilly website includes changes and errata, including user-contributed notes, so it’s easy to check whether something is still current. Code snippets are also available for download.

The book continues with some of the more novel uses of Google, such as Googlewhacking and Google poetry, and ends with a section for webmasters covering search ranking and Google ads.

Anybody who needs to regular locate information on the web will be grateful for this book, and anybody who needs to use the web API will find it invaluable.

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