The internet has changed our lives, mostly for the better. With the device and technology innovations of the past twenty years, information is literally available at our fingertips. No more dictionaries, encyclopedias or desk references, and for many, the daily newspaper is now online and updated by the minute. And all this has happened in the past twenty years!
One of the most popular search tools online is Google. This company with the funny name started out as a project at Stanford University in 1996, growing to become the Go-To place online to find out almost anything. There are a lot of technical reasons why Google works so well, but that is of little interest here. Google just works. We really don’t care why or how.
Some people seem to be GoogleMasters – they can search Google and in a couple of seconds find out anything, whether they are using a smartphone, a tablet or a computer. Many struggle to find the same information, sometimes giving up before finding the answer. So what is the secret to getting Google to give up its secrets? It’s all in how you communicate with Google.
When you go to Google.com, there is a space in the middle of the screen for you to type in the words that describe what you want to find. Let’s say that you want to find the locations of Home Depot in Plainfield, New Jersey. Type in home depot plainfield nj and hit ENTER. When I tried that, Google returned 140,000 returns in .37 seconds…not bad. The first ten results are displayed on the first screen, and all of them were related to the Home Depot stores in Watchung and South Plainfield, NJ. But, this is an easy one – anyone can figure this one out. However, notice that I did not bother with capitalization or punctuation, and I left out small words or words that would not add any meaning to my search. I could have typed, “Home Depot locations in and around Plainfield, N.J.” but my results would have been the same. Google doesn’t care about the small words, punctuation or capital letters. When using a smartphone or tablet, keeping it simple means saving time and effort.
So now let’s tackle something more obscure – and therefore more difficult. Remembering that Google doesn’t care about small, insignificant words, shape your request in a form that includes the words or terms that best describe what you are looking for without going overboard. Let’s say that you are trying to remember who played the role of “Hot Lips” in the movie M*A*S*H. You go to your buddy Google and type in actress hot lips mash. Immediately, Google tells you that Loretta Swit played the role in the popular TV series, but Sally Kellerman played Hot Lips Houlihan in the 1970 film – and was nominated for an Oscar. In case that wasn’t enough, you also get photos of both actresses as well as links to their bios, film and TV history, and more information than you would ever need.
History also holds its celebrities, so you do a search for chief engineer manhattan project. Google tells you that Major General Leslie Groves directed the project, with J. Robert Oppenheimer as the director of the laboratories that designed and built the WWII bombs. BOOM! Historical genius.
Then the grandkids start telling you about the dinosaurs they learned about in school – you know, the big scaly one with the long neck. You whip out the smartphone, type in big scaly dinosaur long neck and find your friend brachiosaurus as a herbivore who needed the height of the long neck to feed on the higher vegetation, much like a giraffe today. BAM! Not only smart, but cool too, since you know so much about dinosaurs.
One thing to remember about Google, though, is that it does take paid listings, meaning that the if you are looking for the most popular to be at the top of the list, you may be disappointed. Before clicking, make sure that you are clicking on what you want. Read the description of what the site has to offer before clicking, and if it isn’t what you are looking for, move to the next. Some sites will pay Google to be listed high, so use a little bit of caution to be sure you are getting what you want.
A site that is high on Google’s listings is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a wonderful site, but because it is a “wiki,” by nature is a gathering of information from many sources, some of which may not be accurate. Wikipedia is a great starting point for many searches, but make sure that you verify the information that you are getting. No one really checks Wikipedia for accuracy.
So, here are the guidelines to make Google your friend:
- Use simple words and terms
- Leave out the CAPS, punctuation and small words that add no meaning
- Check the listing to be sure you are clicking on something that will work for you
- If you don’t get what you need, try again
Using Google to get instant information is a science, but it is also an art. The more you use it, the more it will work for you.
Now go be a GoogleMaster!
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