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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    July 01, 2003

    Technology

    Now you can create specialized searches for customized results using Google, the world's biggest search engine database.

    Mary Koshollek

    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 76, No. 7, July 2003

    "Google" Your Way to Better Web Searching

    Now you can create specialized searches for customized results using Google, the world's biggest search engine database.

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    Mayr J. KoshollekMary J. Koshollek is director of library services at Godfrey & Kahn S.C., Milwaukee. She is a member of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin, which is sponsoring a series of articles on conducting efficient, effective research.

    by Mary J. Koshollek

    Google - www.google.com - is currently the biggest search engine database in the world1 and has been named the top search engine on the Web. It is an invaluable tool for Web research and gives quick results, whether finding a public document or getting background on legal and nonlegal topics. Busy legal researchers can use it for a number of specialized searches for customized results.

    Google was created in 1998 at Stanford University by two graduate students and was officially launched in the fall of 1999. Since its inception, Google's corporate philosophy has been to present a clean, simple interface, free from the ubiquitous ads that plague other search sites. It is a straightforward search tool that has some advanced search syntax but is more noted for its highly relevant results. It returns pages based on the number of sites linking to them and how often they are visited, indicating their popularity. When searching for a specific Web site, try Google's "I'm feeling lucky" button on the main search page. This feature bypasses the results page and goes to the first Web page that Google returns. Google also stores a snapshot of each page it visits under the "Cached" link on a results page. This feature might be helpful in finding old dot.com Web pages or disbanded company information.

    Google's Differences

    Google doesn't read keyword or description meta tags like other search engines. It assigns its own description to each site by extracting relevant parts of the page to display in the Google results. Google employs a "PageRank™ " feature that, at times, can negatively affect your search, especially when you want to research a complex topic with a huge Web presence. Google lets you search full text of most PDF files on the Web as well as MS Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Corel WordPerfect files. This is a big advantage over search engines like Yahoo! and Findlaw. If you are looking for technical information, Google also can specially search for files from the Microsoft, Linux, Mac, and Unix operating systems.

    Some "Googlese"

    The site's name is a wordplay inspired by "googol," a math/science term that describes the very large number of 10 to the 100th power (or 1 followed by 100 zeroes), which hints at the large number of Web pages that the search engine has indexed. The name also has inspired a lexicon of its own. Google's headquarters, now in Palo Alto, Calif., is known as the "Googleplex," and its more than 270 employees as "Googlers." More terms are "Googling" (using Google to search for information related to an individual) and "Googlewhacking" (a sport in which the user attempts to elicit a single result from a search).

    More on Google's Technology

    Google's hardware is a massive "farm" of more than 10,000 servers, capable of not only indexing more than 3 billion Web documents but also handling thousands of queries per second with sub-second response times. Google crawls the Web (also known as spidering) daily in an effort to increase the currency of its database. Google reported that it was spidering 3 million pages each day where currency had been determined to be crucial. Just remember to evaluate what you find in Google. With that amount of information being indexed, you may harvest as much unreliable material as you do great finds.

    Google Basics

    The home screen for Google provides a simple box in which to type a search. The system defaults to an "AND" (&) operator between words. Double quotes (" ") are helpful for phrase or title searching, such as "Jobs and Growth Reconcilation Tax Act of 2003," though Google automatically looks for terms in close proximity when quotes are not used. Other search syntax is available, such as the Boolean "OR" (must be typed as caps), the plus (+) sign (use only to force the engine to search for a stop word, even in phrases within quotes; not necessary to use with regular keywords), and the minus (-) sign (when used immediately before a term or phrase, excludes it from results). The universal character for "stemming" - the asterisk (*) - is not supported; the searcher must use the OR operator with each variant or equivalent term, including plurals.

    Google also maintains a classified Yahoo-style directory page. It is available at the "Directory" tab on the Google home page and is powered by the "Open Directory Project," which is a vast, global community of volunteer editors. Note that "law " is classified under the heading "society."

    Results Display

    When reviewing a results page on the system you will see:

    • the title or URL of the document, usually with a hyperlink;
    • text in which one or more of your search terms appear (not the beginning lines of a document like most other search engines);
    • the URL of the result if not given earlier;
    • a number giving the size of the page, usually in kilobytes;
    • a link that says "Cached." This is what the page looked like when Google indexed it and may not be the current version; and
    • a link that says "Similar Pages," meaning Google will retrieve other pages that are similar to the retrieved page.

    Advanced Search Features

    Google maintains a separate page for advanced searches at www.google.com/advanced_search . This page supports:

    • fill-in-the-box Boolean searching;
    • limiting results to different fields (text, title, URL) on a page;
    • limiting by language, domain, and content (for example, "safe searching"); and
    • displaying results from 10-100 per page.

    More Resources

    New Google tools are being introduced constantly. If you are a devoted Google fan looking to learn more tips and tricks for your practice or personal use, consult Google Hacks,2 a new book by Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest. This book shows in great depth how the search syntax and the above features work and offers customizable scripts so you can write your own applications.

    Endnotes

    1See www.searchengineshowdown.com/stats.

    2Tara Calishain & Rael Dornfest, Google Hacks: 100 Industrial Strength Tips and Tools (2003).




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