Computer: All • Level: Novice
Three short years ago, when I was doing introductory training seminars on using the Internet, I would often have to explain to people what Google was. I would say that it was a site dedicated specifically to helping people search the Internet, much like Yahoo. Once I would mention Yahoo search, people would get it, and we would be on our way. How times are changed. Now when I run training sessions on using the Internet efficiently, everyone knows what Google is, and everyone knows how to search for information.
However, Google has evolved tremendously over the past three years. They update and change stuff so quickly that I have to revise my documents every time I teach a seminar on the Internet, even if they are two weeks apart. And one area that Google has expanded incredibly in the past two years is how they categorize the information they gather. In short, Google realized that they could make searching the Internet much more efficient if they cluster the information they gather into various categories, and then allow people to perform searches within those various categories.
By default, Google’s classic page defaults to a “web” search. You can see the more common alternative categories listed across the top of the search bar. However, there are many more. To get to them, click the “more” link at the right end of the alternative categories line. This will open up an entire new world of alternative categories.
Not all of the categories may be useful to you, but here are some of the details on a few of the more helpful Google categories:
By far the most popular alternative search, Google Images allows you to search image files on the Internet. Looking for a picture of a duck? This may be a great way to get it, but as always, please consider copyright laws when handling other people’s intellectual property.
YouTube may be the most popular, but Google Video has a great collection of videos as well. Search, watch, and enjoy!
The News category is often overlooked, but it can be a great help in many situations. When working with educators, I often get the question, “How can I help my students find reliable websites?” The issue here, of course, is that students will do web searches on sensitive topics, but not have developed their crap detector skills well enough to know which sites are reliable. The News category can be a huge help with this, in that it culls the web of anything that isn’t a media source, and lets people search the only these major media sources. This is not to say, of course, that CNN or the Star Tribune always has reliable information, but at least your screening out Joe Extremist in his basement. The News category can also be helpful, as you would expect, in finding the latest information on a current event.
Maps is a great source of getting printed directions. Personally, I like it much better than Yahoo Maps, whose now infamous inaccuracy has been the source in our family of two Car Trips from Hell.
Google has folded over the “Local” category into the Map category, which means that you can also type in things you are looking for into the Google Map search bar, and it will put up a neat set of clickable markers—complete with contact information—right on the map for you. This is great for looking for pizza, parlors, golf courses, movie theaters, restaurants, etc., as you can go right from the location information to getting directions. The specifics of this feature are beyond the scope of this post, but at some point I’ll try to write a full article on Google Maps.
One other neat feature with Google Maps is the ability to look at your map in satellite photo view. For actually getting somewhere, this satellite view is generally useless, unless you plan to travel to your destination in a helicopter. However, it has one awesome use: impressing the hell out of your less computer savvy co-workers. The key is to have a window with Google Maps open on your computer at all times, then when the “target” walks in, click on the little “Satellite” button, look at a spot on the map, nod a few times, and write something important such as “We’ve found Neo now!”
One other use: If you’ve got a particularly gullible co-worker that you dislike, zoom in on your current address so you can see the building you’re working in. Then tell your co-worker that if he runs outside, looks up, and waves, you’ll take a screen shot of him and save it for his desktop. When he comes back, tell him that there was a problem with the screen shot function, and ask him to do it again. Be sure to spread the word around the office as to what you’re doing. Lather, rinse, repeat until you get bored. Or fired. But don’t blame me.
Other secondary categories that may be of use to you:
Search academic journals.
A shopping search engine that returns price information.
Search US Patents
Search blogs only for your search terms.
Search the contents of books for your search terms.
There are quite a few more, so it can be worthwhile to take some time to explore the “more” link on your Google Categories page.