Be an Online Ninja Part II: How Good is your Google Fu?
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
You walk through a misty glade. Pagoda are off to the right and torii gate are placed indiscriminately on your left. You approach a small pond, a figure sitting in a simple robe on a rock several feet off shore. He turns and as he does you see it is the rock turning, not the sensei. You also see the Mac book and the familiar coffee cup with a mermaid logo. He looks at you and with characteristic poor dubbing and origin-less wind sounds he waves two fingers at you and says, “How good is your google fu?”
Google (or any search engine) search skills are not something to be taken lightly. Most of us will never need to know how to code or even get into the more arcane formulary ends of Microsoft Excel. Searching for the information we want, or in many cases need, is a vastly more important skill. We’ve been through the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, and the Industrial Age. This is considered the Information Age, and strength in this age of man is determined by your ability to access information and keep information secure. We’ve already discussed stealth and security in your ninja training, your defensive skills, now we will work on your fighting skills, your ability to strike fast and accurately when looking for what you need to know.
The white belt is phrasing. First, you don’t need to type a Google search as if it were a question . You are adding words to a search that will give you more responses but may not contribute useful information. Always keep your search terms as short as you can while including all the information you need to find. If you want to know “How do I prevent a heart attack?” Just search the words heart attack prevention.
To earn your yellow belt you need to know your Boolean operators. Boolean operators sound technical but this is really basic, I promise. Looking for Information on J.R.R. Tolkien is going to give you a lot of information. You only need information on his military service. You type in Tolkien and military your search terms limit the returned to just the sites that contain both of the terms Tolkien and military. Even better, you can use and not. We’ll use Professor Tolkien again. You decided that the paper on Tolkien’s military service was too narrow, so you decide to broaden the topic to include all of his life except The Hobbit. You can search Tolkien and not Hobbit. This way you get only sites that don’t include the diminutive people of Middle Earth. You can use the minus sign for a similar effect. Finally, you can use or. You want to go see where Tolkien grew up so you search for information on his birthplace and youth by searching for England or South Africa. Now you have mastered the basic Boolean search.
What happens when you can’t just limit your search to a small number of simple words? Here is where you will learn the information needed to earn your orange and red belts. You can get concise results for multiple terms by putting your search terms in quotation marks. Searching for information on the Jane Austen’s niece would give you information on Ms. Austen and her niece and nieces in general. Searching for “Jane Austen’s Niece” will only give you search results where those words occur together in that exact order. Now here is the best part. You can combine this with your earlier Boolean skills and search for instances where said niece commented on her aunt’s work by searching “Jane Austen’s Niece” and “literary commentary”. In this case you’ve taken a long string that could give you way too many options and limited it to a Boolean string, two specific phrases limited by the word “and”. For the record but, not, and or work just fine here too. There is also a way to search for a term you don’t know. Instead of adding something like and, this time you put in the term you know and add an asterik (*) as a wild card. This will bring up more options for you to browse.
The blue and brown belt level is one of finesse. It is finding the right results among your newly limited searches. If you have a search that brings up what looks like good results you must be wary. Look for the mark that says Ad, Paid, or Sponsored. These are clues to let you know that the sights you see, usually at the top of your results, are from services that have paid to be where they are. While not always, quite often the information or service they are providing will come with a cost. The other thing to be on the lookout for is the Missing: word. This means that the result you are getting does not include one of the search terms you entered.
To attain your black belt in Google fu you must move beyond the realm of the search. You must extend your knowledge of Google to your widest limits. You can use google to translate foreign phrases or even entire websites. You can get currency exchange rates and split restaurant checks as well as calculate a tip. You can even view art from all over the world. These are just a minor selections of all the things you can do without leaving a Google site. Use your new found Google fu search skills to find all the great tricks Google can do.
You are now wise in the ways of Google but there are other ways available to you. Many of these other paths, such as Bing jitsu or Yahoo dö (we promise, we’re not advertising for Google, it’s just the search engine that most people use). The foundations of these arts lay in the same place as that of Google fu. Your Boolean strings and quotation mark limitations will be recognized with them as well and they may have their own special techniques too.
- The Associated Press guide to Internet research and reporting by Frank Bass 070.40285 BAS
- How to find information online by Amanda StJohn J 025.0425 STJ