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Sunday, December 9, 2007

Google Definitions

Most specialized vocabularies remain, for the most part, fairly static; words don't suddenly change their meaning all that often. Not so with technical and computer-related jargon.

Do you find yourself smiling knowingly when your boss mentions that well-known business principle you've never heard of? Overwhelmed with "geek speak"? Chances are Google's heard it mentionedand possibly even definedsomewhere before.

It seems like every 12 seconds someone comes up with a new buzzword or term relating to computers or the Internet, and then 12 minutes later it becomes obsolete or means something completely different often more than one thing at a time. Maybe it's not that bad. It just feels that way.

Google can help you in two ways: by helping you look up words and by helping you figure out what words you don't know but need to know.

Google Definitions

Simply prepend the definition you're after with the special syntax keyword define, like so:

define google juice

define julienne

define 42

Google tells you that these are defined as "power of a website to turn up in Google," "cut food into thin sticks," and "being two more than forty," thanks to Wikipedia, Low Carb Luxury, and WordNet at Princeton, respectively.

Click the associated "Definition in context" link to visit the page from which the definition was drawn.

Click the "Web definitions for..." link or prefix the word you're defining with define: (note the addition of a colon) in the first place, and you'll net a full page of definitions drawn from all manner of places. For instance, define:TLA finds turns up oodles of definitions (all about the same, mind you).

The define word syntax is still subject to spelling suggestions, so you don't have to worry too much about misspelling. The define:word form, however, doesn't perform a web search at all, so it returns no results or spelling suggestions whatsoever if it finds no definitions to offer you. If all that didn't turn up anything useful, move on to Google Web Search proper.

Slang

We have distinctive speech patterns that are shaped by our educations, our families, and our location. Further, we may use another set of words based on our occupation. When a teenager says something is "phat," that's slanga specialized vocabulary used by a particular group. When a copywriter scribbles "stet" on an ad, that's not slang, but it's still specialized vocabulary or jargon used by a certain groupin this case, the advertising industry.

Being aware of these specialty words can make all the difference when it comes to searching. Adding specialized words to your search querywhether slang or industry jargoncan really change the slant of your search results.

Slang gives you one more way to break up your search engine results into geographically distinct areas. There's some geographical blurriness when you use slang to narrow your search engine results, but it's amazing how well it works. For example, search Google for football. Now search for football bloke. Totally different result sets, aren't they? Search for football bloke bonce. Now you're into soccer narratives.

Of course, this is not to say that everyone in England automatically uses the word "bloke" any more than everyone in the southern U.S. automatically uses the word "y'all." But adding well-chosen bits of slang (which will take some experimentation) gives your search results a whole different tenor and may point you in unexpected directions. You can find slang from the following resources:

The Probert EncyclopediaSlang - ( http://www.probertencyclopaedia.com/slang.htm ) - This site is browseable by first letter or searchable by keyword. (Note that the keyword search covers the entire Probert Encyclopedia ; slang results are near the bottom.) The slang presented here is from all over the world. It's often cross-linked, especially drug slang. As with most slang dictionaries, this site contains material that might offend.

A Dictionary of Slang - ( http://www.peevish.co.uk/slang/ ) - This site focuses on slang heard in the United Kingdom, which means slang from other places as well. It's browseable by letter or via a search engine. Words from outside the UK are marked with their place of origin in brackets. Definitions also indicate typical usage: humorous, vulgar, derogatory, etc.

Surfing for Slang - ( http://www.spraakservice.net/slangportal ) - Of course, each area in the world has its own slang. This site has a good metalist of English and Scandinavian slang resources.

Urban Dictionary - ( http://www.urbandictionary.com ) - You can browse this collaborative dictionary by word and find dozens or hundreds of definitions for each word. The definitions are added by site visitors, and each definition is open to votes from other visitors. The most widely accepted definitions for each word bubble up to the top.

Start by searching Google for your query without the slang. Check the results and decide where they're falling short. Are they not specific enough? Are they not located in the right geographical area? Are they not covering the right demographicteenagers, for example?

Introduce one slang word at a time. For example, in a search for football, add the word bonce and check the results. If they're not narrow enough, add the word bloke. Add one word at a time until you get the results you want. Using slang is an inexact science, so you have to do some experimenting.

Here are some things to be careful of when using slang in your searches:

Try many different slang words.

Don't use slang words that are generally considered offensive, except as a last resort. Your results will be skewed.

Be careful when using teenage slang, which changes constantly.

Try searching for slang when using Google Groups. Slang crops up often in conversation.

Minimize your searches for slang when searching for more formal sources, such as newspaper stories.

Don't use slang phrases if you can help it; in my experience, slang changes too much to be consistently searchable. Stick to established words.

Industrial Slang

Specialized vocabularies are those used in particular subject areas and industries. Good examples of specialized vocabularies are used in the medical and legal fields, although there are many others.

When you need to tip your search to the more technical, the more specialized, and the more in-depth, think of a specialized vocabulary. For example, do a Google search for heartburn. Now do a search for heartburn GERD. Now do a search for heartburn GERD gastric acid. You'll see that each is very different.

With some fields, finding specialized-vocabulary resources is a snap. But with others, it's not that easy. As a jumping-off point, try the Glossarist site at http://www.glossarist.com, which is a searchable subject index of about 6,000 different glossaries covering dozens of different topics. There are also several other large online resources covering certain specialized vocabularies. These resources include:

The On-Line Medical Dictionary - ( http://cancerweb.ncl.ac.uk/omd/ ) - This dictionary contains vocabulary relating to biochemistry, cell biology, chemistry, medicine, molecular biology, physics, plant biology, radiobiology, and other sciences and technologies. It currently has over 46,000 listings.

You can browse the dictionary by letter or search it by word. Sometimes you can search for a word that you know (bruise) and find another term that might be more common in medical terminology (contusion). You can also browse the dictionary by subject. Bear in mind that this dictionary is in the UK, and some spellings may be slightly different for American users (e.g., "tumour" versus "tumor").

MedTerms.com - ( http://www.medterms.com ) - MedTerms.com has far fewer definitions (around 15,000), but it also has extensive articles from MedicineNet. If you're starting from absolute square one with your research and need some basic information and vocabulary to get started, search MedicineNet for your term (bruise works well) and then move to MedTerms.com to search for specific words.

Law.com's legal dictionary - ( http://dictionary.law.com/lookup2.asp ) - Law.com's legal dictionary is excellent because you can search either words or definitions; you can browse, too. For example, you can search definitions for the word inheritance and get a list of all the entries that contain the word "inheritance." This is an easy way to get to the words "muniment of title" without knowing the path.

As with slang, add specialized vocabulary slowlyone word at a timeand anticipate that your search results will be narrowed very quickly. For example, take the word "spudding," often used in association with oil drilling. Searching for spudding by itself finds about 33,900 results on Google. Adding Texas knocks it down to 852 results, and this is still a very general search! Add specialized vocabulary very carefully, or you'll narrow your search results to the point where you can't find what you want.

Researching Terminology with Google

First things first: for heaven's sake, please don't just plug the abbreviation into the query box! For example, searching for XSLT will net you over 29 million results. While combing through the sites that Google turns up may eventually lead you to a definition, there's simply more to life than that. Instead, add "stands +for" to the query if it's an abbreviation or acronym. "XSLT stands +for" returns around 199,000 results, and the first is a tutorial glossary. If you're still getting too many results ("XML stands +for" gives you around six million results), try adding beginners or newbie to the query. "XML stands +for" beginners brings in 463 results, the fourth being a general, gentle "Introduction to XML."

If you're still not getting the results you want, try "What is X?" or " X +is short +for" or " X beginners FAQ", where X is the acronym or term. These should be regarded as second-tier methods, because most sites don't tend to use phrases such as "What is X?" on their pages, "X is short for" is uncommon language usage, and X might be so new (or so obscure) that it doesn't yet have a FAQ entry. Then again, your mileage may vary, and it's worth a shot; there's a lot of terminology out there.

If you have hardware- or software-specific, as opposed to hardware- or software-related, terminology, try the word or phrase along with anything you might know about its usage. For example, as a Perl module, DynaLoader is software-specific terminology. That much known, simply give the two words a spin:

DynaLoader Perl

If the results are too advanced, assuming you already know what a DynaLoader is, start playing with the words beginners, newbie, and the like to bring you closer to information for beginners:

DynaLoader Perl Beginners

If you still can't find the word in Google, there are a few possible causes: perhaps it's slang specific to your area, your coworkers are playing with your mind, you heard it wrong (or there's a typo on the printout you got), or it's very, very new.

Where to Go When It's Not on Google

Despite your best efforts, you're not finding good explanations of the terminology on Google. There are a few other sites that might have what you're looking for:

Whatis - ( http://whatis.techtarget.com ) - A searchable subject index of computer terminology, from software to telecom. This is especially useful if you have a hardware- or software-specific word because the definitions are divided into categories. You can also browse alphabetically. Annotations are good and are often cross-indexed.

Webopedia - ( http://www.pcwebopaedia.com ) - Searchable by keyword or browsable by category. This site also has a list of the newest entries on the front page so that you can check for new words.

Netlingo - ( http://www.netlingo.com ) - This site is more Internet-oriented. It shows up with a frame on the left that contains the words, with the definitions on the right. It includes lots of cross-referencing and really old slang.

Tech Encyclopedia - ( http://www.techweb.com/encyclopedia/ ) - Features definitions and information for over 20,000 words. The top 10 terms searched for are listed so you can see if everyone else is as confused as you are. Though entries had before-the-listing and after-the-listing lists of words, I saw only moderate cross-referencing.

Wikipedia - ( http://www.wikipedia.com ) - This public encyclopedia that anyone can edit is surprisingly accurate and up to date with technology slang. Because new entries don't need to be approved by one or two editors, and because the work of editing is done by thousands of volunteers across disciplines and industries, Wikipedia is constantly evolving with the times.

Geek terminology proliferates almost as quickly as web pages. Don't worry too much about deliberately keeping up; it's just about impossible. Instead, use Google as a "ready reference" resource for definitions.

Google Phonebook

Google combines residential and business phone number information and its own excellent interface to offer a phonebook lookup that provides listings for businesses and residences in the United States. Google makes an excellent phonebook, even to the extent of doing reverse lookups. However, the search offers three different syntaxes, different levels of information provide different results, the syntaxes are finicky, and Google doesn't provide documentation.

The Three Syntaxes

Google offers three ways to search its phonebook:

phonebook - Searches the entire Google phonebook

rphonebook - Searches residential listings only

bphonebook - Searches business listings only

The result page for phonebook: lookups lists only five results for both residential and business numbers. The more specific rphonebook: and bphonebook: searches provide up to 30 results per page. For a better chance of finding what you're looking for, use the appropriate targeted lookup.

Using the Syntaxes

Using a standard phonebook requires knowing quite a bit of information about what you're looking for: first name, last name, city, and state. Google's phonebook requires no more than last name and state to get started. Casting a wide net for all the Smiths in California is as simple as:

phonebook:smith ca

Try giving 411 a whirl with that request!

Notice that while intuition might tell you that there are thousands of Smiths in California, the Google phonebook says that there are only 600. Just as Google's regular search engine maxes out near 1,000 results, its phonebook maxes out at 600. Fair enough. Try narrowing your search by adding a first name, city, or both:

phonebook:john smith los angeles ca

At the time of this writing, the Google phonebook found 2 business and 20 residential listings for John Smith in Los Angeles, California.

Caveats

The phonebook syntaxes are powerful and useful, but they can be difficult to use if you don't remember a few things about how they work.

Syntaxes are case-sensitive

Searching for phonebook:john doe ca works, while Phonebook:john doe ca (notice the capital P) doesn't.

Wildcards don't work

Then again, they're not needed, since the Google phonebook does all the wildcarding for you. For example, if you want to find shops in New York with "Coffee" in the title, don't bother trying to envision every permutation of "Coffee Shop," "Coffee House," and so on. Just search for bphonebook:coffee new york ny and you'll get a list of all businesses in New York whose names contain the word "coffee."

Exclusions don't work

Perhaps you want to find coffee shops that aren't Starbucks. You might think phonebook:coffee -starbucks new york ny would do the trick. After all, you're searching for coffee and not Starbucks, right? Unfortunately not; Google thinks you're looking for both the words "coffee" and "starbucks," yielding just the opposite of what you were hoping for: everything Starbucks in NYC.

OR doesn't always work

You might be wondering if Google's phonebook accepts OR lookups. You then might experiment, trying to find all the coffee shops in Rhode Island or Hawaii: bphonebook:coffee (ri | hi). Unfortunately, that doesn't work; the only listings you'll get are for coffee shops in Hawaii. This is because Google doesn't see the (ri | hi) as a state code, but rather as another element of the search.

So, if you reverse the previous search and search for coffee (hi | ri), Google would find listings that contain the word "coffee" and either the strings "hi" or "ri." This means you'll find Hi-Tide Coffee (in Massachusetts) and several coffee shops in Rhode Island.

It's neater to use OR in the middle of your query and specify a state at the end. For example, if you want to find coffee shops that sell either donuts or bagels, this query works fine: bphonebook:coffee (donuts | bagels) ma. It finds stores in Massachusetts that contain the word "coffee" and either the word "donuts" or the word "bagels." The bottom line: you can use an OR query on the store or resident name, but not on the location.

Try some phonebook lookups that you can't do by dialing 411. For example, try searching by last name and area code, or last name and zip code! Google's phonebook lookup is very accommodating.

Reverse Phonebook Lookup

All three phonebook syntaxes support reverse lookup, though it's probably best to use the general phonebook: syntax to avoid not finding what you're looking for due to a residential or business classification.

To do a reverse search, just enter the phone number with area code. Lookups without area code won't work:

phonebook:(707) 827-7000

(This is the phone number of O'Reilly world headquarters in Sebastopol, California, USA.)

Keep in mind that Google's phonebook service doesn't include cell phone numbers.

Reverse lookups on Google are a hit-or-miss proposition and don't always produce results. If you're not having any luck, consider using a more dedicated phonebook site such as WhitePages.com ( http://www.whitepages.com ).

Google Spellchecker

Google also has a built-in spellchecker, and when Google thinks it can spell individual words or complete phrases in your search query better than you can, it suggests a "better" search, hyperlinking it directly to a query. Google sometimes takes the liberty of "correcting" what it perceives to be a spelling error in your query. Most of us couldn't communicate with the outside world without a spellchecker. As you send off an email or put the finishing touches on a document, a trusty spellchecker makes sure you haven't made any blatant errors.

Suggestions aside, Google assumes that you know of what you speak and returns your requested results, provided your query gleaned results. For example, if you search for hydrecefallus, Google will ask if you meant hydrocephalus.

If your query found no results for the spellings you provided and Google believes it knows better, it will automatically run a new search of its own suggestions. Thus, a search for hydrecefallus finding (hopefully) no results sparks a Google-initiated search for hydrocephalus.

Mind you, Google does not arbitrarily come up with its suggestions, but builds them based on its own database of words and phrases found while indexing the Web. If you search for nonsense like kweghgjdlsggaa, you'll get no results and be offered no suggestions.

This is a lovely side effect and a quick and easy way to check the relative frequency of spellings. Query for a particular spelling, and note the number of results. Then click on Google's suggested spelling and note the number of results. It's surprising how close the counts are sometimes, indicating an oft-misspelled word or phrase.

If you find yourself turning to Google to compare spellings, you might want to automate the process of comparing phrases.

Embrace Misspellings

Don't make the mistake of automatically dismissing the proffered results from a misspelled word, particularly a proper name. I've been a fan of cartoonist Bill Mauldin for years now, but I repeatedly misspell his name as "Bill Maudlin." And judging from a quick Google search, I'm not the only one. There is no law stating that every page must be spellchecked before it goes online, so it's often worth taking a look at results despite misspellings.

As an experiment, try searching for two misspelled words on a related topic, such as normotensive hydrocephalis. What kind of information did you get? Could the information you got, if any, be grouped into a particular online genre?

At the time of this writing, the search for normotensive hydrocephalis gets only three results. The content here is generally from people dealing with various neurosurgical problems. Again, there is no law that states that all web materials have to be spellchecked.

Use this to your advantage as a researcher. When you're looking for layman accounts of illness and injury, the content you desire might actually be more often misspelled than not. On the other hand, when looking for highly technical information or references from credible sources, filtering out misspelled queries will bring you closer to the information you seek.

Spelling on the Command Line

The fact that Google gathers its spellings from across the Web instead of a dictionary means it can out-spell most email and word-processor spellcheckers. An email spellchecker won't catch that you've just misspelled the name of comedian Dave Shapel (or is it Dave Chapelle?), while Google's spellchecker will catch the error.

While this hack won't replace your standard spellcheckers with Google, the code in this section will show you how to bring the spellchecker a bit closer to your desktop.

The code

This code contacts the Google API and asks for a spelling suggestion for the supplied word or phrase. If you're not already accustomed to using the command line to get things done, this hack probably won't make contacting Google any easier than opening a web browser. But for command-line junkies, it's a quick way to tap the power of Google spelling.

Save the following code as spell.pl, and be sure to replace insert your key with your own Google API key:

#!/usr/local/bin/perl

# spell.pl

# Contact Google for spelling suggestions!

# Usage: perl spell.pl

# Your Google API developer's key.

my $google_key='insert your key';

# Location of the GoogleSearch WSDL file.

my $google_wsdl = "./GoogleSearch.wsdl";

use strict;

# Use the SOAP::Lite Perl module.

use SOAP::Lite;

# Take the query from the command line.

my $query = join(' ',@ARGV) or die "Usage: perl spell.pl \\n";

# Create a new SOAP::Lite instance, feeding it GoogleSearch.wsdl.

my $google_search = SOAP::Lite->service("file:$google_wsdl");

# Query Google.

my $results = $google_search ->

doSpellingSuggestion($google_key, $query);

# No results?

if ($results) {

print $results;

}

This script is similar to any bare-bones Perl script for contacting the Google API, but it uses the doSpellingSuggestion method instead of the standard search method.

Running the code

Run the script from the command line, passing in any word or phrase you want to check, like this:

% perl spell.pl

insert word or phrase

By passing in Dave Shapel, you can see how Google suggests you spell his name:

% perl spell.pl Dave Shapel

Dave Chapelle

If you pass in a correct spelling, the script simply returns no suggestions at all.

You still need to figure out which words are questionable to use this script, but when you need to double-check a name or phrase quickly, you can think of Google as your own personal lexiconographer (or is that lexicographer?).

The TouchGraph Google Browser

Some people are born text crawlers. They can retrieve the mostly text resources of the Internet and browse them happily for hours. The TouchGraph Google Browser is the perfect Google complement for those who appreciate visual displays of information. But others are more visually oriented and find that the flat text results of the Internet leave something to be desired, especially when it comes to search results. The TouchGraph Google Browser was created by Alex Shapiro ( http://www.touchgraph.com/ ).

If you're the type that appreciates visual displays of information, you're bound to like the TouchGraph Google Browser ( http://www.touchgraph.com/TGGoogleBrowser.html ). This Java applet allows you to start with pages that are similar to one URL, and then expand outward to pages that are similar to the first set of pages, on and on, until you have a giant map of nodes (a.k.a. URLs) on your screen.

Note : that you're finding URLs that are similar to another URL, just as you would if you used the related: syntax. You aren't doing a keyword search, and you're not using the link: syntax. You're searching by Google's measure of similarity.

Starting to Browse

You'll need a web browser capable of running Java applets. If Java support in your preferred browser comes in the form of a plug-in, your browser should have the smarts to launch a plug-in locator/downloader and walk you through the installation process.

Start your journey by entering a URL on the TouchGraph home page and clicking the Graph It link. Your browser will launch the TouchGraph Java applet, covering your window with a large mass of linked nodes.

If you're easily entertained like me, you might amuse yourself for a while just by clicking and dragging the nodes around. But there's more to do than that.

Expanding Your View

TouchGraph uses the API to request from Google pages similar to the URL of the node you double-clicked. Not interested in visiting web pages just yet? Want to do some more search visualization? Double-click on one of the nodes. Keep double-clicking at will; when no more pages are available, a green C will appear when you put your mouse over the node (no more than 30 results are available for each node). If you do this often enough, you'll end up with a screen full of nodes with lines denoting their relationship to one another.

Hold your mouse over one of the items in the group of pages. A little box labeled info pops up. Click on that, and a box of information about that particular node appears.

The box of information contains title, snippet, and URLpretty much everything you'd get from a regular search result. Click on the URL in the box to open that URL's web page itself in another browser window. If your browser is set to block pop-up windows, you might need to enable them from the touchgraph.com domain.

Visualization Options

Once you've generated similarity page listings for a few different sites, you'll find yourself with a pretty crowded page. TouchGraph has a few options to change the look of what you're viewing.

For each node, you can show page title, page URL, or point (the first two letters of the title). If you're just browsing page relationships, the title is probably best. However, if you've been working with the applet for a while and have mapped out a plethora of nodes, the point or URL options can save some space. The URL option removes the www and .com from the URL, leaving the other domain suffixes. For example, www.perl.com shows as perl, while www.perl.org shows as perl.org.

Speaking of saving space, there's a zoom slider at the upper right of the applet window. After you've generated several distinct groups of nodes, zooming out allows you to see the different groupings more clearly. However, it becomes difficult to see relationships between the nodes in the different groups.

To customize the display even further, click the Advanced button to see more TouchGraph options. You'll find the option to view the singles: the nodes in a group that have a relationship with only one other node. This option is off by default; check the Show Singles checkbox to turn it on. I find it's better to leave out singles; they crowd the page and make it difficult to establish and explore separate groups of nodes.

The Radius setting specifies how many nodes will be displayed around the node you've clicked. A radius of 1 will show all nodes directly linked to the node you've clicked, a radius of 2 will show all nodes directly linked to the node you've clicked as well as all nodes directly linked to those nodes, and so on. The higher the radius, the more crowded things get. The groupings do, however, tend to settle themselves into nice little discernable clumps. A drop-down menu beside the Radius setting specifies how many search results (i.e., how many connections) are shown. A setting of 10 is, in my experience, optimal.

For a look at all the ways you can customize the TouchGraph Google browser, be sure to check out the Full Instructions page at http://www.touchgraph.com/TGGB_FullInstructions.html .

Making the Most of These Visualizations

Yes, it's cool. Yes, it's unusual. And yes, it's fun dragging those little nodes around. But what exactly is the TouchGraph good for?

TouchGraph does two rather useful things. First, it allows you to see at a glance the similarity relationship between large groups of URLs. You can't do this with several flat results to similar URL queries. Second, if you do some exploring, you can sometimes get a list of companies in the same industry or area. This comes in handy when you're researching a particular industry or topic. It'll take time, though, so keep trying.

Google Zeitgeist - Google Trend

Turning to Google itself for a definition of zeitgeist (define:zeitgeist), there's consensus that it refers to "the spirit of the times." Google Zeitgeist provides a weekly, monthly, and yearly overview of what the Web was interested in. And Google Zeitgeist ( http://www.google.com/press/zeitgeist.html ) is just that: a mirror that the Web (according to Google) holds up to us, providing a snapshot of the week, month, or year that was.

Click the Archive link to choose any year from the Google Zeitgeist Archive and display links for every week, month, and year since January 2001.

It takes only a few moments of visiting Google Zeitgeist before you're itching to go back a little further in time: the week your second child was born, the month during which the Olympics were held, the year you graduated from high school.

Weekly Zeitgeist updates actually started in June 2001, at the same time the monthlies switched from PDF to HTML format. In August 2005, Google stopped listing declining queries and started listing 5 more of the top gaining queries, bringing the total to 15.

Monthly reports provide some information about Google News queries and Google Image Search queries, and you can find monthly reports for countries around the world by clicking the Zeitgeist Around the World link on the front page. Year-end reports provide even more detail with trend graphs.

While Google Zeitgeist's statistics aren't earth-shattering (e.g., searches for iraq more than doubled on March 19, 2003, the date that Operation Iraqi Freedom beganimagine that!), it does provide a snapshot of what the world in aggregate found interesting enough to look up.

See Also

If Google Zeitgeist piques your interest, you might also try the Yahoo! Buzz Index ( http://buzz.yahoo.com ), a similar collection of statistics around popular Yahoo! Searches: the day's top movers (overall and by various Yahoo! categories), most viewed and emailed Yahoo! news items, and a market trendlike chart (click the View Complete Chart... link associated with any of the buzz listings on the front page) of leaders and movers, according to buzz score ( http://help.yahoo.com/help/us/buzz/#buzz-04 ).

Google Trends ( http://www.google.com/trends ) is a new product from the Google Labs that graphs the mentions of words of phrases over time. Type in two words separated by commas to get a quick visual sense of the popularity. For example, "Google, Yahoo" shows you which search engine is mentioned more across time, regions, news stories, and languages.

Google Directory

Does Google spend time building a searchable subject index in addition to a full-text index? No, Google bases its directory on the Open Directory Project data at http://dmoz.org/ . Unlike the results at the standard Google Web Search, the collection of URLs at the Open Directory Project is gathered and maintained by a group of human volunteers rather than automatic algorithms, but Google does add some of its own Googlish magic to it.

Google's Web Search indexes billions of pages, which means it isn't suitable for all searches. When you have a search that you can't narrow downfor example, if you're looking for information on a person about whom you know nothingbillions of pages will get very frustrating very quickly.

One thing you'll notice about the Google Directory is how the annotations and other information vary between categories. This is because the information in the directory is maintained by a small army of thousands of volunteers who are each responsible for one or more categories. For the most part, annotation is pretty good.

But you don't have to limit your searches to the Web. Google also has a searchable subject index, the Google Directory, at http://directory.google.com . Instead of indexing the entirety of billions of pages, the directory describes sites instead, indexing about five million URLs. This makes it a much better search for general topics.

Beside most listings, you'll see a green bar. The green bar is an approximate indicator of the site's PageRank in the Google search engine. (Not every listing in the Google Directory has a corresponding PageRank in the Google web index.) Web sites are listed in the default order of Google PageRank, but you also have the option to list them in alphabetical order.

Search and Browse

If you were interested in looking at sites about child psychology, you might try a search at http://search.google.com with the query child psychology. You would find thousands of sites in the search results, along with news articles about child psychology, college papers about the topic, and even pages that mention the terms child and psychology without relating to the topic. But browsing the Child Psychology category in the Google Directory ( http://directory.google.com/Top/Science/Social_Sciences/Psychology/Child_Psychology/ ) gives you hundreds of links selected by Open Directory volunteers as being relevant to the topic.

There are two different kinds of shoppers, and they illustrate the difference between searching and browsing. Some shoppers know exactly what they're after, and they want to find a store with the item, locate the item, and purchase it as quickly as possible. As with a web search, it helps to know a bit about what you're looking for if this is your style.

Other shoppers want to explore a particular store, see what the store offers, and choose an item if the right one comes along. This style of browsing is suited for people who want to get a larger survey of items in a particular category before they necessarily know what they're looking for.

There are still times when you need to search the directory, and Google has provided a couple ways to accomplish this.

Find The Google Directory

When you're searching on Google's web index, your overwhelming concern is probably how to reduce your list of search results to something manageable. With that in mind, you might start with the narrowest possible search.

That's a reasonable strategy for the web index, but because you have a narrower pool of sites in the Google Directory, you want that search to be more general.

For example, say you were looking for information on author P. G. Wodehouse. A simple search on P. G. Wodehouse in Google's web index gets you over 1,100,000 results, possibly compelling you to immediately narrow your search. But doing the same search in the Google Directory returns only 176 results. You might consider that a manageable number of results, or you might want to carefully narrow your results further.

Because the Google Directory is a far smaller collection of URLs, ideal for more general searching, it does not have the various complicated special syntaxes for searching that the Web Search does. However, there are a couple of special syntaxes that you should know about:

intitle:

Just like the Google web special syntax, intitle: restricts the query word search to the title of a page.

inurl:

inurl: restricts the query word search to the URL of a page.

The Directory is also good for searching for events. A Google web search for Korean War will find over 24 million results, while searching the Google Directory will find just over 138,000. This is a case where you will probably need to narrow your search. Use general words indicating what kind of information you wanttimeline, for example, or archives, or lesson plans. Don't narrow your search with names or locations; that's not the best way to use the Google Directory.

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