Thursday, August 25, 2005

Google fills in the blanks

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I couldn't tell you if this search refining feature is new, or just new to me, but it's one well worth adding to your info mining arsenal.

If you want Google to forage for a particular phrase, though can't bring it to mind in its entirety, you can replace the tip-of-the-tongue, missing words with stars and let Google fill in the blanks. This might be a useful way to look up song lyrics, amongst other things. Note that you aren't required to enclose the words in speech marks to instruct Google to search for them in the order they were entered.

Stars are useful for finding quick answers to concise questions too: try entering the text the capital of paraguay is * and you'll be told in no uncertain terms - two million times no less - that the answer you seek is 'Asuncion'. Great for pub quizzes then... if you happen to have a laptop with you, and your local boozer is equipped with WAP, and the other participants are too drunk to notice you furiously bashing away at your keyboard, coincidentally right after each question has been posed.

You could also use stars to quickly assess the general consensus of opinion on any given topic. For instance, if you submitted the text george bush is an * you might be given the impression that Darth Bush isn't exactly dynamite in the popularity stakes - in fact you'd have to click through to page five before you struck upon a positive adjective... and even these ones look conspicuously sarcastic/ironic.

Other Google search modifiers to have escaped my notice until now include:

filetype: (or ext:) - extremely useful for tracking down PDF journal articles or technical manuals e.g. ipod user manual filetype:pdf

allintitle: - limits search results to those containing your specified keywords in the title of the pages e.g. allintitle:charlie and the chocolate factory

allinurl: - limits search results to those containing your specified keywords in the web address e.g. allinurl:extras ricky gervais

Still thirsty for more? Try Google Guide's advanced operators reference page.

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