Mastering the art of Google – straight from the experts

As you know, the Web has a wealth of information at your fingertips, and all you need to know is how to find it. That is not always as easy as it sounds.

It’s common to have hit and miss results from this huge, shifting mass of data that makes up the Web; sometimes it’s useful and credible – and sometimes its way off the mark.

Google is one of my favorite research tools. It indexes more than 2.4 billion Web pages, and conducts about 150 million searches a day.

The key to good information from Google is to know how to zero in on exactly what you need.

A new book entitled “Google Hack: 100 Industrial-Strength Tips and Tricks” is a collection of scripts that you can use to become instantly more effective in your research. Each hack, as the authors call it, can be read in just a few minutes, but can save hours of searching for the right answers, and helps you have fun while doing it.

Rael Dornfest is the co-author of “Google Hacks” and a researcher at the O’Reilly & Associates. He is also program chair of the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, chair of the RSS-DEV Working Group, and developer of Meerkat: An Open Wire Service.

Rael talked to me and passed on advice to make surfing Google much more effective:

Q: You came up with about 100 techniques to extract information from Google. Run through the most popular ones you outlined in your book.

Dornfest: Google returns such intuitive results that it almost knows what you’re looking for. But there are times when you want to alter your query slightly so you can hone your results. There are some really advanced syntaxes that are not documented.

You can do phonebook queries and reverse phonebook queries by putting in a phone number and Google will spit back who the phone number belongs to.

If you know a phrase but you don’t know who said it, you can use “wild cards.” You can play around with word order or repetition.

You can try to narrow down where the sources for your results comes from. For example, if you wanted to hear what individuals, as opposed to news sources, say about the war in Iraq, your query can say you’re only interested in Weblogs.

That’s done with a little bit of social engineering, noticing that most Weblogs have a little button or text at the bottom of the page that says “powered by Blogger” or “powered by Movable Type.” Your query could say “Iraq war powered by Blogger.”

Q: What are Google Web APIs?

Dornfest: Google API is a beta Web program that lets developers easily find and manipulate information on the Web.

Their API – that’s a programmatic interface to their database – that allows your scripts to get access to Google’s database in much the same manner as a human word through the Web interface.

One example is capturing a moment in time. You can use the date range syntax to return results for a particular date in time. There’s even a little Java application that allows you to visualize the results. It actually goes to the Google API, gives data results and shows them in this sort of weird floating format that you can move around in and click on things and zoom in.

“Google Hacks” is written by Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest and is published by O’Reilly & Associates ($24.95). For more information about Rael Dornfest, check out his Weblog called Raelity Bytes at

Dana Greenlee is co-host, producer and engineer of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based radio and Webcast show featuring technology news and interviews.

An excerpt from “Google Hack: 100 Industrial-Strength Tips and Tricks”

Hack # 17 – Consulting the Phonebook

Google makes an excellent phonebook, even to the extent of doing reverse lookups.

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. However, the search offers three different syntaxes, different levels of information provide different results, the syntaxes are finicky, and Google doesn’t provide any documentation.

For the three ways to search its phonebook, type in: “phonebook” to search the entire Google phonebook; “rphonebook” to search residential listings only; and “bphonebook” to search business listings only.


Google’s phonebook requires no more than last name and state to get it started. Casting a wide net for all the Davises in Washington is as simple as: “phonebook:davis wa” or for Washington Starbucks, type: “phonebook:coffee starbucks tacoma.”

Tips: The syntaxes are case-sensitive. Searching for “phonebook:john doe wa” works, while “Phonebook:john doe wa” (notice the capital “P”) doesn’t.
To do a reverse search, just enter the phone number with area code: “phonebook:(253) 627-4853.” Lookups without area code won’t work.