Find the good stuff fast

The Web may be the modern world’s greatest non-natural resource, but it’s not worth much when you can’t find the information you need or the entertainment you want. Of course, you can hit pay dirt pretty often just by running a basic Google search. But as the Web grows larger every day, you can easily sink hours into frustrating failed searches. Refine your searches and get more from the Web by using these handy tips and tools.

Narrow the field

Most searches yield too many results, not too few. To accurately pinpoint what you seek, write a query that looks for a precise target. It might sound complicated, but, in fact, it’s surprisingly easy. One often overlooked way to filter out the flotsam is to use negation. Simply type a minus sign (-) in front of a word or phrase to search for Web pages that don’t include the negated term.

For example, typing

poseidon
into a search engine yields pages devoted to the ancient god of the sea, as well as pages about the popular movies Poseidon and The Poseidon Adventure. A search for
poseidon -movie
keeps the movies out of your results, so you can focus on the Greek god. For more indispensable query tips, see macworld.com/2350.

Locate local businesses

You’ve just moved to a new city, and you need dog food—fast! You used to use the Yellow Pages to find this sort of information. Nowadays, you can use Google to get business listings anywhere in the United States, along with maps and sometimes reviews.

Just run a Google search that includes the city and state or zip code (for example,

dog food mill valley ca
). At the top of your results page, you’ll find a couple of business listings, along with a More Local Results link. Click on this link to get a longer list of results and a map showing where each business is located.

Get an answer

When you’re looking for answers and related info, try Ask.com. For example, if you type

What’s the capital of France?
into its search box, the first entry on the response page answers your question and provides links to more information, including the World Factbook, a page of maps, and more. If you pose the same question on Google, you’ll get your answer, but it’ll be mixed in with a bunch of results involving France and capital markets.

Search the blogosphere

When you want to find out what bloggers are chirping about, try Google Blog Search. Search for a topic (

personal finance
, for example) to get a list of blogs about it. Or search for a person (say,
MC Hammer
) to get a list of blogs by that person, along with sites that mention him or her and sites where she or he has posted.

Links along the left side of the Google Blog Search results page let you narrow your results by date—handy if you’re looking for a particular post by a prolific blogger, or if you’re trying to find a bunch of blogs that commented on a past event. Still not finding what you want? For an alternative blog search, try Technorati.

Take a closer look

Librarians say that more and more people are using Amazon.com to figure out which books they want to borrow before they even hit the library. What gives? It’s Amazon’s Search Inside feature, which lets you browse excerpts and search the full text of many tomes. Not all publishers allow their books to work with this feature, so not all books are searchable; look for the Search Inside logo at the top of a book’s cover image. Google Book Search also lets you search a lot of books.

Home in on the right book

Can’t find the book you want among Amazon’s thousands of offerings? If you’re looking for something on a certain topic, use Amazon’s not-so-obvious categories. From the Amazon home page, choose Books from the Search pop-up menu and type in your term—say,

trucks
. If you don’t see what you want on the page that appears, narrow your search by choosing a subcategory from the now more-specific Search pop-up menu, such as Children’s Books. To the left of your search results, you’ll see even more ways to narrow your search—for example, by age (see “Tame the Amazon”).

More than directions

Want a map that shows you the location of all the parking garages in Manhattan and then lets you compare daily or monthly rates? How about a site that lets you calculate the per-passenger greenhouse-gas emissions created by an airline flight between any two U.S. airports? To find hundreds of maps with integrated information (many also have calculators), head to ProgrammableWeb and click on the Mashups tab. (A mashup is a Web site or Web application that combines content from more than one source.) Click on any of the Top Tags links listed on the right side of the page to find great sites (see “Mighty Maps”). Or if you’re looking for something specific, click on the Search tab and type a term into the search field.

Expand your search

Microsoft’s new search site, Live Search, is a top-notch search engine that generally produces a very useful set of Related Searches links. If you search for

fantasy football
, for example, you get not only ten million sites that mention stats, but also, on the right side of the page, suggestions for related searches, such as Fantasy Football League, Fantasy Football Advice, Fantasy Football Software, and so on. It’s a great way to find more information.

Use your local library

A lot of the great stuff that lives on the Web is kept in places that normal search engines can’t find easily or at all. For specialized databases of newspaper and magazine articles (often including the articles’ full text), academic abstracts, and much more, try your local library’s Web site. Most public libraries let anyone use at least some of their online resources, but in many cases, you’ll need a library-card number to use all of a library’s online materials. For a sense of what you can find on many libraries’ sites, check out the New York Public Library online.

Find old Web pages

When the page you want is no longer live, try the Wayback Machine. Search by URL, and the site gives you links sorted by the date that the Wayback Machine indexed the page. Click on a link to head to the Wayback machine’s cached copy of that page. On the bottom of the Advanced Search page, you’ll find tips for searching the archive, which, at press time, includes about 55 billion Web pages.

[ Sarah Milstein is a coauthor and the editor of Google: The Missing Manual (O’Reilly, 2006). ]

Tame the Amazon: Zero in on the book you’re looking for by using Amazon.com’s not-so-obvious categories. You can access some of the broadest ones through the Search pull-down menu. Narrow the search by adding more categories, or broaden it by removing them.Mighty Maps: Whether you’re looking for a U.S. map of everyone who has the frequently banned book 1984 in their Amazon.com wishlists, or are trying to find a reasonably priced place to park in New York City, ProgrammableWeb helps you search for interesting mashups—Web applications that combine data from different sources.

Increase your search savvy

Here are two ways to customize your browser to fit the way you search.

1. Get Googlepedia If you often find answers on Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia, then you need James Hall’s Googlepedia. Each time you perform a Google search, this free extension for Mozilla Firefox saves you a step by displaying the most closely related Wikipedia article to the right of your regular Google search results.

2. Tailor Your Search Field Whether you frequently search the Internet Movie Database or Ask.com, it’s easy to add more sites to Firefox’s search bar. Just go to the Search Engines page and click on any of the 22 sites listed there to add one. Users of Apple’s Safari can pump up their Google-only search bar by using Robin Hamilton-Pennell’s free add-on AcidSearch.— Scholle Sawyer McFarland

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