We’re treading for our lives in a sea of data. So, how can we find what what we really need?
It’s there, somewhere. You just have to know how to search for it.
As I started to ponder what to write about for this column, I laughed when I thought that I should just ask the internet. After all, it knows everything, right? All you have to do is ask. I mean, where do you think Alexa (Amazon), Siri (Apple) and other voice assistants get their information? You can just ask them for info if you have one of those devices but they are mostly useful for short answers.
A Google search of the phrase “what should I write about” yielded “about 2,300,000,000 results (0.63 seconds).” The quote marks were not included in the search (I’ll say more about using quotes shortly). The result is a list of links to all the pages Google found that contained the words I asked for, but not necessarily in that order. The words just happen to be somewhere on those web pages. To help you out, Google includes pages that could still be relevant even though they are missing some of the search terms.
If you search for “what should I write about” and include the quote marks, Google will search on just that exact string of words and spaces in that order. That search found only about 592,000. Still a lot, but if you are looking for an exact string of characters, put quotes around it for better results.
I’m not sure what’s more impressive – that it found so many results or that it took less than a second to find them all. It was fast, that’s for sure. It can do this because Google is constantly “crawling” the internet, indexing everything and noting relationships in the data. There’s a lot involved with searches. Search on “how Google searches” for details.
Anyone with experience using a search engine like Google would know that usually it’s only the first page or two of results that provide anything useful. The rest are just matches that Google has determined to be less relevant or are missing some searched terms.
But what a many people don’t know is that Google has a lot of built-in tools to help you find specific information quickly. It already knows where you are and what sites you look at so you don’t always need to type in much detail.
Here are some examples of things Google can do for you. Remember, you do not need to use capital letters on proper names. Go ahead and try them to see what you get. I’ll wait.
Conversions: 58 f in c
This converts 58 degrees Fahrenheit to Celsius.
Translations: hello in french
Distance: miles to eau claire
Remember, it usually already knows your location.
This finds pizza parlors near me.
Product by price and location: chevy pickup $5000 near me
Show me any Chevy pickups for $5,000 near me.
Range: 2010..2015 chevy pickup $5000 near me
This limits the previous search to years 2010 through 2015.
What does rabat mean?
Start a timer: Start timer for 2 min 30 sec
This starts a timer for the countdown you give it.
There are also Boolean operators (named after George Boole). They can get a little crazy and must be used in uppercase but they provide ways to do very detailed searches. Here are a few simple examples.
Let’s use the basic search term from above: chevy pickup $5000 near me
Example of the OR operator: chevy OR Ford pickup $5000 near me
This shows results for just chevy or ford pickups.
Example of the NOT (-) operator: pickup -chevy $5000 near me
This shows any brand but chevy.
Example of grouping (): chevy pickup (red wing OR ellsworth)
This shows chevy pickups in Red Wing or Ellsworth only.
There are many more search tools. Some are fun. Search for “askew” and look at the results page carefully. Does something appear askew? Note that search tools vary on how they search and they may bend the rules a bit, especially when it involves advertisers. Because of this, you might see some other pickups in your searches above no matter how specific you want to be.
So, after all that, what did my search on “what should I write about” find? One of the idea helpers had you pick a numbered item from each of five lists. I ended up with the suggestion to write about a delusional clown with a sky blue toy box in an airplane.
I think I’ll keep searching.