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Magazines > Searcher > June 2004
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Vol. 12 No. 6 — June 2004
FEATURE
Google Spawn: The Culture Surrounding Google
by By Paul S. Piper
Librarian, Western Washington University


Just a few years back, the word Google existed as the name of a cartoon character (Barney Google) and possibly among the random phonemes mumbled by toddlers. Today, one would be hard-pressed to find a person who hasn't heard of the search engine that bears this name.

The word Google is a variant on the Googol (10100), a term coined by the 9-year-old nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner, who asked him to think of a name for a very large number (and we think science is rational!). The word Googolplex is the numeral that represents 10googol. And perhaps not oddly, the word Googleplex is also now in play.

According to Whois.net, at the time this article was written there were 1,996 registered URLs with the word Google in them. And this doesn't even begin to count those that misspell Google in creative ways. With the exception of the relatively few that actually belong to the Google company, these URLs belong to other entities.

Within a few short years Google has become the top search engine in the world and has earned the most esteemed privilege in contemporary pop culture — it has become a verb. ("I googled you and found out you were lying to me about your Ph.D. And you have a prison record!"). It is interesting to note that Google is fighting in the courts to keep its name out of the dictionary, much as Xerox fights to keep its name from being used as an equivalent to photocopying. The legal concept in a nutshell: As the name becomes more commonly used, it becomes less of a brand, detracting from its proprietary nature. Google has also spawned products, projects, concepts, and imitations galore. It is safe to say that Google is not just an Internet search engine, but has become something of a phenomenon.

About Google

It is not difficult to find information about Google. A search on Amazon.com reveals a whole gaggle of help books, including Google For Dummies. On the Web, the Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google] offers a good start for research. It has a relatively comprehensive hyperlinked entry detailing the company's history, the famous Google algorithm, legal issues, and other topics, including numerous links to relevant articles and Web sites.

At Google.com itself, Google Labs [http://labs.google.com/] provides a glimpse into what the future of Google might hold. There are some pretty intriguing enhancements here, such as the deskbar, Froogle wireless, the location search, and a voice-activated search.

MarketZone [http://www.marketzone.net/resources-google.php] offers a look at Google from the business marketing perspective. The site emphasizes information useful to companies that wish to exploit Google through such features as AdWords and ranking.

The very wonderful Search Engine Watch e-zine [http://searchenginewatch.com/], authored by Danny Sullivan, features frequent articles on Google. His site has a search screen that returned 876 items on Google the day I searched. For an excellent detailed and sophisticated overview of Google's page rank algorithm, the online article by Ian Rogers of IPR Computing Ltd. [http://www.iprcom.com/papers/pagerank/] cannot be beat.

And finally, another top Web searcher, Greg Notess, has posted an extremely thorough evaluation of Google's strengths, weaknesses, and features at http://notess.com/search/features/google/.

Research Help

While Google is transparently easy to use, it is not always transparently easy to use better. The "Advanced Help" link appears in 8-point font in a menu list to the right of the search box. In the classes I teach, I always ask who has used Google. The response is as expected. However, when I ask how many have ever used the advanced search options, I rarely see any hands in the air. The sites listed here have put together decent guides to exploiting Google's features for more refined and accurate searching.

Google Help is split into several categories. The most relevant for searching are Search Central [http://www.google.com/help/index.html], Basic Search Help [http://www.google.com/help/basics.html], and Advanced Search Help [http://www.google.com/help/refinesearch.html]. While many users may feel no need to stray from the basics, it's different strokes for smarter folks.

The library at Middlebury College, Vermont, hosts a very clean page on how to search Google [http://www.middlebury.edu/lis/lib/
libwebinternet/guides_to_internet_searching/guide-google/]
. The extraordinary Gary Price always supplies useful tips for searching Google [http://www.virtualchase.com/howto/gg_tips.html]. Price discusses issues such as date searching, searching by file type, using wildcard/truncation symbols, and trying specialized and focused Googles, such as Google Uncle Sam and Lawcrawler. Links provide access to supplemental information.

Google Guide [http://www.googleguide.com/] is an interactive tutorial site set up by Nancy Blachman, who co-authored How to Do Everything with Google with Google engineers Fritz Schneider and Eric Fredricksen. It is intuitive and comprehensive.

Google Discussion

It's not enough to use Google; people have to discuss it as well. And there are a lot of aspects to discuss and a lot of people doing the discussing. Google Fan [http://www.googlefan.com/] sports the slogans "We love Google" and "Google Rules" on top of its page. The site features a collection of e-mail, news, and links covering everything Google. Google Blog [http://google-blog.dirson.com/] primarily features well-edited news about all aspects of Google. For instance, the last time I visited I read that Google was offering free AdWords to nonprofits. Google Weblog [http://google.blogspace.com/] is another blog dedicated to Google. These, and other blogs, are a great way to keep up with current developments. Stop in periodically and scan the headlines.

Google Improvements and Enhancements

A plethora of programmers have begun recognizing areas for improving the Google search engine. Some of these improvements are pretty bogus, but others border on great achievements. There seems to be more every day, but some created 6 months ago are already gone. We can only hope these upgrades netted their creators a large check from Google. This list should serve as a good introduction to the possibilities.

FreshGoo [http://www.freshgoo.com/index.php] allows one to search recent additions to Google in increments of today, yesterday, last 7 days, and last 30 days. It feeds your search terms into Google and inserts a "daterange" limiter into the search (e.g., daterange: 2453039-2453039). FreshGoo also offers a stable of other Google enhancements. Google Blaster [http://www.freshgoo.com/google_blaster.php] allows a user to run several searches at once. The interface then returns multiple results displayed using colored tabs at the top of the page.

Soople [http://www.soople.com/soople_int.php], calling itself the "Easy expert search," is a well-organized interface for performing advanced Google searches. The interface clearly details some advanced feature options and provides pop-up windows that describe the options. There are also some useful, value-added components such as "Search in multiple sites at once." By inserting code into the search, Soople allows a user to search several sites representing a particular format/niche. For example, I searched "DHEA" and chose "Men's Magazines" from the pull-down menu. The search is run thus:

dhea (site:menshealth.com | site:
fhmus.com | site:askmen.com | site:stuff
magazine.com | site:mensjournal.com | site:maximonline.com | site:bullz-eye.com | site:esquire.com)

Another option, "Definitions," incorporates Google's tag "define:word" to the search. It's really a clever site and worth checking out.

For another interface, try the Google Ultimate Interface [http://www.faganfinder.com/google.html], which incorporates many of Google's Advanced Search options (domain, page location, language, country, file type, date, etc.) into a GUI interface. It gives the user a cleaner interface than Google's Advanced Search page, yet manages to incorporate most of the important search features.

Google dance tools attempt to address the perhaps over-discussed habit Google has of updating its different server banks at different times, thus yielding varied results depending on which bank is accessed. A search in this interface will allow one to compare results in the three Google server banks — www1, www2, www3 — and see if results differ. Differences are often most notable in keywords that are volatile and topical, such as "Iraq." Watch the Google Dance [http://google.fergusons.dk/] search three server banks simultaneously and display results in parallel vertical columns, making it easy to spot discrepancies. This does not seem to work with phrase searches in quotes, however.

My Google Dance [http://google-dance.miniunternehmen.de/] offers a more varied interface that searches additional Google server banks, including European ones. The site also offers a directory search and one's choice of a vertical (much preferred) or horizontal display.

The E Factory [http://dance.efactory.de] has put together an "everything you always wanted to know about Google Dance" and more page. It provides copious information about other sites as well.

Until recently a part of FreshGoo, Moogle [http://www.researchbuzz.org/archives/001406.shtml] allows a user to search for movie reviews. Reviews are categorized by a pull-down menu which asks, "Do you want a movie slant?" The choices are "No Thanks," "Negative Review," and "Positive Review." For example, a search for a "No Thanks" review of Kill Bill sends out the query "Kill Bill" (review (film | movie)), while a "Negative Review" option sends out the query "Kill Bill" (boring | insipid | worst) (review (film | movie)). These words are somewhat arbitrary and the results mixed at best, but it is an interesting endeavor.

One of the more intriguing advances in Google optimization is the Google Proximity search interface [http://www.staggernation.com/cgi-bin/gaps.cgi] from Staggernation.com. The search interface allows one to enter two words within one to three words of each other, specify or ignore word order, and sort by several parameters, including proximity. Initially skeptical, I found this service really works and is a boon for full-text searching. Its Google API key limits queries to 1,000 per day, though, and by later in the day, this limit is often exceeded. One hopes that Google will incorporate this enhancement in the near future. Staggernation also hosts GARBO [http://www.staggernation.com/garbo/], which allows one to search a URL and find related and linking pages, and GAWSH [http://www.staggernation.com/gawsh/]. GAWSH organizes search results within a site, i.e., sorts by Google's page rank within the hits returned from the site. (If this is still unclear, dump GAWSH — it's not that relevant a product anyway.)

Google Alert [http://www.googlealert.com/] is an invaluable service provided by Gideon Greenspan, a Ph.D. student at Israel's Technion and long-time Macintosh developer. This free service allows one to enter up to five customized searches (the more refined, the better!). You can customize these queries via a Google advanced search interface. Then the service will run the searches every 2 days or let you choose to click for updates. The updates come as e-mail. I have used the service for several months and it works wonderfully.

Boogle [http://www.boogle.com/] is a page that provides a traditional Google search, adorned daily with pictures and interesting quotations, with a link to information about the quotation's author. Why not?

And finally, those of you just itching to search Google via a Flash interface should try
http://www.flash-db.com/Google/.

Google Marketing Strategies

The business sector has not ignored Google, and placement, either through paid placement (which Google was slow to endorse) or relevance, AdWords, and other marketing aspects of Google, has been embraced and exploited.

The Web development company SmartWebby has an online page [http://www.smartwebby.com/website_promotion/google.asp] listing tips and tricks for getting listed in Google quickly and prominently. U-Magazine
[http://www.u-magazine.com/magazine/articles.php?articleid=249] hosts a list that has a little different slant and more details. A much more comprehensive online guide is hosted by Jim Boykin [http://www.internet-advertising-marketing-manual.com/].

Yet another, more-ongoing endeavor is gooGuide [http://www.googuide.com/], with its mission of improving site optimization and AdWords strategies. Jeremy Wilson, who hosts the site, will also send you a free newsletter, the Google Gazette.

Each of these sites offers paid consultation, services, and/or software to enhance Internet/Web marketing, as well as many free offerings. These are just a few of the plethora of Google marketing enhancement sites out there.

With businesses so concerned about ranking on Google, Mark Horrell [http://www.markhorrell.com/tools/pagerank.html] has come up with a program that will do a reasonable job calculating your site's page rank. It does this by modeling the behavior used by Google's pagerank algorithm. There is no cost. Another product that does this, perhaps more intricately, is the Pagerank Calculator [http://www.webworkshop.net/pagerank_ calculator.php3] from Web Workshop. This (also free) product sports an intriguing and complex graphical interface that calculates page-in and page-out data and offers simple and real mode calculations. Simple mode does not calculate orphan pages or dangling links.

While some of the above sites deal with the concept of AdWords and how to enhance marketing using Google AdWords, I feel this concept deserves a bit more detail. AdWords are the mini pop-up ads that appear on the right-hand side of the page when you do a Google search. Ads are mapped to certain keywords, so that a search using those keywords triggers the mapped pop-up ads. For example, if I search "aquarium filters" in Google, in addition to the standard list of returns, I will see numerous small blue ad boxes to the right of the returns selling aquarium supplies. AdWords are economical, since creators pay only when someone clicks on them, and target a captive (or at least interested) audience. Google, of course, hosts information on AdWords [https://adwords.google.com/select/], and this is where one goes to create them.

Google apparently filters some AdWords. Searches for guns, knives, tobacco, liquor, and related materials yield no AdWords. The same is not true for pornography, however, which is freely AdWorded. A more detailed article on this issue appears at WorldNetDaily
[http://www.worldnetdaily.com/
news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=26819]
.

A service directed specifically at AdWords is Cheat Google Adwords [http://www.sitepoint.com/article/1265]. A rather extensive, four-part article by author Derek Vaughan confesses "it's not exactly cheating per se," but a detailed guide to exploiting the AdWords concept.

An innovative and artistic use of AdWords concerns the poet Christopher Bruno, who began creating mini-poems using the AdWords context. Keywords in searches would generate certain poems, which would appear to the right of search results along with "legitimate" ads. The ad-poems were apparently taken off by Google, which claimed that "the content of your ad does not accurately reflect the content of your Web site." While this is not exactly true, since Bruno is a poet and the ads were poetry, it does show that Google monitors AdWords usage. The poems were an interesting idea, however, and yet another way of manipulating Google for fun and profit. More information on this appears at http://www.iterature.com/adwords/.

Google Commercial Sites

This capitalization of Google is worth a mention, but not an in-depth look. Among the 1,996 URLs with the word Google in them, a number represent legitimate businesses attempting to attract viewers and customers by affiliating themselves with the name Google. Lame as this sounds, it is pervasive. Google-Land.com, an online land auction company, is a good example. The word Google in the company name has nothing to do with selling land, nor does it have any connection to the search engine.

Booble [http://booble.com], a search engine for adult sites, has taken a bit of a different tact by playing off the word Google. Although insisting it is a parody site (the home page states, "Booble.com is not affiliated with any other search engines [for starters, we have a sense of humor]"), it is being sued by Google to cease and desist. See SearchEngine Journal [http://www.searchenginejournal.com/index.php?p=222] for more details.

The Goegle Search Engine [http://www.goggle.cc/] is a poor substitute that hopes people will spell the URL wrong. And this hope is probably fulfilled daily. There are hundreds, if not thousands more of these — how shall I put it — parasites.

Google Paranoia

Who's watching Google? Well, Google Watch, that's who. And who, you might ask, is Google Watch? Google Watch [http://www.google-watch.org/] claims to expose how Google's monopoly, algorithms, and privacy policies endanger the privacy of Google users. Daniel Brandt, the man behind Google Watch, fears that Google implants a cookie on your computer every time you search it. This cookie gives your computer a unique identifier (ID). For all your searches, Google records the cookie ID, your Internet IP address, the time and date, your search terms, and your browser configuration. How long this information is kept is anybody's guess. The possibilities of how this information may or may not be used are frightening or conspiracy-freakish, depending on your point of view. Google has the ability to convert IP and ID numbers to actual names and addresses and compile extensive lists of every search performed on your computer. It could provide this information to law enforcement or government agencies. The key is "could." I have to admit it's a bit frightening to think about, and the concept has caught the ear of the Electronic Freedom Foundation.

Google Watch Watch [http://www.google-watch-watch.org/] attempts to discredit Daniel Brandt. Soon there will be a Google Watch Watch Watch, and so it goes.

Are you extraordinarily worried about your searching history? Delete your cookies and history and the usual stuff that any Internet user can do; if you're still worried about all those hidden folders and files entangled in the dark recesses of your hard drive, try Delete Google History [http://www.deletegooglehistory.com]. It claims to do the trick better than anyone else. Teaming up with Evidence Eliminator 5.0, the site's created a product that will reduce your surfing evidence to zilch and keep it there.

Google Bombs

Google Bombs were conceived in April, 2001 as a gag by Adam Mathes. Mathes identified a critical loophole in Google's algorithm. Google considers not only keywords on the page it indexes, but also keywords in the links to that page. For example, if enough people use the word "Costco" to link to a Wal•Mart site, then a search in Google for Costco may result in the first hit being Wal•Mart. To quote John Hiler, who writes in depth about this phenomenon in Microcontent News [http://www.microcontentnews.com/articles/googlebombs.html], "The linker can impact the Google Rank of the linkee." Perhaps the most infamous example of Google bombing is demonstrated by a search for the phrase "miserable failure." The first hit is the official George Bush biography. The underlying logistical mechanism behind Google bombing is Weblogs. Like flash mobs — those seemingly spontaneous groupings of people who do something odd in a public place before quickly dispersing — Google bombing is an efficient way to instantly reach thousands or millions of like-minded people.

The Church of Scientology has also apparently manipulated this loophole by buying large quantities of domains and jamming them with links to each other. See Microcontent News [http://www.microcontentnews.com/articles/googlechurch.html] for more details.

Google Goofs, Games, and Goblins

The Internet has been enormously successful at giving a lot of bored people something to do. The following Web sites show how people have entertained themselves, and countless others, by using Google's search capabilities. I guarantee that you will scratch your head at some of these and ask, "Why?" As in beauty, it seems the rationale is in the mind (or lack thereof) of the programmer.

Random Google Page [http://www.bleb.org/random] has a rather sexist button called "Entertain Me Wench" which, when clicked, combines a series of random words and searches them on Google. This seemingly fairly lame activity can lead to some exotic results. In any case, it is possibly the first site to identify Google's gender. Random Bounce Me [http://random.bounceme.net/] is similar to Random Google Page without the gender specificities. Both of these allow the user/player to choose the number of words generated. Random Google Page offers one to 10, while Random Bounce Me offers one to four. For those of you who doubt that the Web contains some very strange stuff, the random collection "unau ova shat bee" returned a Web page.

Google Duel [http://www.googleduel.com/original.php] calls itself the Original Google Duel, but Google Fight [http://www.googlefight.com/] operates in much the same way. The user enters two terms, say Bart and Homer, which are then searched on Google, and the winner and loser announced. (The more results, the bigger the win.) Google Duel, created by Geoff Peters, has several additional search categories. Google Duel Ultra allows the searcher to choose adjectives to accompany the initial terms. The results then show who won for each adjective. For example, one could search Bart and Homer or the adjectives "creative," "good looking" and "intelligent." There are several canned reports (Pop Culture and Music, High Tech, Food and Drink) with tables of results.

Google Duel for Writers is a fairly interesting offshoot. This search allows one to submit several phrases that essentially say the same thing. The results then tell you how they rank in popularity. I'm not sure how useful something like this is in reality, but the concept is an interesting one. Google Duel has a major drawback; it only allows 1,000 searches a day on Geoff's license key. If you need more, you'll need to get your own Google Developer's Key, which you can do at http://www.google.com/apis/.

Google Fight is the same idea packaged a bit more artfully. In addition to the usual battles, Google Fight highlights Hall of Fame fights, Fights of the Month, The Classics, and Funny Fights. It also offers a French version.

Elgoog [http://www.alltooflat.com/geeky/elgoog/] is a true mirror site of Google, meaning that everything, including the search terms you enter and results, appears backwards. ?yhW ?ton yhW

Googlewhack [http://www.googlewhack.com] was created by Gary Stock, who also coined the word. The premise of this Google game is to find two words that produce only one result on Google. One ponders how much otherwise productive time is spent on endeavors such as this and doubts the pyramids could have been built had this existed. The words have to exist on Dictionary.com, which rules out most foreign words. You cannot use quotes. Examples, stored in the Whack Stack and numbering over 310,000 to date, include "lithographed dieffenbachia" and "hireling xylophones." The site also includes a rather lengthy collection of media write-ups for those of you who doubt activities such as this have true worth.

Googlism [http://www.googlism.com/] tells you what Google "thinks" of people, places, and events. For example, when I searched the name Jeff, a list of phrases parsed from Jeff sites came back. A few of these are: "jeff is your nurse; jeff is 2xtreme•~; jeff is the business manager for motorola computer group's; jeff is here to pump you up." You get the idea. It's free and all for laughs.

Reporting on search engine development since 1998, Research Buzz has a report called "GoogleHacks" [http://www.researchbuzz.org/
archives/cat_google_hacks.shtml]
, which details a number of interesting and unusual Google mutations and hosts the interfaces. For some of these you will need to obtain a Google API key. GoogleJack, the first on a rather extensive list, is based on blackjack. Google's API allows one to see the size of a result's cache (Google caches a maximum of 101K). GoogleJack works with a total of 101 instead of 21. Players choose a word or phrase and search it, then count the cache size. Players can "Hit," do the next search, and add that result count to the cache size. Once finished, Google counts the cache size of the search results. Whoever gets the closest to 101 without going over wins. We're still waiting for this to hit Vegas.

If you believe that the computers at Google have the soul of a poet, then this search is for you. In Google Does Poetry one enters a word or more, specifies the style (Hippie, Beatnik, Shakespeare, Swedish Chef) and hits the Poetize Me! button. I put in "champagne" and "ducks," selected Shakespeare, and got:

Hostel Set chaise Mighty hither Report - Lismore
... slip Champagne Slipcovers Mighty Roman Piggy Report & Champagne-Ardenne Ducks Marshall in
Baby Saucer Paris - Wine, Trip NHL Set Easter
Corporate - and HOTELS Ducks ... Duck — in Mighty Little & sirrah hotels Jerseys, Slipcovers Baby

I'm sure the Bard would be thrilled.

Cookin' With Google is cool. You enter several ingredients into a search box, select General, Vegan/Vegetarian, or World Cuisine, and run a search. I used Salmon, onions, and lemon, chose World Cuisine as my option, and got a mouth-watering list of results.

This site also contains such Google mutations as WumWum (which allows one to search for who links to a URL, screen domains, and produces results in HTML or spreadsheet formats), GooLevel (which allows the searcher to specify the site depth of results), and much, much more.

Errata

Somebody's pet project has created Googlebook.com, which presents one with an small assortment of books featuring the word Google in the title, as in Barney Google.

Googles from Goo [http://www.googles.com/index.html] is a children's portal, featuring products, discussion groups, and the like, all accompanied by gummy-bearish creatures from another planet. Requires a login, oh darn.

Google Detective Agency [http://www.googledetectiveagency.com/] explains, in a rudimentary fashion, how to use Google to dig up personal information on people. The site really only scratches the surface, but it's a starting place.

Cheat Google [http://cheatoogle.com/] searches specifically for cheat codes used in video games, the ones that give unlimited power, lives, or bullets. Search by game and platform. This site also provides a search for game reviews.

Google APIs

Several of the services above were created using Google Web APIs [http://www.google.com/apis/], a Google service that allows Web and software developers access to programming elements of its database. Google provides a developer's kit, a user account on Google, and a license key. The license key is available to anyone, and can prove useful for those exploring the arcane array of Google by-products.

Conclusion

Even if Yahoo!, Microsoft, or some unknown upstart manages within the next few years to unseat the reigning giant of search engines, I doubt any will be able to replace the mystique and the cultural niche that Google has achieved. "More than a search engine, less than a god," as one colleague put it. Google has managed to fascinate everyone from the homeless at your local public library to presidents. Some people mistake it for the Internet. And nearly everyone has their favorite Google story. I just re-searched the Whois database and found that there are now in excess of 2,001 (the limit reported) URLs with the word Google in them. There seems to be no end in site to Google madness, mimicry, or mutation. All we can do is sit back, click, and enjoy it.

 


 

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