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Google: The Missing Manual, Second Edition 155 155

Graeme Williams writes "In thinking about Google: The Missing Manual, Second Edition it occurred to me that the Google search box is like the Tardis -- there's a lot more inside that little box than you expect. Writing a manual for Google must have felt a little bit like writing a Manual of Everything, and I'm not sure I'm qualified to review Everything. However, I did read the book, and found a lot I didn't know about Google and using it. You will too." Read the rest of Graeme's review.
Google: The Missing Manual, Second Edition
author Sarah Milstein, J.D. Biersdorfer, Matthew MacDonald
pages xv + 446
publisher O'Reilly Media
rating 9
reviewer Graeme Williams
ISBN 0-596-10019-1
summary An excellent overview, although understandably going out of date in real time


Google: The Missing Manual, Second Edition adds two new authors, 151 pages and two chapters, Google Analytics and Gmail, to the first edition. One comment about the authors: Rael Dornfest, one of the two authors of the first edition, is included as an author in the online O'Reilly catalog entry but not in the actual paper book.

The first part of the book presents two related topics: searching and the search box. Because it's cumbersome to distinguish between searching for "blah blah blah" and "blah blah blah" (no quotes), I'll use slashes to delimit the text that goes into the search box: /"blah blah blah"/ versus /blah blah blah/.

The authors mention that a long time ago other search engines had pages that were slow to load, then Google introduced a fast loading search page with almost nothing on it, and partly because of that, it became popular. They single out Yahoo! as having a slow and bloated front page. But now Google has an alternative front page with more content, and Yahoo! has an alternative search page with less content. The comparison wouldn't be fair even if this was a book comparing Google and Yahoo!, and it isn't.

The book covers searching clearly and thoroughly, I'd be flabbergasted if you didn't discover something you didn't know. The book also presents nine other things you can type into the search box, such as /define:syzygy/, or /phonebook:white house washington dc/. You can find a list on the Google Web Search Features page. I think it's great that the authors included this section, although some of the "features" seem more robust than others.

The book explained one thing about searching I should have realized: the order of search terms matters. /red frog/ will give you slightly different results than /frog red/. For that example, the difference is small, but it's greater the more complicated the search. The authors would like more people to use the Search within Results feature: "Google has a great feature for helping you narrow down your results to find the really relevant pages, although almost nobody uses it". Almost nobody uses it because it's not all that useful. All it does is add the new term(s) to the end of your previous search. But to the extent that the order of search terms matters, maybe you want the new search term added to the beginning of the search. Or if you're searching for a phrase, perhaps the additional words should be part of the phrase, inside the quotes.

Here's one hack that's missing from the manual. Instead of enclosing a phrase in quotes, /"to be or not to be"/, you can replace the spaces with periods, /to.be.or.not.to.be/. This example turns out to fail, because Google thinks you're looking for a web site in Belgium, but it works most of the time. As a typing-impaired person I like it because it saves having to find the shift key.

The second part of Google: The Missing Manual is the largest part of the book, and the hardest to categorize. It's almost 200 pages long, and covers all the user features other than GMail and the basic search box. Depending on how you count them, there are over a dozen different services described, including desktop, image, news, and print search, shopping with Froogle, Google Local (which has absorbed maps), Groups, Answers, and the wireless and SMS interfaces. Browser features include searching from the sidebar, address bar, toolbar, Googlebar, buttons and bookmarklets.

When the book was written, the Google Deskbar was a search tool for the web with some useful specialized searches such as UPS and USPS, as well as the data indexed by desktop search. It had a miniviewer which I quite liked for looking at search results without opening a full browser window. The miniviewer has since disappeared, and the deskbar has morphed into the Google Desktop, which can appear either as a deskbar or a sidebar, and in the latter incarnation can be configured with multiple pop-out panes. There are other, less significant changes as well. If you have a Google account, your choices for personalized news are stored in your account, and news alerts is out of beta, and they're stored in your account as well. These changes affect the screenshots in the book more than the explanatory text.

Overall, the material in part two is very useful, even as it goes out of date. Just like other parts of the book, I'm sure you'll learn things you never knew, or have forgotten. During an excellent introduction to Froogle, Google's search-powered shopping service, the book reminded me of Google Catalogs, the service for searching catalogs.

The third part of the book is for webmasters, starting with a good introduction to the legitimate ways to structure your site to improve its ranking, as well as using a robots.txt file to hide some or all of your site from Google's spiders. Google: The Missing Manual also explains the two complementary programs for Google ads: Adsense is the service where Google provides ads for your site; Adwords is the service where you can advertise your site on Google, or on sites that have subscribed to Adsense. Finally, Analytics is a service for tracking visitors to your site. It integrates with Adsense but doesn't require it. At the moment, it's available only by invitation. Obviously, these services are of less general interest than the other parts of the book – you can't put Adwords on your MySpace or MSDN Spaces page.

The fourth part of Google: The Missing Manual describes Gmail. As with other parts of Google, there are new features that just don't appear in the book, like mailing lists or the built-in chat, as well as features that have moved around, like the new button for "Delete". Also, you used to need an invitation to sign up for GMail, but now you can sign up if you have a cell phone that can receive a text message from Google with a code in it.

The book mentions the fact that GMail includes a "standard HTML" mode for older browsers, but implies that this mode has limited functionality. I suspect that Google has improved the interface since the book was written, since I couldn't find any significant difference between the two modes, although the book does mention one difference: the lack of a spell checker in standard HTML.

The book confuses new messages, which Google doesn't keep track of, and unread messages, which are counted and displayed in bold.

The authors acknowledge (p 8) that between the time the book was written and the time it was published, Google will have introduced new services, such as Google Finance or Google Pages, as well as changes in existing services. Since it's not realistic to expect the book to describe the features Google put in yesterday, it might have made sense for the authors to mention when the contents of the book were frozen. It's sort of unfair, but a lot of this book will be ancient history in another year.

Despite the fact that some of the material in the book is out-of-date, I think everyone will find this book useful. When we get into a rut using programs and services in the same old way every time, we need a hard push to explore new features, and Google: The Missing Manual is just the thing to help learn more about Google. If you don't use Google, you should read it to find out all the neat features you're missing out on. If you DO use Google, you should read it to find out all the neat features you're not taking advantage of."


You can purchase Google: The Missing Manual, Second Edition from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Google: The Missing Manual, Second Edition

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  • Scanned? (Score:2, Funny)

    by crazyjeremy (857410) *
    I wonder if Google will scan this in their "Book Search Project" http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/05/15/01 9251 [slashdot.org]
  • by nytes (231372) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @03:17PM (#15353170) Homepage
    Did anyone notice that Google Notebook [google.com] has gone live?
    • OT or not, I have to weigh in on this.

      I am already a fan, mainly because of the "note this" feature it adds next to searches which is huge AFAIC.

      Anyway, I think it rules.
    • If by 'anyone' you mean everyone on slashdot, then yes. (There was an article on Google Notebook and some other new betas a few days ago.)
    • i'm hoping it's going to turn out to be useful (as a college student, I do a lot of internet research as very preliminary work on essays etc, in order to get a feel for a topic or whatnot). i've been messing around with it for the past day or two - here are some preliminary thoughts:

      so far, I really like the ease of adding notes to the notebook (it's nice that it's as simple as hilight and right-click with the firefox extension installed), but there are some things I'd change about the options for actuall
  • Or "How Google Is Helping You To Help Google Rule The World"
  • The requested URL (books/06/05/17/1347228.shtml) was not found.

    If you feel like it, mail the url, and where ya came from to pater@slashdot.org.


    Way to get literal on me Slashdot.
    • The requested URL (books/06/05/17/1347228.shtml) was not found. If you feel like it, mail the url, and where ya came from to pater@slashdot.org. Way to get literal on me Slashdot.

      This happens in rare cases when the article appears on the front page but the page it is linking to hasn't been created yet. I've never seen it take longer than 30 seconds to resolve.

  • Gmail (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DarthChris (960471) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @03:19PM (#15353185)
    The review says the book includes Gmail. Last time I checked (admittedly a few months back) Gmail was still in beta and invite-only. Has this changed?
    • Last time I checked (admittedly a few months back) Gmail was still in beta and invite-only. Has this changed?

      Hmm... no, and I have a couple of invites to sell you. interested?
    • Re:Gmail (Score:3, Funny)

      by east coast (590680)
      Last time I checked (admittedly a few months back) Gmail was still in beta and invite-only.

      Yeah, it's still beta but considering how much things change on google why shouldn't it be included?

      As for the invites? They're a dime a dozen. Infact I have enough invites right now to give 2 mail accounts to every Chinaman.
    • Gmail is still invite only, but they say that is to stop spammers from signing up heaps of accounts.

      You can (providing you've got a mobile phone) get an account without any friends - Google SMS you an invite code.

      https://www.google.com/accounts/SmsMailSignup1 [google.com]
  • by crerwin (971247) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .niwrerc.> on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @03:20PM (#15353194) Homepage
    ...is right here. [everything2.com] You'd think that would have turned up in a Google search, sheesh.
  • TARDIS! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @03:23PM (#15353218) Homepage Journal
    For the dwindling class of people who don't get the ref, the TARDIS [wikipedia.org] is Doctorr Who's time machine, which is bigger inside than it appears from outside. Graeme Williams gets several hundred bonus nerd points.
    • There's a new Dr. Who series going on you know.
    • Re:TARDIS! (Score:2, Funny)

      by Main Gauche (881147)
      "the TARDIS is ... .
      Graeme Williams gets several hundred bonus nerd points."


      Excellent; we're finally narrowing in on that elusive exchange rate:

      several hundred bonus nerd points == 5 Karma Whoring points
    • Re:TARDIS! (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      And you lose several thousand bonus nerd points for not knowing that the character is named 'The Doctor' while the show is titled 'Doctor Who'.

      Unless of course you're referring to the title character of the 1960s American movie "Doctor Who And the Daleks", of course, which might make sense considering that 'Doctor Who' travelled around in the 'Tardis' which wasn't an acronym like TARDIS is.
      • Re:TARDIS! (Score:3, Informative)

        by meringuoid (568297)
        And you lose several thousand bonus nerd points for not knowing that the character is named 'The Doctor' while the show is titled 'Doctor Who'.

        True, but at the end of the show he's usually credited as 'Doctor Who' rather than 'The Doctor'.

        • Re:TARDIS! (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          He was credited as "Doctor Who" up until Peter Davison (the Fifth Doctor) took on the role in the early 1980s at which point it changed to "The Doctor"

          The first season of the new series reverted it to "Doctor Who", however the second series has corrected this.
          • In the middle of this increasingly divergent thread...is it true the BBC plans to introduce a new Doctor every season? Or, another way of putting it -- is there a new actor playing the Doctor in the second series?
            • The second season saw David Tenant replacing Christopher Ecclestone (and, after some concerns in the first episode doing a damn fine job of it). Media over here have been reporting that Ecclestone is signed up for a second season so there won't be any more regenerations for at least another year.
            • Christopher Ecclestone left after only one year; apparently this was planned from the beginning, although when word got out to the media they made a great fuss about it and gave the impression that there'd been some great row.

              David Tennant (cf: Blackpool, Casanova) is the new Doctor, and he's already signed up for another year. Shows no signs of leaving, and is apparently a fan of the show from way back... I imagine we'll get a fair bit of mileage out of the Tenth Doctor.

        • The first Doctor introduced himself as Doctor Who a few times. Mind you, a lot of things that were established in his timeframe were later overruled.
  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @03:25PM (#15353231)
    Here's one hack that's missing from the manual. Instead of enclosing a phrase in quotes, /"to be or not to be"/, you can replace the spaces with periods, /to.be.or.not.to.be/.

    And, if you replace the periods with dashes, behold... IT WORKS TOO!

    Who needs a book on Google eh? just Google it, it's cheaper...
  • by SydShamino (547793) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @03:27PM (#15353245)
    Maybe these are just new to me, but two features I've found and use are how Google interprets searches and provides links to their own database, or directly to the deep-linked page I'm looking for.

    For example, search for "U2 Joshua Tree Discography" and the top hit is for Google's own music CD database, giving me exactly what I wanted in a clean, efficient, fast-loading manner. (I know, this keeps me on their site, seeing their ads longer, but I'm still happy.)

    The second feature is package tracking. Just type in the package number (for example: "736805130363") into the box and search. There is only one link - directly to the FedEx tracking page for the package. Given that I have a Google search box in my browser, this saves typing "fedex.com", waiting for it to load, then finding their own tracker search box.
  • by kusanagi374 (776658) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @03:30PM (#15353279)
    or how they try to use it [dilbert.com] while not doing evil...
  • hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by flynt (248848) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @03:35PM (#15353326)
    Here's one hack that's missing from the manual. Instead of enclosing a phrase in quotes, /"to be or not to be"/, you can replace the spaces with periods, /to.be.or.not.to.be/. This example turns out to fail, because Google thinks you're looking for a web site in Belgium, but it works most of the time. As a typing-impaired person I like it because it saves having to find the shift key.


    Blank stare...
    • Re:hmm (Score:3, Informative)

      by phasm42 (588479)
      Shift key for the enclosing quotes, which are not required when using dots.
      • Maybe it's because I'm not "typing challenged," but I can't fathom how it's easier to replace spaces with dots than to "find the shift key" twice to enclose a phrase in quotes. And for a bonus, demonstrate the "dot-technique" using an example that doesn't even work. Priceless. Maybe the 3rd edition will have a chapter about avoiding the pesky space- and shift-keys, but till then, the reviewer should maybe stick to the Google-stuff that's actually in the book.
        • by zokum (650994)
          It's not the shift key itself that is there problem you clueless idiot, it's the act of pressing down one key while using another. Let's say you had only your right hand, can you not see how this.would.be.easier than "this would be easier". A lot of keyboard layouts have the . right next to space, making it very easy to type, while " is a lot harder to reach on most. If you still don't get this, try imagining you only had 1 hand with 1 finger on it, good luck using " in an easy manner then, and no, sticky k
    • Re:hmm (Score:3, Funny)

      by noidentity (188756)
      "Blank stare..."/I.

      Don't.you.mean."blank.stare"?
      • Don't.you.mean."blank.stare"?

        The whole point was to avoid using the shift key. How did you type the question mark?
        • Yeah, I know. I also used the shift key to type the capital letter and the two quotes. I was hasty and should have let someone else execute the joke better:

          don't.you.mean.blank.stare.

          or.something
    • You can also omit the last quote of a phrase: /"to be or not to be/

  • Useless book (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DerCed (155038) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @03:43PM (#15353394)
    I don't really understand why one should read such a book and why the reviewer rates it so high. The features of google are clearly described on their website and there are hundreds of books about the usage of search engines on the internet.

    Useless?
    • Re:Useless book (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MrNougat (927651)
      I don't really understand why one should read such a book ...

      It's for people who want to read about Google and its uses, not for people who want to use Google.

      A few years ago, between jobs, my wife bought me a "how to get a job" book produced (or at least endorsed) by the people at Monster. Equally useless. I needed to get a job, not read about how to get a job.
    • Useless?

      I tend to think not. When I did my undergraduate degree a mandatory course for all freshmen was a short 2 hour course on finding material at the library, and it helped me immensely. It seems simple enough, but most people I talk to don't know how to carry out basic research on the web. With Google's increasing role as a starting point for research online, I think a simple course on searching with it is equally important. Even obscure words can turn up millions of hits on Google, so knowing how t

    • The features of google are clearly described on their website

      But what if the internet is down? Huh?... oh wait.
    • The features of google are clearly described on their website and there are hundreds of books about the usage of search engines on the internet.

      Specifically, you can find more information on Google Search tips on this page here:

      http://www.google.com/help/features.html [google.com]

  • by MudButt (853616) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @03:45PM (#15353423)
    With a shelf life somewhere between milk and bread, this book would have to be pretty darn cheap for me to buy it.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    this is just sick.
  • by Kaenneth (82978) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @04:09PM (#15353602) Homepage Journal
    My favorite google search is "sqrt(-1)"
  • It's always in the last place you look.
    • When I find something I'm looking for, I keep looking -- sometimes in case I might come across a better result, and sometimes just disprove that silly saying.
  • Punctuation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @04:41PM (#15353842)
    So, with google, how do I search for the difference between the following LaTeX commands:
    \circle
    \circle*

    Google's dropping of all punctuation is quite annoying, and makes some queries impossible, as /LaTeX \circle \circle*/ is the same as /latex circle/, which is completly different.
    • So, with google, how do I search for the difference between the following LaTeX commands:
      \circle
      \circle*

      Google's dropping of all punctuation is quite annoying, and makes some queries impossible, as /LaTeX \circle \circle*/ is the same as /latex circle/, which is completly different.

      Just search for "latex circle" (sans quotes). You'll find plenty of results on the first page that answer your question. You don't need to be that precise.

      • You don't need to be that precise.

        Except that sometimes I do. Checking popularity of two-word versus one hyphenated word constructions is difficult. For example, is the adjective "low income" or "low-income" and who uses which one?
        • That's a pretty niche requirement. And a little contrived, if you ask me.
        • Re:Punctuation (Score:3, Insightful)

          by shreevatsa (845645)
          It would be nice if we could search such things on Google, but
          1. You should be looking up such things in a grammar or style book, anyway.
          2. What more people use is not an indication of what's correct.

          Anyway, the answer to your question is this: When a noun phrase is used to qualify another noun (i.e, used as an adjective), hyphenate it. Thus, you would say "I have a low income", but "Theirs is a low-income family". (Similarly with 'stainless-steel knife', etc.) This rule isn't very rigorously applied these d

        • Well for that example Google Trends will give you useful info: clicky [google.com]

          The answer seems to be the two word, not hyphenated.
    • So, with google, how do I search for the difference between the following LaTeX commands

      Have you tried Koders [koders.com], Codebase [codase.com] or even the OSS Gonzui [sourceforge.net]? Source-code specific search enginers are nothing new. (However, the ones I listed are limited to C and C type languages. And I'd hate to be a STFW troll, but if you spent < 5 minutes at Google looking for, say, "latex source code search engine [google.com]" you might get lucky.)

    • Yes. And in some countries, latex is banned!
  • Gwigle (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ornil (33732) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @05:09PM (#15354081)
    One really cool way to explore the advanced google features is to play The Gwigle game [varten.net]. If you could get through the entire thing in less than a few hours, I'd be really impressed. The last problem is particularly cute.
    • Why buy the book when you can Gwigle?
    • Cool game! Wish I had mod points.

      Got through the puzzles, but I'm disappointed that a few of the questions seemed to have to do more with luck/trivia than actual searching: Unless I missed some clues, the paintings level and the stock ticker level seemed that way. I had never heard of the artist before (had to dig through Wikipedia's entries on art) and I found the company name by pure chance.

      Were you supposed to be able to reverse-Google them from what little info was provided?
      • The painter's name is revealed by searching for "french impressionist painter" - it helps of course to know the general style of the paintings, which cannot be taken for granted.

        The question of the stock price is actually easier: the price displayed is for Friday 4:00 p.m. - that's the closing price, so an appropriate search reveals it quite easily.

        • The stock question was actually easier then that. If you searched for incorporated public nasdaq it was the first result. For people familiar with most google features the whole thing should only take around 20 minutes.
    • Re:Gwigle (Score:3, Funny)

      by Eil (82413)
      Thanks, I was actually supposed to work today...
  • A feature I found a little while ago relates to real estate. Google seems to have (silently) upload many of the US Multiple Listing Service (MLS) databases for residential real estate. Try searching:

    san francisco real estate

    You get an option to "refine your search" - if you use this interactive tool, you can search the MLS database in San Francisco for properties with specific characteristics. Who needs realtor.com anymore?
  • Save $9.25! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Save yourself $9.25 by buying the book here: Google: The Missing Manual, Second Edition [amazon.com]. And if you use the "secret" A9.com discount [amazon.com], you can save an extra 1.57%!
  • then it must use the same principle of Dimensional Transcendentalism which, as any Who fan knows, just means that it's bigger on the inside. However, Tom Baker's Doctor Who once commented that he felt there was something fundamentally wrong with DT, so Google had best be careful.
  • by black_widow (41044) on Wednesday May 17, 2006 @08:38PM (#15355244) Homepage
    if you type in an aircraft's tail number, google shows an airplane icon at the top and shows a link to the faa's aircraft registry

    http://www.google.com/search?num=50&hl=en&lr=&neww indow=1&q=n244cg [google.com]

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