TITLE: Google! Search Engine

ACCESS: http://www.google.com

Chances are that you have never heard of the Google! search engine. It is not a major player in the Web search engine game, and most of its promotion has had to rely on word of mouth. Too bad, because Google! offers powerful searching features, a streamline design, and ease of use that make it a valuable research tool.

At first glance, its simple user interface can be misleading. What goes on behind the scenes of this search engine is actually quite sophisticated. Google! is the outcome of three years of research in Web searching at the Stanford University Computer Science Department by its founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Each search looks at "over a billion hyperlinks" on the Web to see who is pointing to whom, with the idea that important Web pages point to other important Web pages. The real beauty of Google!, though, for librarians who teach users how to search the Web, is in its front-end design and searching features.

Less Clutter is Better. The first thing you will notice about Google! is what's not there. No clutter. Unlike Infoseek, Excite, LYCOS, and some of the other major portals, this search engine is lean and clean. There are no unwanted advertisements, teasers, or distracting links, just a simple box for your search query, a couple of buttons, and an option to learn more about Google! and what it can do. That's it.

Google! Searches More Like a Library Database. Like many online library catalogs and periodical indexes, Google! assumes AND between search terms instead of OR. In most other Web search engines, it's the other way around. Google! ignores common words (stopwords) such as "the" and "of," and it does not stem words. If you are search for colon cancer, you will not retrieve pages dealing with colonies or colonels with cancer, that is, unless they in fact mention colon cancer. Google! is not perfect. It does not offer truncation or true Boolean searching, but it does offer some other nice search features.

Just like with any new search engine, you should always read the help screens before diving in. Google! uses some of the same searching techniques you have come to know when using the advanced search modes in AltaVista, LYCOS, and others. Operators such as the double quotation marks (" ") that allow you to search for bound phrases, and the plus sign ("+") and minus sign ("-") that allow you to require and prohibit terms are all here. There is no "advanced search" mode with Google! The single search mode recognizes all of these operators.

Are You Feeling Lucky? Something unique to Google! is the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button. Clicking this automatically takes you to the first Web page returned for your query. Some students and librarians I know swear by it. The librarian and purveyor of critical thinking in me makes me suspect. You be the judge.

Search engines are getting better. Increasingly, students and other library users want to know how to perform exact Web searches, rather than sift through a thousand or so Web pages. Search engines like Google! present an alternative to the major commercial portals that cater to less selective users who search the Internet primarily for recreation. Google!'s focus on the searcher and no-nonsense design make it a useful instructional tool for librarians.

Bryan Sinclair
Public Services Librarian/User Education Coordinator
University of North Carolina at Asheville

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