Google 101: data mining and superior search skills

Search engines provide answers. Savvy search engine users can find better answers more quickly. Journalists are professional information seekers, therefore we need to be search engine savvy.

To help us in this quest, Madison Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) hosted Google 101 for Journalists tonight. Google’s Midwest Manager of Global Communications and Public Affairs Jake Parrillo, took us from basics to brainiac in using the massive pool of data his company compiles.

These are the top 10 tools and tips I won’t forget and am itching to use:

  1. Negative operators are an easy way to make searches more effective. For instance, to search for gates but exclude stories about Bill Gates, type: gates -bill.
  2. When sharing or embedding a video, you can make it start at whatever point in the video you’d like. Just use #t=_m_s (e.g. #t=2m35s); paste it into code or at the end of the URL.
  3. Public Data Explorer. Of all the Google 101 moments, this drew forth the largest gasp from Madison’s gathering of journalists tonight. Public Data Explorer is Google’s way of sharing immense amounts of government data, and pre-formatting it for your graphics-making pleasure. The data is always attributed and when you are ready to share your graph, it is easily linked or embedded into code. The questions you can investigate with this tool are endless. A quick example: Does gender influence the probability of being unemployed? Well:
  4. Use Google Image‘s “Similar” option to find exactly what you want:   Also, check out the color palette search options, further down on the left side of your image query. Special tip for journalists: Advanced Image Search helps you find material that is legally reusable. Look for the “Usage Rights” section.
  5. If you’re pondering a particular word, type define:[insert word] and Google spits out a definition.
  6. Did you see my Google Zeitgeist post? Google Insights For Search is Zeitgeist’s more customizable cousin. Instead of government data (like Public Data Explorer), you mine people’s Google searches. This lends incredible power to take the pulse of countries, states or cities on any number of topics. For instance, want to know how American purchasing habits changed in the recession? Perhaps the popularity of searching for “coupons” gives a clue:
  7. Google News Alerts. Maybe you already use these to keep abreast of your favorite topics. If not, basically Google will be your unpaid intern, delivering topical information you want, when you want it. (Jake suggested setting up a “vanity alert,” so that you get the low down on…yourself. Other people are googling you, know what’s out there.)
  8. Capitalization NEVER matters in searches.
  9. Ever wonder exactly what Google knows about you? You can find out and control that information using Google Dashboard.
  10. Google orchestrates how massive amounts of information is stored and shared. Sometimes that information is very sensitive and becomes contentious for governments, organizations and/or individuals. To see Google’s track record on how they deal with content removal requests and more, view their interactive transparency report.

Question for you: What is your favorite Google tip or tool?

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4 thoughts on “Google 101: data mining and superior search skills

  1. Pingback: Exploring Google+ « Smokebear

  2. Pingback: SPJ Madison Pro Chapter Hosts Google 101 for Journalists | SPJ Madison

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