Google Fu Steckerhalter's ƛ

In years of googling have learned a few things. Most importantly:

Most people don’t know how to google efficiently

And this makes all the difference today, whether you are trying to learn, fix a problem, find a new job, flat or car. Good googling helps you in your job, it helps you with your hobby, your research, your studies - in short: everywhere.

Google is the best and the worst

When it comes to online search, Google is the best search engine by far. But Google is tracking you. And your search terms can reveal almost every detail about yourself. Together with your mail (Gmail), Youtube (belongs to Google) and other services it is possible to get all kinds of private information about you - let alone if you also use Google Chrome as your web browser. You don’t want that, trust me. It is fine as long as no one abuses your personal data, but when Google gets hacked or your data gets into the wrong hands, you will have a big problem.

Searx – use Google but do not use Google

The best way to avoid being tracked by Google while still using Google is to use a metasearch engine like Searx:

Search without being tracked

Searx is open source software and many people host a Searx instance. You can choose an instance for youself from the list of available instances:

Now customize Searx:

1. Turn off inferior search engines

Go to the instance of your choice and under preferences disable all search engines except google, wikidata and wikipedia: that’s it.

2. Install as browser search engine

To add your Searx to Firefox go to about on your Searx instance and click on install below the title How to add to firefox?

Why do I only mention Firefox?

Because you should use Mozilla Firefox instead of Google Chrome or Microsoft Internet Explorer/Edge or Apple Safari. Microsoft, Google and Apple develop their browser mainly to hook you up with their other services or products. This is like someone giving you a hockey stick for free, knowing that you will probably later also buy hockey shoes and other equipment from them.

Google, Apple or Microsoft want to make you depend on them IT-wise, and not only you, but also your family and friends etc. This is a serious conflict of interest which is good for them and for their profit, but bad for your freedom and privacy.

Mozilla is a non-profit organization and they develop Firefox not as a means to something else. Mozilla doesn’t want to sell you other hockey equipment or try to make your whole team depend on Mozilla. They make the hockey stick for you so you can play well, that’s it.

There is a battle going on for your digital life. Don’t let them take over your digital life too easily.

Infinite scroll

One of the coolest features of Searx you can enable in the preferences under plugins: activate infinite scroll which will:

Automatically load next page when scrolling to bottom of current page

Not even Google gives you that feature. Don’t forget to save your settings after having configured everything.

How a search engine works

To be able to search efficiently it is helpful to know how a search engine works. Why do some websites appear first when you google something? It is because these websites have a high ranking in the search engine index (e.g. the Google index). This ranking is based on many factors, but mostly on how many times a certain page is being linked to all over the internet by other pages.

So for example if Google has indexed 100’000 sites that all link to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Jackson then this page will have a high ranking and will appear as one of the first results if you search for “michael jackson”.

If those 100’000 sites are all highly ranked themselves, the ranking will be even higher than if they have a low ranking.

This means that when you search for something, it doesn’t necessarily give you the best results, but the results that have the most links all over the internet. This usually means that the results are relevant because if people often link to a certain page it is usually good content.

But it also means that you will almost not be able to find content that may be just as good but people have not discovered yet or just didn’t link to. And in the age of big internet business, some companies use shady tricks to get a high ranking for their crap-sites.

Google search tweaks

Omitted search terms

One annoying thing that Google introduced a while ago is that it will display search results with some of the search terms omitted in some cases.

If you think the results are worse than expected, enclose the terms in double quotes, so instead of:

foobar generate code

write:

"foobar" generate code

In this example foobar will not be omitted in any case by Google.

“site:” parameter

site: lets you restrict your search to a certain site. I often use this for country specific searches. For example:

foobar site:ch

will only search websites for foobar that have a .ch ending. If you want to limit your search to Wikipedia content you can use:

foobar site:wikipedia.org

Sometimes it’s helpful to find related pages, especially if you are struggling to find alternatives for a certain service.

Let’s take Trello for example. It is an online service to organize and prioritize your projects. To find alternatives you can search like that:

related:trello.com

This will give you results for websites that are related or similar to what Trello provides.

Emacs Google Interface

For those of you that use Emacs I have written a search interface that uses Helm which is quite convenient IMO. It uses Google directly, parses the results and displays them in a list to choose from:

Searching is quicker like that than via browser. So if you are interested, check out helm-google!