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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Google's best-kept secrets: its features

Google continues to be the world's most-used search engine. So you might think that the search engine giant would roll out new features gently, not wanting to upset its massive user base, right? Not quite. Google introduces new features of its search engine with little warning and even less explanation of how to use them. The Instant Preview, Wonder Wheel, Timeline, and Date Ranges features are prime examples. What are they all about? Read on to find out.

Instant Preview
You've probably stumbled upon Google's new Instant Preview feature by accident. The feature consists of thumbnail snapshots of full-length Web pages that appear on the search page itself -to the right of your search results. Although Instant Search is supposed to be activated by clicking the little magnifying glass icon to the right of the title of a search result, clicking anywhere within the search result's descriptive text will turn on the feature as well. Instant Preview thumbnails are supposed to save you time by allowing you to view a tiny version of a website before actually visiting it.    The problem is that the thumbnail previews are sometimes so large that, depending upon your monitor's size, they can somewhat obscure the list of search results, leading to annoyance as much as help. The good news is that you can deactivate Instant Preview temporarily by clicking the magnifying glass icon next to any search result. The bad news is that, currently, there's no way to permanently deactivate Instant Preview.

Wonder Wheel
The Wonder Wheel is another new search tool that Google has said next to nothing about, and because it is hidden under the More Search Tools link in the left-hand sidebar of Google, you may miss it entirely. That's unfortunate because, unlike Instant Previews, this is one tool that's both useful and easy to turn off. In essence, the Wonder Wheel can help you find information related to your original search in a way that you're probably not used to. Click the Wonder Wheel link and you'll see a circle with spokes jutting out from it -similar to a bicycle tyre. Inside the circle is your original search term, and at the end of each spoke is a term related to your search term that others have found useful. Click one of the related terms, and another Wheel appears, with yet more related terms at the end of its spokes. Keep clicking terms, and multiple wheels appear. Note that each time you click a related term or concept at the end of a spoke, search results for that term or concept appear on the right-hand side of your Google page. The power of the wheel is its visual nature: you can use it to activate additional wheels without losing the visual chain that led you to where you ultimately land. By contrast, if you click multiple "related" links under a standard list of search results, you'll soon lose track of where you started

Google's little-known Timeline feature is one that you'll probably
turn to often -once you know how to access it. Timeline does what its name implies: it provides you with a chronological timeline of important events related to a search term. You'll find the Timeline link again hidden under the More Search Tools link in the left-hand sidebar, which appears after you enter a search term and click Search.
Try out Timeline on a search phrase such as "korean war!' You'll quickly see that Timeline provides you with a short history lesson, with key dates, synopses of events, and sources provided in a tidy list. A "Related web pages" following each synopsis gives you the opportunity to further explore a particular date or event.

Date Ranges
When people search the Internet, they're often looking for recent information. Yet search engines have traditionally made it tough to sort out the latest information from the rest.
Thankfully, Google has now moved its date range feature to the front page. To access it, type a search term, and from the left-hand sidebar, click either Latest or Past Month. When you do, you'll see additional links that allow you to narrow your search results even further. Click Custom Range, and you can specify a custom date range to get just the results you want. 

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