Google 101 for Journalists: A Review

Think you know all you need to know about Google? I thought I did — but last night I learned I only knew about a fraction of the cool things Google can do.

Jake Parillo, Google’s Midwest Global Communications and Public Affairs Manager, walked us through dozens — if not hundreds — of ways to use Google. Here are some of my notes:

– Google results are ranked by an algorithm, which take a number of factors into account.

– On a search results page, click “+ Show Options” to specify your search results.

– A few cool search tricks: don’t worry about capitalization, put a minus sign in front of terms you want to exclude from results (example: vacations -chicago will show you all vacation results that do not include Chicago), and search for content on a specific site by using site:chicagotribune.com (example: bears site:chicagotribune.com will show you all Bears stories on Chicago Tribune’s Web site). More search tips.

– Google’s search pages will continue to evolve. For example, when you preform certain queries, Facebook and Twitter updates are included in search results.

ADVANCED SEARCH

– Look into Advanced Search when you have time. Here’s where you’ll learn to include certain phrases, exclude others, etc. This is also where you’ll find a list of topic-specific search engines from Google including a U.S. Government search (google.com/unclesam), which will show you results from government sites only. Also check out Google Scholar.

– You can also find sports scores (search a team name during a game for scores), times around the world (“time (city)”), stock quotes (search a stock symbol to get up to get market results), and weather (“weather (city/ZIP)”). Google can also be used as a dictionary (“define (word)”), calculator (1+1), currency converter (“dollar to (currency)”), and a unit converter (“inch to (unit)”). You can also type in your flight (“(airline) (flight #)”) to find out if the flight is on time. Google contains so much data, that you can even search “population of China” and a graph and number will be the first thing to pop up. Click that to enlarge the graph to compare it to another country’s population – or the world’s.

– There are also language tools to translate a Web page. You can find these by using Google’s Chrome browser or downloading the Google toolbar.

HOT TRENDS

– Check out hot trends to find out what people are searching for right now.

– View Hot Topics to check out the larger-picture queries.

GOOGLE INSIGHTS FOR SEARCH

– It’s a tool that allows you to see the interest of a term on the Web over time. You can specify search, location, date range, seasonality and category. You’ll also see where that search term is the most popular. Type in several terms to compare the results against each other. (See: Thanksgiving)

– You have the option to turn on and off news headlines, which help give context to your graph.

ALERTS

– Keep tabs on your beat (or your reputation!) by turning on alerts — from news stories, blogs and more — to get immediate, daily or weekly updates on any search term you’re interested in. (I’d suggest your name and/or your social network handle)

NEWS

– Customize your Google News page by picking and deleting which sections you want — and don’t want to read about. You can specify the news to be just from your location (Detroit, etc.) or you could decide to have the headlines focus on your beat (ex.: health, or more specifically cancer).

– The Google News archive: Google’s constantly working on digitizing offline content; however some of the archived information does come at a price.

READER

– Set up your reader to have all of your favorite blog and site updates sent directly to you in one place.

MAPS

– Jake suggested using maps a number of ways including for before and after photos (referenced the Buffalo plane crash house, Haiti), creating an area map that readers can tag specific locations (ex.: potholes, wildfires, etc.)

– Jake also showed us how you could scroll through a time line of Google Maps satellite images (for example you could go through the building of Chicago’s Trump Tower) — but I forget how he said you can do this. If anyone remembers, please mention it in the comments! He said some of the maps and satellite images available go back to the 1940s.

– Google will soon offer bike directions in Chicago (in addition to walking, driving and public transit)

– If you have GPS on your mobile device you can type in coffee (or anything you’re looking for) and the map will show all of the coffee houses closest to you.

DOCS

– If you’re not a fan of Microsoft products, and don’t use them (like Google), try Google Docs for all of your word-processing, spreadsheet, presentation and form needs. Jake said the Docs are so secure that government agencies rely on them. Another plus is that since you save your documents online, they’re available to you everywhere you log in.

Some last cool tips, tricks:

– Try Google voice and video for free Internet chat

– Call 1-800-GOOG-411 for free search results over the phone

– You can text a query to Google, and it will send you answers

That’s about it! Jake promised to send us materials from the session, so we’ll try to post those too.

In the meantime, check out what folks had to say about the event on Twitter — and flip through photos from the evening.

Did I miss something? Have questions? Leave a comment!

Amanda Maurer is a digital news editor at the Chicago Tribune, who specializes in social media. She blogs at acmaurer.com; you can also follow her on Twitter at @acmaurer.


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