“Just google it …”

Something I’ve only just recently become aware of is that people don’t know the difference between Google and an internet browser. Now this is a spectacular success for Google (the company) and drives their revenues up a lot, but means that users are potentially missing out on a lot in terms of their internet experience so this short note attempts to address that balance, albeit in a very small way!

How did this come about? Well principally because Google introduced an app for the iPhone and other smartphones and tablets called (unsurprisingly) … Google. It presents in a nice easy to use interface a way of searching for information on the internet – that is how Google started after all, which is how they also managed to corner the term for searching the internet – “just google it”. [You don’t hear many people saying – “just bing it”, or “just yahoo! it” – in fact in the case of the latter they just gave up and decided to use the Google search engine and ditch their own one.] So … at a stroke, new users to digital devices thought that the way to connect to the internet was through their “Google” app.

No, no – there is another way that presents you with so many other possibilities and no, no – you don’t have to restrict yourself to using just Google as your search tool. [In an earlier post I described some experiments with using DuckDuckGo and other search engines and I will return to that subject at another time.] So … what might you use?

Well even using Google’s Chrome browser is better than using the Google app on your smartphone or tablet. It probably uses the same software  “under the hood” based on Google’s Open Source Chromium code base but it does offer the possibility of adding extensions, and allowing the use of alternative search engines.

But what else could you use? On my iOS (Apple mobile devices) I tend to use Apple’s Safari browser. On my desktop/laptop I tend to use Chrome, or Firefox (another Open Source project) from the Mozilla Foundation. Then there’s Microsoft’s Edge – supplied with Windows, or Opera (a lean,  clean browsing machine), or I could be really radical and use something like Brave (and I am) which doesn’t track my browsing history … but I’ll leave that for another day, and for another post.

For today, the message is simple … don’t use the Google app as your main internet browser, just use it if you want to for simple searches. Find a browser you like and use that … and maybe even choose which search engine to use, it doesn’t need to be Google – I’m using Chrome with DuckDuckGo as I write this. You won’t regret making a change to your internet browsing/searching experience – believe me!

 

 

 

Alternatives to Google Search

At the last meeting of the Cardiff U3A Computer Group I rather fell flat on my face when comparing the returns provided by three different Search Engines – Google, Bing from Microsoft and DuckDuckGo (a new entrant which is open source) and which doesn’t track, or make available to others, what your browsing/searching history is. In other words it protects your privacy and the search results returned are unbiassed by your previous browsing/searching and it doesn’t return results biassed by what advertisers have paid Google to push themselves up the list!

I have tried using DuckDuckGo in its most basic form for a couple of weeks now with a Safari browser and found it to be reliable, fast and pleasant to use. A rather good article of a week’s trial of using DuckDuckGo in preference to (but alongside) Google can be found here, and I would recommend you read it. Another article which summarises the differences of this search engine to Google can be found here. This page might help you phrase efficient searches using DuckDuckGo. You do have to add it to the browser Chrome, unlike Safari or Firefox where it is provided as an alternative automatically from the Preferences Setting.

Bing is the main competitor to Google Search and is now the search engine used by Yahoo. Essentially, it’s very similar to Google and returns the same sort of results – you might find it useful useful to bookmark this page to help you phrase efficient searches.

So you’re not convinced? That’s OK. At least you ought to know how to construct a good Google search to get the best results. This page from The Guardian is as good as any in giving you sound advice. Essentially it makes the following points:

  1. Be specific, by putting your search term in parentheses “search term”;
  2. Exclude stuff you’re not going to be interested in using the – sign, eg -notthis;
  3. Use OR (|) and AND (+) in a search, and combine them with “search term” and -notthis, as desired to improve the search;
  4. Use qualifiers such as inurl:”search term”, intext:”search term”, or intitle:”searchterm” to search for “search term” in the uRL, the body of text of an article, or the title of an article; and finally
  5. Use * (the wildcard character) to extend searches, eg walk* would return walks, walker, walked, etc.

That’s about it. I could go into using Advanced Search (Google) but I think that’s beyond the scope of this post. For me, if I do some of these things I’m sure the quality of my searches will improve.