Google Hacks 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tricks
Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest
O'Reilly & Associates
"Google Hacks" by Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest from O'Reilly is useful, fun and, in parts, bemusing. The book presents one hundred numbered "hacks" that range from simple, but very useful tips, to moderately ambitious programming efforts.
The great strength of this book is that it has something for everyone. The first few chapters are perfect for those who have no knowledge of programming. The bulk of "Google Hacks" is appropriate for those who have at least some programming experience and are interested in accessing Google programatically. There are many examples scattered throughout that will be of interest to webmasters who want something cool for their website. The final chapter, "The Webmaster Side of Google", is a twenty-page guide to increasing the number of hits Google users will get to your own site.
Particularly appealing is the fact that, although most of the programmatic hacks are in Perl, there are examples in no fewer than nine languages. Html, java, php, python, C#, .NET, VB, asp, and possibly other languages, are represented.
Many of the simple tips presented early in the book illuminate useful methods that Google.com itself should do a better job of promoting. Google's special syntaxes are a prime example. Want to find John Doe in Mira Mesa? Enter "rphonebook: John Doe 92126" in google's text box. The rphonebook: tells google to look in the residential phone book. 92126 is the zip code for Mira Mesa. The site syntax is very useful. To quickly find the mirror sites for redhat, use "site:redhat.com mirrors". There are many more special syntaxes that use the colon character
Some of the hacks are for amusement only. One must be in the right mood to properly appreciate the "Google Mirror" hack (#91) or the "The No-Result Search" (#86).
The neighborhood hack (#65) may be the most ambitious in the book. It consists of about five pages of Python code. It collects all the sites that link to a given site, then within the collection determines how many times each site is referred to by one of the others. The hack was written by Mark Pilgrim, who has also published a free Python book. You can try the hack yourself at diveintomark.org, where you'll also find a link to Mark's excellent book.
How quickly will "Google Hacks" become dated? Certainly the web itself is growing exponentially. There can be no doubt that Google will change and grow as well. However, I suspect that the majority of principles exposited will continue to work and be relevant for years to come.
"Google Hacks" came out in February 2003; it is early July as I write this review. Given the length of the publishing pipeline and the rate at which things change on the web, I expected significant portions of the book to be out of date. This was not the case. I only found a couple of urls that had changed as well as a single typographical error. The folks at O'Reilly must have gone over the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb!
Acknowledgment: The review copy of the book was donated by O'Reilly to the Kernel Panic Linux Users Group.
Rating: Four Penguins out of five.