In Web Search, Be Efficient in the Terms You Use

By this point in the Internet era, everyone should know how to find information on the Web with a search engine like Google or Bing.
Easy, right? Just type what you are looking for in the little box.
There are even easier ways. Google and Bing have built right into their search boxes tools like calculators, currency converters and dictionaries. They developed a host of tricks you can use to slice through clutter to reach the information you need. In some cases the results appear right away; you don’t need to touch the enter key. Many of the shortcuts work with the Web browsers on smartphones and tablets.
“We really try to make Bing a place where you can go to get stuff done in the real world,” said Stefan Weitz, senior director of Bing, Microsoft’s search engine and chief rival to Google. “People expect search now to actually do a better job connecting them to the ultimate destination.” If you need any additional help, Google also offers online tutorials.
TRAVEL TOOLS A fast way to find driving directions with Google is to type your query directly in the search box, using the following format: from 1380 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA to 815 Boylston Street, Boston. The result is a map along with driving distance, trip time and a link to directions.
If you are planning air travel, you can track fares and be directed to sites for ticket purchases. In the Google search box, type airport codes in the following way: BOS to ABQ. An initial listing of flights appears, along with drop-down calendars to select departure and return dates.
If you click on the “Flights from Boston to Albuquerque” link, you arrive at a more extensive tool for finding flight information, including a lowest fares calculator, available by clicking the small graph-shaped button, or an interactive map, by clicking the balloon button, where you can choose among different departure or destination cities.
Bing’s tool for air travel can be found using the same format of entering airport codes in the search box, and when you drill down further you have choices of buying tickets through sources like Travelocity, Priceline and Expedia.
With either Bing or Google, you can quickly check flight status using the following format: Delta flight status 1512.
Also useful for travelers are language translation tools. In either Bing or Google, use the following format: translate coffee to Turkish. The result, kahve, appears, and if you click the first link you can find tools for translating words into dozens of languages.
Converting currencies is also available by using the following format in either search engine: 100 U.S. dollars in Indian rupees.
In both search engines, to book reservations at restaurants, the search results for a restaurant in a major city will often include a link to OpenTable, a provider of restaurant reservations. (You may need to add a ZIP code or a city name for common names.) The right-hand column might also have other information like reviews and maps.
SOCIAL NETWORKS Both Google and Microsoft have been trying to figure out how best to interact with the trove of information locked away in social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Microsoft has entered into partnerships with Facebook and others allowing Bing users to connect with people who may know something about their search query. You can log into a Facebook account from the Bing home page, and while you search in Bing, a sidebar appears along the right side of the results page that may display Facebook friends who have some relationship to your search.
If your query is “Mexican restaurants in San Antonio,” and you hover over the image of a friend, you may see a Facebook comment or photo of their favorite place for good mole.
Google has its own social networking service, Google Plus, which enables users to share their favorite search results with friends also on the service.
SPECIALIZED SEARCHES Much has changed since the early days of search engines, and given the vastness of data now available online, knowing a few simple yet powerful shortcuts can pinpoint information more relevant to your search.
You can dig through the Web for specific kinds of files, for example PowerPoint files related to the Affordable Care Act. In Google use the format filetype:ppt the affordable care act. (The ppt part of the query is the extension for PowerPoint files.) Other popular extensions are docx, xlsx and pdf, for Word, Excel and PDF files. Bing flips the search format — type the affordable care act filetype:ppt.
Another very useful way to dig for information is to use the prefix site: to search within a site. For example, type Mitt Romney to get links to articles, blog posts and other references to Mitt Romney that appeared in The Washington Post. Bing reverses the format — type Mitt Romney
To save time, in some instances you can preview information in search results. To preview videos without having to click on them, in the results page of Bing hover over the image of a video and in many cases it will play. And in Google you can see previews of Web pages by moving the cursor to the right of a search result and hovering over a small image of double arrows.
FINDING FACTS If you need a calculator, both Google and Bing can calculate some pretty fancy math queries by entering them in the search box, but Google goes further. Type 4 * 24 in Google and the answer appears as you finish typing, and below that emerges an in-browser calculator with scientific functions. You can also turn Google’s search box into a trigonometric graphing calculator; type, for example, cos(x) + cos(y) and a rotating three-dimensional graph is displayed. From there you can size the graph or grab it to view it from different angles.
Converting measurements is easy using the following format in either search engine: pints in a gallon; centimeters in a foot.
Stock prices are available in either Google or Bing by entering a stock symbol — followed by “stock” if there is any ambiguity. For example aapl stock or sbux stock, pulls up prices of Apple or Starbucks. In Google, using a company name works: Whole Foods stock.
Dictionaries are available as well by using the following format: define perspicacity.
Weather forecasts are quickly at hand by entering a ZIP code or city name, in either Google or Bing, as in weather Denver.
Likewise, to find movies playing in your area, all you need is your ZIP code: movies 10018. (Type in an actor or director followed by the word movies to see what else he or she did.)
But, if you are looking for someone to take out to a movie and impress with all your newfound knowledge, there is no search algorithm just yet. For that, you are still on your own.


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