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<nettime> Review of Google Hacks: 100 Industrial-Strength Tips and Tools
Alan Sondheim on Thu, 12 Jun 2003 11:45:36 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Review of Google Hacks: 100 Industrial-Strength Tips and Tools




Review of Google Hacks: 100 Industrial-Strength Tips and Tools


Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest, O'Reilly, 2003, $24.95, 330 pp.

I've been using Google Hacks for creative work for the past few weeks, and
have found the book of tremendous value. There are of course hegemonic
issues surrounding Google; it's by far the most popular search engine on
the Web. But it's also the only search engine that has released its API,
defined as "'Application Programming Interface,' a doorway for
programmatic access to a particular resource or application, in this case,
the Google index." In other words, the API provides a remarkably supple
method for embedding Google queries in a program (mostly Perl here), which
makes this search engine eminently useful for creative and/or database
work. The book includes a large number of programs taking advantage of the
API; they're also available at the O'Reilly site for downloading. Examples
are given in Java, PHP, Perl, Python, etc.

One difficulty which may be more than minor - many programs use a
SOAP::Lite Perl module. This is easy to download for ActivePerl for
Windows; on one of my linux laptops (running RedHat 7+), it wouldn't
install at all, but downloaded Perl 5.8.0 which didn't help. On another
laptop with a later RedHat, it went in fairly easily.

Once you have the module installed, most of the programs run without any
difficulty. They allow you to do such things as summarize results by
domain, set up automated repeat searches, "Meander Your Google
Neighborhood" and so forth. They also allow any number of search results -
this is changed by increasing the looping which is set for 3 (thirty
results). I did a search for "internet" - returning the domain statistics
- using the first 1000 entries; it only took a minute or two.

As an artist, I tend to see Google as a universal sememe or memory house
that attempts to gather all human knowledge. Some of my recent work
operates "upon" this sememe, locating categories, paths, and convolutions.
The programs in Google Hacks (and their modifications) give the user
tremendous control over these. I will now be using the same to look at the
Google groups archiving. (The book not only covers Google Groups, but the
Directory, Images, News, Catalogs, Labs, and Froogle.)

The last section of the book is written from the "Webmaster Side" of
things and is quite useful for indexing/configuring your own webpages.
And the book as a whole is useful for anyone using search engines in
general - its range extends far beyond "How do I look up X?" - into issues
that, at least for me, bear on the organization and epistemology of
knowledge itself.

I wanted to write this review for a number of reasons. Tara Calishain is
in my Being On Line book, and I've subscribed for a long time to her
ResearchBuzz newsletter. Google itself has allowed me to explore certain
aspects of my textual/literary practice, and has been invaluable for my
interests in both ancient languages (Sumerian, Assyrian for example) and
ecology (behavior of the yellow-headed blackbird for example). I've always
admired the surface simplicity of the site; on the other hand, I'm not
blind to its political economy and the vast areas of the Net that aren't
indexed (as well as those areas indexed "against their will").

But above all, this book oddly reads as a commentary for the searching
many of us do in many ways - and in my case, the artistic and cultural
rewards gained by using it are enormous. I'd suggest for everyone to give
it a try (as well as learning a bit of Perl and programming - although
neither is necessary to use it) - at least check it out through the
O'Reilly site.

A final note - a plug for O'Reilly in general. If you haven't explored
their publications, you're missing what are probably the most intelligent
computer-oriented books around. And oddly enough, they don't tend to go
out of date!

- Alan Sondheim


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