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Keywords: Google, search engines, Java, Perl, PHP

Title: Google Hacks

Editors: Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest

Publisher: O'Reilly

ISBN: 0596004478

Media: Book

Level: All

Verdict: Interesting, useful, well-written

There was a time when Google was just another search engine, a young pretender biting at the heels of Lycos, Yahoo, Excite and all the rest. Hard to imagine, (and younger readers may find this hard to believe), but there was also a time when the Web existed without Google at all. But that was then, and this is now, and now Google is an integral part of the whole web experience, and sites live or die by their page rankings. I'm Googled therefore I am.

Google Hacks, by Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest, promises 100 industrial-strength tips and tools to help us all get the most from the most popular home page in the world. There's good advice here for casual users, researchers, developers and web masters - in other words everybody who is likely to want to use Google in one way or another.

As a regular user - and I admit that Google is my home page too - I was sure that I had well-honed searching skills. Wrong. Some of the hacks listed in the first of eight chapters are worth their weight in gold. Sorting the wheat from the chaff suddenly seems a whole lot easier. The chapter on searching is followed by a chapter on the lesser known Google areas - such as the Google Groups online usenet database, the newish Google News service and more. It's interesting and all, but to be honest not as useful as the set of search hacks.

The third chapter lists a set of Third Party Google Services, and this is where it starts to become more useful for developers. This chapter looks at some of the many applications that have sprung up that take advantage of the Google API. This is followed by a chapter on non-API applications which screen scrape data from searches. The warning don't do this at home applies, though it's interesting to see what people have done and why.

The API proper is introduced in the fifth chapter. By this point all non-developers have skipped a few chapter forward or have gone online to ply their new found search skills. Once the API is introduced it's down to code. The book adopts a fairly agnostic approach, and there is coverage of Perl, Java, PHP, Python, C# and VB .Net, though Perl code is used far more frequently than anything else. The introductory material is followed by a chapter that lists a whole range of different hacks, with most of them coded in Perl. However there's lots of useful ideas here that can be adapted to your language of choice with some hard work and ingenuity.

The seventh chapter is about pranks and games, and to be honest it could have been skipped entirely as far as I'm concerned. The less said the better.

The final chapter looks at Google from a web master viewpoint. Here's where you find discussion of page rankings, key words, improvement strategies and so on. It's interesting stuff, and there's good advice for those people who want to improve their rankings. The '26 Steps to 15k a Day', for example, is a useful set of tips for those who are aiming to procure 15k visitors a day to their sites.

To finish then, this is an engaging, useful and enjoyable read. If you Google seriously then this is for you.

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