In the early days of the Internet, the job of a search engine was to take you someplace else, usually to the Web site that had whatever information you were looking for.
Increasingly, though, search engines are themselves becoming a source of information, giving direct answers to questions without making you click over to a Web site.
Here’s a list of 10 things that you can do on your search engine besides simple searching :-
- Dictionary : In this, the age of emoticons and “OMGs”, it may be news to people that there are still such a thing as dictionaries. But not only do they still exist, they are no further away than your browser, ready to help with definitions and spellings. When you’re confused about a word, just type, for instance, “define perspicacious,” ( It means having keen mental perception and understanding; discerning ) though you surely already knew what that word meant on account of your great perspicacity.
- Calculator : There is no need to open up a spreadsheet or pull out a pocket calculator to do simple–or even complex–arithmetic. Search engines will do it for you. They not only do simple expressions like “139 * 252” but they can also handle nested terms, exponents and more. Be careful with your parentheses, since “(5+5)/3” is very different from “5+(5/3)”.
- Travel Adviser : You don’t need to navigate your way through an airline’s Web site just to find out of a flight is arriving on time. Just type in the airline and the flight number into the search bar.
- Currency Converter : It’s easy to use your browser to find out how far a dollar will go this summer in Europe. Type “1,000 euros in dollars” and the search engine will do the conversion for you, at whatever the trading level happens to be at the time. Search engines handle some abbreviations, too; you can use “USD” for “U.S. dollars” or GBP for “Great Britain pounds”.
- Savant : Search engines don’t “understand” language the same way people do. But on account of the tricks and short-cuts that programmers have built into them, they sometimes act as though they can. Often, if you have a free-form question, like “What were the causes of the U.S. civil war” or “How long is the Mississippi River?,” you can get surprisingly effective results by typing the whole question into the search bar. At a minimum, you’ll usually get the relevant Wikipedia page; often, you’ll get something more specialized.
- Help Desk : It always helps to have a tech-savvy friend or relative standing by when your computer does something it isn’t supposed to. In their absence, try your search engine. For example, if you get an error message you’ve never seen before, type in the name of the program and the exact wording of the message. Chances are good you’ll come across someone who had been down the same path but who had figured a way back home. Here’s one help desk hint: An easy way to speed up searching is to use the “Preferences” option at search engines to change the number of results you see in a single screen. The default is usually 10; switching to 100 lets you zoom through results nearly 10 times more quickly.
- Specialized Search Engine : Everyone knows that search engines crawl the Web in search of information. But did you know that you can also get them to limit their search to a specific Web site? If you want to know what folks at MIT are saying about Albert Einstein, type “site:mit.edu Einstein” and you’ll get tailored results.
- Yellow Pages : The combination of search engines and mapping programs will usually tell you everything you’d need to know about the stores and services available in your neighborhood. Type in your ZIP code and what you’re looking for–car repair, dry cleaning, Chinese food–and you’ll quickly see who is nearby, often accompanied by phone numbers and Web links.
- Caller ID : New area codes are proliferating, making it harder than it ever was to know where someone is calling from. When you see an unfamiliar area code, type it in, as in “area code 323” and learn the territory with which it’s associated. In this case, it’s Los Angeles.
- Librarian : True to their origins, search engines will by default give you information they have gleaned in crawling through Web pages. But there are other buckets of information you search through, offering vastly different results. Near the top of every search engine, you will see a menu with choices like “Web” or “News” or “Images.” With “Obama,” for instance, a search through the Web will take you to the page from last year’s presidential campaign, while the same search through “News” will give you up-to-the minute headlines.