Friday, March 28, 2014

Seriously People - Learn to Search!

Like most of you, I have grown indebted the wealth of information that is available on the World Wide Web. I'll research the inner workings of some new and exciting products, or I'll try to wrestle the last dying gasps out of a service that is on its last legs. I'm constantly finding using the website knowledge bases, but it is challenging using their internal search engines. But the big boys of search technologies find what I need... but also find about 100,000 forum items that I don't care about at the moment.  I am often surprised that many IT pros don't know how to isolate their web searches using a few simple parameters to their search engine queries so that they are only getting what they want. Whether you Bing or Google these days, these two simple tricks can help you find what you are looking for faster.

Tip #1: Get what you want, where you want it!
When researching a problem by typing in an error code or symptom into a search engine, I often get a flood of links to forums. Don't get me wrong - forums are one of the most powerful collaboration techniques on the Internet, and the natural evolution of the older newsgroups. It's just that sometimes, what I really want is a search result that comes straight from the Microsoft knowledge base, the MSDN site, the Cisco web site, or Amazon. Or... sometimes I specifically want to exclude a site that sends a lot of results I don't want. Let's say the search was for exchange 2007 OWA errors and I did a normal search:

You'll notice the results are all over the map on various web sites.
Now we'll try it again with a small addition to the query:

Did you see the difference? I added to the original query the phrase By doing this, the search engine will exclude any results that are not in from the Microsoft knowledge base. If I was researching standard documentation for OWA, I would have added If I was looking for technical books on exchange and OWA, you guessed it, I would have added It's just that easy. And of course, if I don't care what site the content comes from but I just want to exclude the 100,000 hits from MSexchange forums from my results, then I would add:
The minus sign before the site will add the Boolean NOT to my search, keeping me forum free for this lookup.

Tip #2: Look for what you want in the format you want it.
These days, some of the clearest insights on technology are presented in a non-web format, such as PDF or PowerPoint. So, if I'm looking for a walkthrough on a technology, I'll often include the filetype: phrase in my search, as listed below:

So I'm curious about the new features in Windows Server 2008, and I'm willing to bet that more than one someone has created a concise (unlike the corporate web pages) presentation on the subject. Of course, if I want to ensure that I'm not just getting the "yes man" verbiage on the subject, I could combine our two search tips, making it new features "Windows Server 2008" filetype:ppt

But I do this all the time! This is too much typing!
Stop whining! If you do certain advanced searches often, you could also "save" the advanced settings as custom searches in Internet Explorer's search provider. This little gem in the corner lets you create custom searches, that are based upon entering TEST in the search engine and then copying the url to the utility. Guess what? If you type TEST filetype:pdf you will get a search engine that looks for pdfs exclusively on microsoft's site! Well gang, I hope this helps you to speed up all your searches on Microsoft Windows Server, SQL, SharePoint, your Cisco Router or the latest version of Ubuntu!

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