Book Review - The Internet Protocol Journal - Volume 6, Number 2

Google Hacks

Google Hacks: 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools
, by Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest, ISBN 0-596-00447-8, O'Reilly & Associates, 2003, 329 pages.

Hmm, this is a hard one. This is the second go at writing a review—the first one made me sound like a grumpy luddite and I don't want my secret identity to be revealed yet. So, put on some suitable music ("So What" from "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis) and this time, to start with, "just the facts, ma'am" and we'll get back to the grumpiness later.

What we have here are "100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools" for using the Google search engine (or g**gling as we are not allowed to say). All the usual O'Reilly positives about layout and presentation apply so we can take those as read (and the usual negative about murky grey scale illustrations). The tips/tools are gathered into separate sections dealing with searching (surprise!), services, scraping, using the API, games and Web mastering. All the tips have some description, some have code and others have URLs that take you to the code or the service described. And indeed some of these are quite interesting and useful, but, and the grumpiness is starting to creep in again, many of them are really not. Tip #1 for instance—"Setting Preferences." Since when has a brief description of how what you can find on the Google preferences page been "Industrial-strength"? Too many of the tips are like this—simple stuff that you can get from many places on the Web (including Google itself) with little added value. Someone starting out using Google is not going to buy a book called
Google Hacks
because its title is off-putting, and someone who is a regular user of the service is going to know (or not be interested in) most of the content. Why do we need a 300 page paper copy of this information? Much of what is in here could be boiled down into a small, cheap guide just like those O'Reilly have for programming languages, and the rest of the stuff is irrelevant anyway (for instance the TouchGraph browser is fun and interesting, but it isn't really that useful—everyone I know has played with it for 5 minutes and then never returned).

I had better hopes of the API programming material, but it was not to be. I know I am in a tiny minority here, so don't complain, but most of the program examples provided in the book use
. "Hurrah" say you, "Boo" say I—I don't like Perl, never have and never will. Just like celery. I can put up with it, but I won't pick it when I have a choice.

Note, I am not knocking the Google APIs (though they are a bit baroque, and it would be nice to be able to get more than 10 results at time, and...). Being able to call up a search engine from within a program is a good thing, even if you do have to use Web Services (I'm not that keen on them either—are you surprised?). This book certainly tells you how to do that (at least from within Perl) but again you can pick that info up from the Web for free and it doesn't run to more than twenty pages tops. Most of the programming examples may have been fun to write and think up but are about as useful as a flowchart stencil.

Oh, and "Googlewhacking" [1] is not new—people were doing that on AltaVista long (in Internet terms) before Google appeared.

All things considered, I don't see this book being worth $25. If you know how to use Google even a little bit you ought to be able to use it to find all this information without it. And what of the stablemate book
Amazon Hacks
which is due to appear soon? I fear a miracle of padding there.

—Lindsay Marshall, University of Newcastle upon Tyne

[1] Googlewhacking is the art of finding a two-word query that has only one result. The two words may not be enclosed in quotes, and the words must be found in Google's own dictionary (no proper names, made-up words, etc).

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