WebWorkerDaily is a full of great ideas for improving your life online, and their recent post on better searching with Firefox inspired me to put up my own tips, which were then mentioned by Anne. My goal with PeteSearch is to figure out ways to speed up searching for power users. I want to see the same time-saving tricks of hot-keys and smart previews for searching that modern desktop apps all deliver. Let me know your ideas on improving it, and I’ll see what I can do!
Here’s some more background on the process I’ve developed for searching. As the builders of Deep Thought discovered, the tricky bit is asking the right questions!
Filter out the noise
My process for this usually involves trying different combinations of search terms, and not clicking on any links until most of the summaries below the links look relevant.
Search to find search terms
If you’ve run out of terms to try, and you’re still not getting good results, try going to a more general link that covers the knowledge area you’re looking in, and read up on it, looking out for any words that you might narrow your search.
For example, I was trying to work out how to implement an HTTP request in C++, and using "http sample code c++" brought up a lot of results that didn’t help. I noticed a few of them mention wininet in passing though, and adding that to my search brought me to the AsyncDemo sample code, which was exactly what I needed.
Use specialized search sites
These vary for different areas, you’ll need to find ones for yours, but here’s some examples of ones I use:
CiteSeer – Comprehensive coverage of academic papers about anything imaginable
Google CodeSearch – Searches lots of open-source code, great for finding examples how to use a function
Technorati – Instant blog search, though I’m less keen on their redesign
If you’re a researcher like me, I’d recommend keeping an eye on resourceshelf.com, since it’s a great way of finding specialized sites as they come out.
Skim, skim, skim!
If you’re still stuck with too many results, start picking some at random, and eyeball through them as quickly as you can. Sooner or later you’ll see something that will give you a lead on doing a more focused search, even if it’s not quite the right result. Speed-reading really helps here. Do a Ctrl/Cmd-F in Firefox to find one of the terms (or Shift+Down in PeteSearch to find any of them).
Give something back
If you just completed a really massive, obscure and time-consuming search, share your triumph with the world by putting up a little article linking to what you found, along with a quick description. That way, the next person searching may avoid losing a small chunk of their life to it too! My approach is to add technical notes on my personal site.