Hacking networked reality

google_hacks.gifThe Last Whole Earth Catalog, 1971
I think Google Hacks is an important book. It’s important because our lives are increasingly dependent on the Internet and because the fabric of our networked lives – from the web to wi-fi to mobile phones – is getting richer, more meaningful and more tightly woven. Content, applications and communities are more interconnected than ever and a new layer of interconnection is emerging on top of the infrastructure we’ve taken for granted for most of a decade.

As the usefulness and accessibility of the network climbs, its value to us all is necessarily always at risk – from growing complexity, from the opacity produced by proprietary dead ends and from old-fashioned corporate and political short-sightedness. Google Hacks is a tool. It reminds me of The Whole Earth Catalog, a hippy resource book subtitled ‘Access to Tools’ and inspired by the legendary Buckminster Fuller. The Catalog, first published in 1968 (and edited by Stewart Brand), was all about taking control, making interventions – hacking real life. It was stuffed with the most practical of tools, from composting toilets to the early personal computers; from personal aeroplanes in kit form to really useful pen knives you could build a house with. Google Hacks is a tool for hacking the new, networked reality.

The book contains 100 specific, clearly worked examples of ways to take advantage of Google’s openness (the Google API) to achieve concrete results – some projects are useful, some intriguing and some just playful. I’m no techie (You’ll certainly find better technical reviews elsewhere) and most of these hacks are entirely beyond me but the book has loads of insights into the way Google works for non-techies and plenty of low-tech projects I could try for myself.

Since I can’t pretend to be reviewing this book properly and since you’ll be reading about it everywhere, here’s O’Reilly’s press release for some background information (click ‘more…’)

For Immediate Release
March 5, 2003
For more information, a review copy, cover art, or an interview with the authors, contact:
Kathryn Barrett (707) 827-7094 or kathrynb@oreilly.com

Google Mastery–Straight from the Experts
O’Reilly Releases “Google Hacks”

Sebastopol, CA–The Internet delivers a wealth of information to your fingertips, and all you need to know is how to find it…which is not
always as easy as it sounds. In that enormous, shifting mass of data
that makes up the Web, some information will be useful and credible,
and much of it will miss the mark entirely. Google, with its
deceptively simple search form, is your ultimate research tool–a
search engine that indexes more than 2.4 billion web pages, in more
than 30 languages, conducting more than 150 million searches a day. The
more you know about Google, the more adept you’ll be at zeroing in on
exactly the data you need. You may have a few tricks up your
sleeve–tricks you’ve learned from practice, from sharing ideas with
others, and from plain old trial and error. But if you’ve wanted the
sort of mastery you can only get from the experts, you’ll find new
inspiration (and valuable tools) in “Google Hacks” by Tara Calishain
and Rael Dornfest (O’Reilly, US $24.95).

“Google’s an excellent search engine, and more features are being added
every day,” says coauthor Tara Calishain. “With Google’s API you can
use Google’s huge database of pages in a variety of ways, from the
sublime to the really, really silly. If you want to search online, you
have to know about Google.”

“Google Hacks” is a unique collection of one hundred tips and tools
gathered from expert users of Google, as well as developers who are
excited about Google’s new API. The book offers a variety of
interesting ways for power users to mine the enormous amount of
information that Google has access to. Each hack can be read in just a
few minutes, but can save hours of searching for the right answers.
Readers will learn clever and powerful methods for using the advanced
search interface and the new Google API, including how to build and
modify scripts that can become custom business applications based on
Google. Readers will be amazed, if not amused, by what they can do in
Google, including:

-Use special syntaxes in Google’s search box to filter results
-Explore Google’s special services: The Google Director, Google Images,
Google News, Google Groups, Google Catalogs, Froogle, and other
interesting experiments from Google Labs
-Improve your own web site or weblog by integrating Google applications
-Write information retrieval programs that use the Google Web API in
Java, Perl, PHP, Python, and .NET
-Enjoy unusual games built on top of Google’s huge database
-Gain a clear understanding of how Google looks at your site, and learn
more about Google’s famous PageRank algorithm

“With the largest collection of web documents in the world, Google is a
reflection of the Web,” writes the Google Engineering Team in their
preface to the book. “The hacks in this book are not just about Google,
they are also about unleashing the vast potential of the Web today and
in the years to come. ‘Google Hacks’ is a great resource for search
enthusiasts, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.”

Written by experts for intelligent, advanced users, O’Reilly’s new
Hacks Series have begun to reclaim the term “hacking” for the good
guys. In recent years the term “hacker” has come to be associated with
those nefarious black hats who break into other people’s computers to
snoop, steal information, or disrupt internet traffic. But the term
originally had a much more benign meaning, and you’ll still hear it
used this way whenever developers get together. Our new Hacks Series is
written in the spirit of true hackers–the people who drive

Hacking is “an appropriate application of ingenuity…whether the
result is a quick-and-dirty patchwork job or a carefully crafted work
of art, you have to admire the cleverness that went into it.”
–Eric S. Raymond, “New Hacker’s Dictionary”

Additional Resources:

Complete information about O’Reilly’s new Hacks Series can be found at: http://hacks.oreilly.com/

The article, “How to Become a Hacker,” by Eric S. Raymond may be read in full at: http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/hacks/news/0103_raymond.html

Several sample Google hacks, including “Using Full-Word Wild Cards” and “Scraping Google News,” are available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/googlehks/chapter/index.html

Additional Google Hacks can be found on Tara Calishain’s ResearchBuzz site at: http://www.buzztoolbox.com/google/

For more information about the book, including Table of Contents, index, author bios, and samples, see: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/googlehks/

For a cover graphic in JPEG format, go to: ftp://ftp.ora.com/pub/graphics/book_covers/hi-res/0596004478.jpg

Google Hacks
Tara Calishain and Rael Dornfest
ISBN 0-596-00447-8, 329 pages, $24.95 (US), $38.95 (CAN), 17.50 (UK)

About O’Reilly

O’Reilly & Associates is the premier information source for
leading-edge computer technologies. The company’s books, conferences,
and web sites bring to light the knowledge of technology innovators.
O’Reilly books, known for the animals on their covers, occupy a
treasured place on the shelves of the developers building the next
generation of software. O’Reilly conferences and summits bring alpha
geeks and forward-thinking business leaders together to shape the
revolutionary ideas that spark new industries. From the Internet to
XML, open source, .NET, Java, and web services, O’Reilly puts
technologies on the map. For more information: http://www.oreilly.com

# # #

O’Reilly is a registered trademark of O’Reilly & Associates, Inc. All
other trademarks are property of their respective owners.