Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Using Google Syntax: the Jeopardy technique

Here is a quick bit of Google syntax. A few months ago I was sitting artound with a couple friends, and we asked how many employees do you think Facebook has? One friend turned to Wikipedia, but did not find the answer. I suggested another approach that I have now come to call the Jeopardy Technique. When you have a question to do with facts, where the answer involves numbers, you state the answer to your question minus the bit of information that you do not have. You combine two pieces of syntax to make this work, the quotes ( “ ” ) and the wild card ( * ). In this case we used:

“Facebook has * employees”

Very quickly the answer came up in the snippets of the various search results, I think at the time the result said about 700 employees, but a more recent search shows an article written on April 1st that says “Facebook has almost 800 employees”, while another article from March 11th says “Facebook has nearly 1000 employees”. It is not an exactly clear which is most accurate, but it gives you a general range.

Of course you also get results that don't really apply to your search like “Facebook has helped corporations bolster employee morale ” or “Facebook has postponed its employees’ stock sale”. However if you add a third piece of syntax, the number range ( .. ) you can eliminate most (but not all) of the unwanted answers. The search will now look like this:

“Facebook has *..* employees”

or like this alternately like this:

“Facebook has * 1..1000000 * employees”

If you want only numbers and no additional words you can try this:

“Facebook has 1..1000000 employees”

Here are another couple examples:

-a search for “Jupiter has * moons” gives you a variety of answer including. 'Jupiter has 4 moons”, “Jupiter has four large moons and dozens of small ones” and “Jupiter has 63 moons”.

-A search for “Shakespear wrote *..* plays” provides the answer of 37 plays in the second and third results, while in the fifth result it gives the answer of 39 plays.

-In a search for “there are 1..100 species of penguins”, the vast majority of results state there are 17 species of penguin, one result claims there are 18 species and on 21 speices. For a long time penguin biologist did think there were 17 species of penguin, but more recently many of them have been arguing that one of these species should actually be divided into two separate groups. So 17 and 18 are both answers have truth in them. As for 21 species I am not exactly sure, where that number came from.

This technique works pretty well for finding the answer to questions where the answers are numeric facts. Of course if the answer is not a number this can be done even more easily, since you will need only the quotes and not the wild card. Just write the answer minus the last set of words. For example “the capital of Senegal is” ...Dakar, 'the fastest mammal is” ...The chetah, or “the CEO of Starbucks is” ...Howard Schultz.

Hopefully some of the techniques can come in useful to you. but it is also ment to be an example of how you can combine syntax in interesting ways. It should get you thinking creatively about how to put syntax into action.

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