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Google just gets me: The magic of boolean search

Have you ever wondered who knows you best?

Have you ever wondered who knows you best? Is it possible that anyone can know what you’re thinking or what you want?

It must be Google! Since the beginning of time (well since 1998 that is), Google captured our attention and became our ‘go-to guy’ when we needed information!

Google or ‘googol’ is a mathematical term for the number represented by the numeral 1 followed by 100 zeros (a really massive number!) This is apt because it encompasses Google’s mission to organise an infinite amount of information on the web.

Search engines help us organise data so that we can find what we’re looking for instantaneously.

Being part of Generation Y, I don’t remember too much of my life without search engines. I remember a brief time of going to the local library with my parents and trying to find information for school projects – spending hours reading through encyclopedias and newspaper clippings. Wow, that was a while back! But once I was in High School, search engines and online encyclopedias were the ultimate source for all project research.

Getting the most out of search engines

Some might say we’ve all become lazy and rely too much on Google. I say, we’re definitely fortunate, but having something like Google, which gives you literally ‘googols’ of information, can be hard to chew on sometimes. To sift through masses of information to find what you’re actually looking for – a task and a half!

The way I use Google and benefit from it has changed somewhat over the past decade. In the past I would type in a question or one word and hope for the best. But these days I use the greatest search tool of all – Boolean magic! Knowing how to make searching easier saves time and ultimately helps result in more valuable and relevant information at a faster pace – to keep up with the world we’re living in.

The term ‘Boolean’ is often encountered when doing searches on the Web. Boolean refers to a system of logical thought developed by the English mathematician and computer pioneer, George Boole.

I find all mathematical inventions magical – but Boolean search is amazing because the majority of people who use this technique don’t even understand the math behind it. Boolean searching helps us find an infinite amount of relevant information and eliminates the excess information that isn’t relevant to the searcher.

Searching for information, the Boolean way

The 4 operators we use are the AND (+), OR   ( | ), NOT (-) and NEAR (~) operators.

If you want to find information with the words ‘Lily’ and ‘How I met your mother’, you would type “Lily” AND “How I met your mother” into the search engine. All articles with both of those terms would appear in the results. This helps when you’re looking to narrow a search by combining both terms.

If you want information that contains either the word ‘dogs’ or ‘cats’, type “dogs” OR “cats”. The articles that come up will either be articles which reference cats, or dogs, or both. This helps broaden your results if you’re looking for excess information on a topic.

The NOT operator is definitely my favourite because you can exclude words you don’t want mentioned in articles. If you’re looking for information about movie franchises, but you want to exclude any mention at all of ‘Twilight’, you can search “movie franchise –twilight”. This is helpful to focus your search and obtain only the results you’re focusing on.

The NEAR operator is helpful when trying to find two words near each other in articles. If I’m looking to find ‘eggs’ within three words of ‘bacon’, I’d write the search like this “egg bacon”~3.

Research done right

The magic of Boolean is that we don’t need to know the math behind it; we just need to know how to use it to our advantage to get the most out of search engines.


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