Nathan Grigg

I miss the old Google plus

I’m feeling a little pressure after Dr. Drang, whose blog I read regularly and benefit from often, linked to my blog. I’ve always written this blog with an eye toward future searchers of the internet, seeking to return the favor for all the unassuming blogs that have helped me stumble to a solution to my technical problems. So the fact that this blog had an average readership of 2.5 (my wife Amy being one of those) has never bothered me. And while I don’t expect a recommendation from Dr. Drang to change things too much (although I would listen to him), I feel special having suddenly gone from anonymity to having a “Gruber number” of 2 (because I was linked to by a blog that has been linked to on Daring Fireball).

From the early days, Google implemented a plus operator in its searches. When you use Google to search, they make pretty liberal use of synonyms. So if you search for “pouring”, Google also returns results for “pour” and “pours” and “poured”. If you search for “tech”, Google will also return results for “technology”. “Russian astronaut” includes pages that mention “cosmonaut”. It use to be that if you wanted to disable this behavior for a specific word, you could put a plus sign in front of it. Now that the plus sign has special (and much less useful) meaning on Google, you can get the same functionality by enclosing a single word in quotes.

But quotes are much harder than a plus sign, because they come in pairs.

My most common use scenario is this: I’m searching for something kind of obscure, and nothing useful shows up in the first page of results. Instead of clicking to the next page, I refine my search. (Honestly, if it isn’t on the first page, why would it be on the second? Or do you plan to do an exhaustive search of the index?) By looking at which words Google shows in bold, you can often tell that the synonym feature is messing with your results, and turning it off will get you what you want.

In the old days, this meant one click, one plus sign, and one press of the return key. Now, it is click, type, back to the mouse for another click, another key press, and finally return. And if I’m using my iPod or iPad? You can guarantee that at least one of those taps will require the use of the magnifying glass.

And just to prove that this is not just academic grumbling, here is one of the several times that I used this today. I used homebrew to install an updated version of imagemagick because the stock version was being dumb. While it was doing its thing, homebrew said something about “pouring” imagemagick. I headed to Google to investigate. You can imagine what results you get if you search for homebrew pouring, but even if you throw mac on to keep things relevant, you get install guides instructing you to “pour yourself a cup of coffee while you wait.” In fact, the if you narrow down your search further with a term like imagemagick, Google, which is still substituting “pour” for “pouring”, just heads to the French corner of the web, where the word “pour” is found in abundance. Some well placed quotes and a shake of my first at Google Plus for stealing my efficiency, and I’m in a much better place.

It turns out that homebrew was downloading a precompiled binary.