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Don't dismiss the Google toolbar, especially if you're not aware of hidden features

Note: This blog post is from 2008. Some content may be outdated--though not necessarily. Same with links and subsequent comments from myself or others. Corrections are welcome, in the comments. And I may revise the content as necessary.
Do you use the Google toolbar, and if you have it, do you use it regularly? If you'd dismiss it, are you aware of all its features, including several hidden ones? I use them every day, and, no, the built-in search box in FF and IE 7 doesn't come close. Let me share a few tips with you if you'd missed these.

This entry was prompted by a survey up on a popular site (makeuseof, which I've blogged about before.) The survey asks people what toolbars, if any, they use in their browsers.

In the current voting most say they use none, and some commenters are dismissing them as "wastes of space". I thought that odd, as I use the google toolbar every day. I offered up the following as a comment, and then thought I'd share it here for my readers (have done only a slight bit of editing from my original comment there):

It's a shame to see some call toolbars a waste of space. OK, so many you've lamented them getting auto-installed on an unsuspecting user's computer, or hated when one tries to do that on yours. But not everyone who has one is an idiot.

For instance, I love the google toolbar and have for years. Sure, I realize that FF (and now IE7) offers a search box, but that's not all that the google toolbar does for you. Unfortunately, some of its best jewels are hidden gems, in that you may need to enable them with the "settings".

I use the "site" button every day (type in a search word and click the button to search what Google knows only about the current site). Sure, you can do it yourself with the "site:" keyword in any google search box you may have, but this is much less typing over the course of a day.

Same with doing a google image or froogle/products search, both buttons you can easily add.

There's also the "up" button that's worth adding, which lets you traverse up a site, whereby it removes whatever's at the end of the currently used URL. Often quite handy. Again, all things you could do yourself manually, but one click is nicer, and makes the toolbar very much worth the space to me.

These and a few other things are tips I first shared back in 2003.

Some features don't use any "space" at all, as the toolbar also enables a context menu on each page you visit. You can right-click the whitespace of any page you visit to see (under "page info" in FF2 and IE7):

  • backward links
  • cached snapshot of page
  • similar pages
  • translate page

Again, all these are things you can do without the toolbar as long as you have a quick google search bar of some sort and know the corresponding google keywords (link:, cache:, etc.). But again I use some of these every day, so I love not having to type those--plus some users would learn this way of these valuable Google features: they might not ever think to learn the keywords (or use the "advanced search" at google.com).

If I have one complaint, it's that I don't understand why these last 4 features aren't enabled as toolbar buttons (that can be added, optionally). I'd give up the space occupied by "send to" and "autolink" (though some may love those), and certainly "check" (the spell check) since that's built into FF. Anyone from Google (or others who might know more about this) care to comment?

Anyway, don't dismiss toolbars (and the google toolbar especially) so readily. You may be missing out on more than you know.

Hope that helps someone. (Actually, for some reason I still don't see my comment posted on the makeuseof blog entry. I suppose they may have some verification process. If I don't see it in a couple of hours, I'll post the above there again.)

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While this doesn't related directly to the Google toolbar, I think it's important to clarify something said in the text. The "link:" and "site:" commands do not return everything Google knows about a site. In fact, it may return nothing (even though Google does have stored information on it.) This important to note, for those that that think the "link:" command will show you all backlinks to a site.

The most comprehensive list of backlinks Google provides is via their Webmaster Tools interface, but they still don't show you all backlinks. I've seen people rely on these commands and expected them to be all encompassing--and they're not.

I blogged about this a few weeks ago:

If you read Google's "help" on these commands, you'll notice that the text is vague and (IMO) misleading.
Thanks for that, Dan. I really appreciate your adding that. I wasn't aware of that issue. I've of course noticed that sometimes there was nothing showing up in a "links" search, and I thought that odd.

As for a "site" search, though, your entry doesn't address that. Are you saying that it really also can present limited info? I know sometimes it hides more URLs under the "similar pages" link on the search results page.

Even if somehow the sites search is limited (and even to the degree that Links may be), I'll still hope that some may not have heard about or used them and may benefit, whether from the toolbar or from the entry above. :-)

But yes, it would sure be nice if it was more effective. Since any search engine can find that kind of info (and doesn't need all the power/intelligence that Google adds to normal searching), I wonder if anyone knows of a better alternative for these kind of searches. I certainly wouldn't mind using something else to get the info. It can often be so valuable.
I can't live without the search term buttons that google toolbar gives you. For example, if you search for "charlie arehart", two new buttons appear in the tool bar, one for each search term. When you are looking at a page that you clicked on from the search results, you can click on the "charlie" button to search that page for the text. Very handy.

Charlie, I'm sure you're aware of the above feature, but I figured some of your readers might not know it's there.
Hi Jake, thanks for pointing them out. I had, in fact, mentioned those in the other entry that I pointed to. It's among what I was referring to when I said "These and a few other things are tips I first shared back in 2003", which then had the link. I just didn't want to repeat everything. :-)

But no worries mentioning this specifically. It is indeed a cool feature (interested folks should read the entry for still more, just as valuable 5 years later.)
Following up on Dan's comment, I took a moment to look into how other search engines might help with the "site" and "links" type searches, if Google can't be trusted to really give us all it knows.

I looked first into Yahoo, and sure enough, they offer an alternative. Interestingly, they support both the "site:" and "link:" keywords (and more keywords, discussed at the bottom of http://help.yahoo.co...). Beyond that, they also offer an interesting "site explorer" interface. Check it out: http://siteexplorer.... (in fact, if you do a site: search without any other search terms, it jumps to that automatically.) And if you "authenticate" a site as being yours, it will open up still more useful web analytics for the site and for each page.

The link search does indeed seem to be much more thorough than Google's. I searched my recent google search history and see that one day I did this search:

link:http://www.adobe.com... site:adobe.com

There were 0 records found by Google, which did indeed surprise me. I'd have thought more info would exist on the Adobe site linking to the AcorbatConnect page.

Well, the same search in Yahoo turned up over 1000 pages, and I checked a few results randomly and they do indeed all link to that page. Yikes. And to think I've trusted Google for so long.

As another test, I did a site:carehart.org on both Google and Yahoo. The results: 727 on google, 1231 on yahoo. Interestingly, Yahoo's site explorer also offers a link that lets you change if you mean all subdomains on that domain (in my case, www.carehart.org as well as carehart.org). (Yes, I realize that for SEO reasons I ought to fix things so that request to both domains should resolve to just one. Not been a priority for me.)

Anyway, given the observations, I've switched the search tool (in the top right of Firefox) to do Yahoo by default. That way, I can easily pop the search criteria in if my use of the google toolbar doesn't turn up results I want (it at least still builds the needed keywords based on the page being visited and the action requested).

Hope that may help someone.
Fascinating results, Charlie. I'll be using Yahoo for site searches from now on...unless Google fixes theirs. :)
Another follow-up: I found a discussion about the differences between Google and Yahoo results for the "links" search: http://www.e-consult...

The gist is that Google holds some back as it deems them as being potentially abused by people trying to figure out/manipulate search rankings. OK. Bad apples spoiling the bunch, I guess.

Oh, and I had said that authenticating a site (of your own) in the Yahoo Site Explorer would expose some analytics features, but that's not so. It does let you control some things (like removing sites from the index, etc.) That's not to say Yahoo doesn't offer analytics: it does. Just nothing enabled/reported on it through this interface.
The one feature of the toolbar that gives it a bad name in our office is the form auto-completion - which I think is on by default - that highlights the background of form fields it encounters that it thinks it can fill. I can't count the number of times that I've had a client request that we remove the yellow from their form - usually not even knowing what the toolbar is or understanding that it's not part of the web site :)
Fair point, Kay. It's a shame when installing software has unintended consequences. I'd have thought they'd have made that optional, not just for stylistic but also for privacy reasons (due to even any potential for abuse or misuse). Oh well.

I am going to inform you of an extreme security breach in the Google Toolbar that may be used by them or data thieves.

I do not trust Google as much as I did.

The Google Toolbar has a scan and search and don't forget the data function that has already caused me extreme distress upon discovering what it was doing.

I was at a friends place, and his computer had the Google Toolbar installed. I had brought over some software

on a memory peg for him, I put the memory peg into his computer and transferred the file. I then removed the

memory peg. An hour or so later, I did an internet search for myself and some other data, using good old Google.

You can imagine my surprise, when all my user names and passwords popped up in front of my face.

Apparently the Google Toolbar does a scan of all text files, webpages and other data on your hard drive and

whatever else gets connected to it. The data is there for all to see, if they do a search.

This can be turned off with difficulty but is all ON by default. So, by the time you figure out what is happening,

someone may already have a nice list of ALL your personal data and see pages you have viewed on the internet.

Really good huh?

I think not.

I recommend and advise all NOT to install the Google Toolbar, and if it is in your computer, to remove it immediately.

This is a SEVERE breach of privacy and IMO borders on designed theft of personal information and property.

Do a GOOGLE (I've gone to Alta Vista) search for "Google Toolbar Bad"

You'll see some very good descriptions of this (they all agree with the BAD GOOGLE, HOW DARE THEY, impression I got), written by security experts around the world.

Why have Google done nothing about this yet.

I can only think the worst.

Are they clandestinely reading and storing it all themselves for themselves or Big Gov Brother.

If the cops in Europe and the UK can snoop on your computer without you knowing, who do you think might have taught them.
# Posted By Me | 2/2/09 7:05 AM
Are you selling tin foil hats for us? Got a web site to point us to for them? :-)

More seriously, how about pointing to a web site which verifies and demonstrates in detail these issues? I did the lookup in AltaVista you suggested (I guess you're asserting that Google would somehow have "blocked" that content), but really I saw nothing jumping out.

Sure, people have long complained about Google and the toolbar, as much for the *optional* feature that tracks your visits to let you view them as history, and such. This isn't new news. It may be scary to some and smack of big brother, but to all that I say, "oh brother". To each his own.

Since you don't identify yourself, and you offer no specific references, this really comes across like typical urban legend emails. I could delete it, but won't, as it may help someone to hear the kind of assertions some make, and how I would respond. Others are welcome to share their thoughts, if they may have demonstrable support for his assertion.
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