20 September 2014

Tip of the Week! Searching on URLs

I search on URLs all the time.  In other words, I will enter a URL into Google's search box at http://www.google.com and click on the "search" button.  Google will treat the URL as a "search term" and look for instances of it rather than take you to the site.

Is this something you do too?  If you don't, here are a few reasons for giving it a go.

1. Safety:

- I've mentioned before that I tend to quite safety-conscious when searching online. When you search on a URL, you can often learn whether or not it is part of a site that has been compromised in some way, as described in this earlier tip.
- You can also learn whether or not a site has changed hands without actually visiting the site.  This happened recently with http://frlan.tumblr.com, which used to be the URL for the Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Newsletter.  Now it directs you to the site for International Thornes Bank!
- Another example: I was trying to determine if the Forced Migration Research Hub still has a presence online.  Its Twitter feed hasn't been updated since Nov. 2012, so rather than go directly to its site at http://formhub.net/, I searched on it.  The snippets in the search results indicate the site at that URL now focuses on mobile data collection.

2.  Identification:

This previous tip discussed "link expanders" that will identify the actual URL that a tiny URL directs you to. However, these services don't work for the perpetual URLs and permalinks that are often used in universities' institutional repositories.  For example, I recently referenced this dissertation on my blog: Asylum Seekers and Australian Politics, 1996-2007. The URL for it is http://hdl.handle.net/2440/84730, which isn't very informative. But what if you want to know precisely where that URL will lead you?  Search on it and you'll learn the dissertation resides in the University of Adelaide's digital library.

3. Google's cache:

The cache is a record of what a site or document looked like at the time it was indexed by Google. You can access the cached version of something by clicking on the upside-down green triangle that is displayed to the right of a URL in Google's search results. Why is this useful?  First, viewing the cached versions of PDF, Word, Excel or Powerpoint files is a quick way to determine whether or not a document is worth opening up, because you don't have to actually a) launch an application to view the text, or b) download the document onto your computer before you can view it.  Also, the cache will allow you to retrieve information from a site or a document that is temporarily inaccessible or has recently disappeared. (Note the emphasis on recently!  The cache is only a short-term backup solution.)

- You are looking for the most recent edition of IDMC's Global Estimates report. Type in >>global estimates 2014<<.  Notice in the search results that ReliefWeb has a PDF copy. Click on the green upside-down triangle, and select "cached." The text will be displayed very quickly because the graphics and special fonts, etc. are removed. (For this reason, sometimes you have to scroll down a bit to see the text.)
- On some sites, when you click on a link to view a PDF, the "save as" box opens up, meaning that you have to download a document in order to view it.  Here's an example: This page includes a link to ECRE's Information Note on Syrians Seeking Protection in Europe. If you want to view the document before downloading it, simply copy the URL (http://www.ecre.org/component/downloads/downloads/824.html), search on it in Google, and then view the cached version.
- I recently came across a presentation I wanted to look at.  However, it is in Powerpoint, and I don't have that application on my computer.  So I searched on the URL and viewed the cache of the .ppt file instead.
- I don't have a specific example of a recently disappeared document to share.  But the next time you click on a link that leads nowhere, try searching on the URL to see if a cached version is still available.

[Image credit: Wikipedia]

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