Search can be a time-consuming business.
It’s therefore often a good idea to refine your search to those parts of the web most likely to yield relevant results. Which is where Google’s filetype: function has always proven itself handy.
This function allows you to refine by the type of content you are concerned with finding – like PDFs (.pdf), Word documents (.doc), or Power Point slides (.ppt).
Refining by filetype allows you to take advantage of the context which prompted that content to appear on the web in the first place.
For example, if you are after an expert in seismology for a package you are putting together on earthquakes, one way to refine your searching is to acknowledge that a good few experts in the field will have published the Power Point slides they present at conferences and public debates. You can therefore use the filetype: operator to tighten up your results.
It’s a fuzzy way to search, but can help you avoid commercial sites which often clog up results in research-based search.
However, there has always been a problem with the filetype: function in Google – it requires browsing down through file titles which have not necessarily been named in a way which reflects the content contained within them.
Which is where Bing’s contains: operator can come in very handy.
Rather than just bring back the file in question, it brings back the page containing the file – providing context for your results.
Let’s take an example – say you were interested (for the purposes of news-gathering) in finding out what data are available via those Freedom of Information requests published on whatdotheyknow.
Compare results for:
site:whatdotheyknow.com filetype:xls (in Google)
site:whatdotheyknow.com contains:xls (in Bing)
While Google returns more results, the browsing quality of those results is poor by comparison with those returned by Bing. You can’t know what data is contained within a file called Sheet_1 without clicking through, which seriously slows down the browsing process. And even when you click through to the file, the purpose of the information you are looking at won’t necessarily be clear (or at least obvious) from content within the file.
By contrast, in Bing’s results these data are presented in the context which led to them being published in the first place. You can see the title and nature of the FOI request, and other useful bits and pieces of information which can help you decide what you need faster.
In searches such as these, it’s a good idea to cover all the bases – so don’t forget to cover all the relevant filetypes, including (for example) searches on the .docx filetype if you are interested in Word-processed content (this is the default Word filetype in Microsoft Office’s “Open XML” versions), or the .ods filetype when searching for spreadsheet data (the Open Office alternative extension to .xls).