Ease Web Searches With LaunchBar

I used to be a heavy Quicksilver user in the days of Tiger. But when Leopard came along and brought with it faster Spotlight searches, and the ability for Spotlight to serve as an application launcher, I left QuickSilver behind and switched to Spotlight. It wasn't quite as fast as the former, but it did the job and I was satisfied.

After hearing a lot of praise for LaunchBar--from none other than Macworld's own Jason Snell--I decided to download the trial and give it a run. After spending two weeks with the app, I was convinced and purchased a license.

For those not in the know, LaunchBar is an application launcher that can also do a variety of other tasks: on-the-spot calculations, online searches, opening websites, searching your computer, performing predefined actions liking controlling iTunes playback, running scripts, and so on. If ever there was such a thing as a productivity enhancer, this is it.

LaunchBar has a feature which allows you to create your own search algorithms and then use them to quickly search websites you frequent. Some of these----like Amazon, Apple Developer Connection, Flickr, IMDb, and YouTube--are built into the application, but you can easily create others. As an example, here's how you can create a search shortcut for Macworld:

1. Load up Macworld and run a search for any term, like xyzzy.

2. Once the results page appears, select the URL, then copy and paste it into a text editor, like Text Edit. (You can also edit-in-place in the URL bar if you wish; it's just a bit hard to see everything there.)

3. In the pasted URL, replace your search word (xyzzy) with an asterisk (*). In this example, the resulting URL would look like this:

http://www.macworld.com/search.html?cx=003198751674731024891%3Aovffo1orlum&q=*&sa=search&client=idg-cse&cof=FORID%3A11&siteurl=www.macworld.com%2F;

4. Copy the edited URL to the clipboard, then invoke LaunchBar (the default shortcut is Command-Space).

5. Click on the little gear icon on the right and navigate to Index -> Show Index.

6. In the sidebar on the left, click on 'Search Templates (UTF-8),' and then on the Add button at the bottom of the pane on the right.

7. Enter Macworld (or whatever you desire) in the Name field, and then paste the URL you copied into the Details field.

8. Close the window and hit Return when prompted to save your changes.

Now whenever you want to run a search for anything on Macworld, all you have to do is invoke LaunchBar, type MW, press the Space Bar, type in your search query, and then press Return to open the results page in your default browser. It's a simple process, and greatly speeds up the task of searching through your frequented websites.

However, on some sites like IMDb and YouTube, the exact information you're looking for is generally the top hit among the search results. Wouldn't you rather be taken directly to those results when you search for something, rather than go through the additional step of clicking on the first item on a search results page? Using Google's I'm Feeling Lucky feature, I've devised a method to do just that.

Open the search templates screen in the LaunchBar Index again and add another entry to it. Enter the name of the site you want to search through in the Name field (The Internet Movie Database, for example) and then type the following URL into the Details field:

http://www.google.com/search?btnI&q=imdb+*

If you want to search through the Apple Trailers Web site instead, replace imdb in the URL above with apple+trailers. For Macworld, replace imdb with macworld, and for YouTube, replace it with youtube. Now run a search for Avatar using the IMDb search template you just created (make sure you don't confuse it with the one that LaunchBar includes by default), and you'll be taken directly to the movie's listing on the website., "

What we're doing here is just entering imdb avatar in the Google search box, and virtually pressing the 'I'm Feeling Lucky' button instead of pressing Return. Google will automatically take you to the first hit on the results page, which--more often than not--will be exactly where you wanted to land. To make it more specific, you can modify the search template to search only on IMDb:

http://www.google.com/search?btnI&q=site%3Aimdb.com+*

However, I've found that to be generally unnecessary; it works just fine in the generic version.

Now that you know how to add a search template to LaunchBar, and are familiar with the format of an 'I'm Feeling Lucky' search (which I copied from the Lucky Google search template that LaunchBar bundles by default), feel free to experiment and come up with different search templates specific to your needs. You'll find that these shortcuts greatly speed up your Internet browsing and, as an added bonus, make any onlooker go, "whoa, how'd you do that?!"

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