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June 22, 2013

Google's Tilde Operator No Longer Works

Google had an advanced search operator that allowed you get results for different variations of your query. "Normally, synonyms might replace some words in your original query. Add a tilde sign (~) immediately in front of a word to search for that word as well as even more synonyms. For example, [~food facts] includes results for 'nutrition facts'," explained Google.

Now the tilde operator is missing from Google's help center article and it no longer works. A search for [~food facts] returns the same results you can find when you search for [food facts]. One workaround is to search for [food OR nutrition facts].

Here's a screenshot from 2008 (licensed as Creative Commons by Philipp Lenssen):

A cool trick that used to work was to search for [~query -query] to find synonyms. "What you do is to first do a search on ~help -help which is the AWO [Approximate Word Operator] and the word help and then minus and the word help. You will then see another word appearing in the results which is a synonym for help. Use the Exclude Word Operator (-) in front the the word e.g. -guide and then what appears in the top listings now. Continue through each word until there are no more synonyms left."

I'm sure that very few people used this obscure operator, but it's just another power user feature that Google removes. Most likely, many others will follow.

Here's one of the many book pages that's now obsolete:

Update: Dan Russell, from Google, confirms the deprecation. "Yes, it's been deprecated. Why? Because too few people were using it to make it worth the time, money, and energy to maintain. In truth, although I sometimes disagree with the operator changes, I happen to agree with this one. Maintaining ALL of the synonyms takes real time and costs us real money. Supporting this operator also increases the complexity of the code base. By dropping support for it we can free up a bunch of resources that can be used for other, more globally powerful changes."

{ Thanks, Enrico Altavilla. }

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