Hints and helps on searching Google for ancient texts.
This ecourse should not in any way be viewed as comprehensive, nor is either it or its author affiliated with the Google company.
There is nothing quite like Google. Its spiders (automated search programs) crawl across the web, searching and saving every web page available to them through links from other pages (with the exception of specially protected pages). These saved pages are kept in a cache, or archive, that Google stores on what must be gigantic servers.
Every time a web user submits a search on Google, powerful software searches through these archived web pages, finds pages that match the search criteria, and then present these pages in a hypothetical order of relevance. The exact algorithm that Google uses to rank the results of each search by relevance is a closely guarded secret;* but, whatever it is, that algorithm is in my judgment probably the best in existence, or at least the best in common use.
* Many Google gurus will sell you what they think is the best approach to getting high page rankings on Google; these approaches, some of which are good and others of which are simply not, are the results, not of actually seeing the Google algorithm itself, but rather of frequent experimentation. I myself can offer this much; my page on Jewish-Christian gospels was once entitled Jewish gospels; its page rank on Google for the search term jewish christian gospels was abysmal. Then two things happened. First, I changed the title to Jewish-Christian gospels; second, at least one weblog linked to that page, its owner having evidently found first my site, then the page itself through internal links. Now, for that same search term, as of the time of writing this paragraph, Google lists my page first.
Recently Google has expanded into the realm of hardcopy books. Google Books is a project that scans books whose copyrights have expired and makes them available online. Make no mistake; there are still a lot of problems with this feature, and searching Google Books is no easy task. Yet it is great to have these old books preserved online for posterity.
Each time Google scans a book, two things happen. First, the book is captured, page by page, as a series of images. Second, it is also captured as digital text. The images are important for reading the book online as it was originally intended; the exact layout is preserved intact. The digital text is important for searching the text of the book; image files are not searchable. However, again as of the time of writing this paragraph, the digital text for languages with fonts other than Roman comes out as gibberish. Accordingly, one can meaningfully search Google Books only for texts based on the Roman alphabet.
Another caveat: Google Books results will come up in a regular Google search (from the Google homepage), but not consistently. Usually only one or two Books results will be displayed in an ordinary search, even if there are dozens of books available at Google Books. In other words, if you want to explore all of the Google Books possibilities, you have to use the Google Books interface.
I have put together a series of screenshots as an ecourse showing exactly how I recently found the Latin text of the letter of Lentulus on Google Books. It is my hope that these screenshots and the accompanying tips will inspire fellow text enthusiasts to find more such texts and present them in a more accessible form on regular websites. I have done so with the letter of Lentulus, presenting it on my page about Jesus.