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The Search Engines: Finding What You Need on the World Wide Web

The World Wide Web has been called the largest functioning anarchy in existence. This label is not far from the truth. The global size and open nature of the Web are both its best and worst feature. It is a powerful medium for self expression, providing anyone with Web access the opportunity to make their voice heard. Unfortunately with so many voices being heard, it can be hard to find what you want. This is where search engines come in handy.

 

How Search Engines Work

Search engines collect and catalog the millions and millions of web pages and assemble a searchable database of those pages. Gathering information on these pages can be a daunting task. New web pages spring up constantly and are taken down just as quickly. Search engines use two different methods to gather information about new web pages.

Add URL Button
The first method relies on the web page designer to register the web page with a search engine. For example, if you wish to register a new web page with Yahoo, you would need to first select a suitable category from Yahoo's list of available subjects. Once the category is selected, click on the "Add URL" button and fill in information about the web page in the fields provided. This method provides useful information about the site, but is limited by the fact that many web pages are never registered. It also requires you to register with several different search engines, typing in the same information over and over again.

The second method used by search engines for gathering web page information is called a "web spider." Web spiders are programs that scan for new web pages continuously. Once a new page is found, the web spider gathers information about the page and returns it to the search engine for cataloging. Although this method is more thorough when gathering information it is can be less accurate. Most web spiders look only at a few lines of information on a page. This brief bit of information is used to create a summary and assign key words for the page. The summaries often consist of only the first paragraph of the page itself, so they are sometimes less than helpful.

The result of these two methods is that each search engine has different information.
 

Which Search Engine Should You Use?

It's helpful to try all the different search engines until you find one you like. Here is a listing of a few search engines for you to try:

http://www.search.com/

http://www.yahoo.com/

http://www.hotbot.com/

http://www.altavista.digital.com/

http://webcrawler.com/

http://www.lycos.com/

 

A Simple Search

Search engines have very similar features, a blank field to type in search terms and a button to begin the search. For the following examples we will be using Search.Com

The Search Button

In the case of a simple search we could type in the word "Orange" and hit enter on the keyboard or click the search button. A search like this can yield thousands of results from the color orange, the fruit, the movie "Clockwork Orange" or any number of other "orange" things. The trick is to narrow your search by using a more specific set of search criteria.

Narrowing Your Search

If you type in more than one search term, most search engines will give results that contain both terms. For example, if we do a search and type in "Orange Fruit," we have cut the number of results in half.

More Focused Search Results

If we type in "Orange Fruit Drink" we cut our results down even further.

 

The Expert Search

The next section of this article explains how to get the most out of an Internet Search engine. Learn how to use Boolean language to create a precise search, search the Usenet Newsgroups, find maps to the far flung reaches of the Earth, and get the e-mail address of your long-lost cousin from Idaho.

Most Search engines allow you to modify your search in various ways, this is sometimes called an expert search. An expert search allows you to use qualifiers (also called Boolean terms); and, or, not, etc. You could use these qualifiers to search for "Orange or Fruit or Drink" which would return results containing any of the three terms. Using the qualifier "not" allows you to exclude certain results. For example, searching for "Orange and Fruit not Drink" would give you results about orange and fruit, but no results about drinks made with orange fruit.You may also have the option to search for an exact phrase. If you did an exact phrase search for "orange drink" the search would find the following phrase.

Tang is a tasty orange drink.

But it would not find this phrase:

I was wearing an orange shirt when we went to the corner restaurant to have some nachos and a drink.
 

Boolean Terms

Boolean terms are words such as and, or, not, etc. that help define a search.

AND - Finds only documents containing all of the specified words or phrases. For example, orange AND drink finds documents containing both the word orange and the word drink. OR - Finds documents containing at least one of the specified words or phrases. For example, orange OR drink finds documents containing the words either orange or drink. The found documents could contain both, but do not have to. NOT - Excludes documents containing the specified word or phrase. For example, orange AND NOT drink finds documents with orange but not containing drink. NOT cannot stand alone. You must use it with another operator, like AND. For example, some search engines will not accept orange NOT drink; instead, you will need to specify orange AND NOT drink.NEAR - Finds documents containing both specified words or phrases within 10 words of each other. For example, orange NEAR drink would find Tang, but not likely information on the color orange or information about fraternity drinking games.

 

Finding People

Search engines can also be used for finding people on the Internet. The site, http://www.four11.com/ will let you look for a person's e-mail address using their first and last name (and their domain if you know it).

Most search engines also provide help files which will guide you on your quest for information on the Internet. Remember, always try to narrow your search as much as possible. This will allow you to find the information you need on the World Wide Web quickly, without having to browse through thousands of pages. Experiment with the different search engines to find out which one suits your needs. With practice, you will find that searching for information is not as hard as you think.

 

Finding Places

Search engines can also help in finding directions and obtaining maps of specific locations. For example, you can go to http://www.mapquest.com/ and type in the address 3936 NW 31 Terrace, Gainesville, FL 32036, USA to see where the address is.

When Mapquest presents you with your map, you can use the Zoom Level links to the right of the map to zoom in or zoom out to get the view you want. You can also use the directional links surrounding the map to nudge the map in any direction you choose. Other links on the page will allow you to get directions to a specific place, or tell you the location of the closest airport or ATM machine relative to this location.

 

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Last modified: June 04, 2008