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Searching the Internet

Quote - "All sorts of computer errors are now turning up. You'd be surprised to know the number of doctors who claim they are treating pregnant men." Isaac Asimov.

With over a billion web sites out there, how do you find  what your looking for?
The Web offers a wide choice of different search tools, each with its own database, search capabilities, and method of displaying results.
We shall take a look at the different type of search engines, and different methods of searching, to produce more fruitful results.

If you are an experienced user you will be very familiar with the information overload from search engine results, and having to sieve through many sites totally unrelated to your query.
Search engines can be an excellent source of both information and frustration, to avoid the later you really need to understand a bit about how search engines work, and where to look.

Search engines are nothing more than a database, a bit like an electronic library. Despite their apparent impressive capabilities, they are not perfect and  are nothing more than a series of computer programmes. They are no more intelligent than the human that wrote the programme, who in turn is limited by technology, but they are the best we have got.

Lets start with a couple of their limitations, disappointment is often born from expecting too much.
Did you know that a search engine's data only holds information on, at best 16% of the stuff out there. The rest is called the invisible web.
It is also important to note that search engines use a 'spider' AKA 'crawler' or 'robot', to create and update its database. This is a bit of software that starts at a single page, and scans the web by following links. It then stores the collected information, which it uses as its database for results.
Your search results will be from it's data, not the web as it is when you make the search. It will not include any sites added to the web nor information on any sites updates since its spiders last visit.
When you click on a link to a site from the search results, you will arrive at the site in real-time i.e. if the web site has been changed since the 'spiders' last visit, you will get the new version.

That said, lets take a look at the many positives.
There are two different ways of searching, search directories and search engines.

A search engine is library of web pages a called a data base. It gathers its data by sending out a 'spider' or 'robot' which scans the web on average, every 4-8 weeks. It records the text in each web page it finds and returns to update it's library. This data is then used to match a search enquiry. A search engine is best used to search for a specific web site or subject.

A search directory is compiled and maintained by humans. They tend to only index a web sites home page (as opposed to each individual page), as a consequence their data base is smaller but this tends to cut out a great deal of the irrelevant results. Best used for general and topic searches.

There is also a Meta search engine, which search the databases of several search engines and directories and offer you the most relevant results from all of them.
Linkspider meta search results from Google, MSN, AltaVista, Fast, Teoma, Yahoo and Hotbot. You can add this search engine to your tool bar. It also has one of the most powerful pop up blockers around.

From there, it just gets a bit more complicated because many engines will check the database of some directories, and some directories also include results in some engines.
The table below list some of the many search engines and directories.
Search engines. Search directories. Meta search.
Ask Jeeves.
Open Directory.
Meta search
To initiate a search, you type into an input box either the URL (address) of a particular web site or page, or a name of a product/object/project, or a subject or topic.

Hitting the button, usually marked 'search' or 'go' will begin the search of the database, an engine will check the text of all the pages it has on store, and offer you results in an order of relevancy according to it own criteria.
Engines have their own way of sorting pages into order, so each engine would offer you a different set of results, with some overlapping entries.
A search directory would search through web page titles and descriptions, before sorting them into an order of relevancy.

So how do we get the information we want, faster and without irrelevant sites? All search tools offer an advance search, some also offer things like picture search, audio search, and kids or filtered search. Use them, it might take a couple of seconds extra, but it could save you hours.

Be as specific with your query as possible, include any relevant numbers code or references, for example 'Ford escort 1300' will offer web sites about a car, but 'escort' would offer thousands of sites unrelated to a car.

Put your query in quotation marks, like this "ford escort 1300". this is called phrase searching, it will search only for sites with those words in that order. Not all search tools recognise this, but those that do not will just ignore the marks anyway. A search for "Oxford University" will offer results for Oxford University, search without the quotation marks would include sites about Oxford, and universities on them.
Also try a Boolean search, this uses the words AND, and NOT. A Boolean search for our escort car would look like this, Ford AND escort AND 1300, the engine would look for sites that only include Ford, escort and 1300.
If you want to specifically exclude something, use the operator NOT, e.g. Ford AND escort AND 1300 NOT 1200, this would make the engine look for sites that include the ford escort 1300 and exclude all the sites for the 1200.
Putting a + or - sign in between each word will have the same effect, i.e. Ford+escort+1300-1200.
You should note, that not all engine support Boolean searching.

Search databases, some result pages offer a link to search a particular database, maybe just containing web sites on a particular subject, the databases are often not included in a search engines results.
You should also be aware that some engines are case sensitive, if you type Ford escort, it will ignore ford escort, Ford Escort and FORD ESCORT. Most engines however will ignore casing if you write in all lower case, a search for for  ford escort, will include Ford escort, Ford Escort and FORD ESCORT.

Most search engines recognise a wild card, indicated by a *, a search for pup* would include extensions of that word, like pups, puppies, puppy, puppy's etc.

There is also an area of the internet called The invisible web, this is any web site or page that is not indexed in any search tool database, so why is it not listed? You may well ask, it could be for any number of reasons, some databases do not allow web crawlers to access them, a government or University site for example. The webmaster has not registered the site with a directory or enters a code to prevent spiders from entering, or there may be no links to the site for a spider to find it.
More advanced search tools are now reaching the market, or you can search databases. Complete Planet is a comprehensive search tool of 89,000 databases and specialised search engines.

Search engines and directories have a help button, where you can find out what type of searches it accepts, and guidance on how best to use that tool. Do read them, it can save hours of frustration.

The next page looks at what is being done to make sure the internet is accessible to everyone.
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