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Finding Information on the Web

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Search Engines

Subject Search Engines

Publishers of subject search engines have attempted to bring order to the chaos of the Web by categorizing web pages and sites as they are added. These sites work especially well for grouping internet and computer-related sites and for entertainment and popular hobbies. They "drill-down" from broad categories to narrow subjects, based on the information given by the web site owner. Their weaknesses appear in the limits of the categories themselves. For example, using Lycos' categories, listed below, where would you look for geography, languages, or geology?
Yahoo - the largest subject search engine on the web. In April, Yahoo logged 96 million page views per day, making it one of the "most used" 'portals' to the Internet. Yahoo gives users the ability to personalize the home page,search by category or across Yahoo's entire database. LookSmart -developed by the Australian publishers of Reader's Digest, this subject index contains about 600,000 unique sites. Looksmart's sites are pre-screened by editors, accounting for its small size. Because they pre-screen web sites, the quality of the sites in Looksmart is better than the quality of the sites at Yahoo, overall. Lycos - a product of Carnegie Mellon University, provides a search by category through its database of web addresses. Categories include: Autos, Business,   Careers, Computers, Education, Electronics, Entertainment, Fashion, Games, Government, Health,   Home/Family, Internet, Kids, Money, News, People, Real Estate, Shopping, Space/Sci-Fi, Sports,   Travel, and Women.

Text-Based Search Engines

Text-based search engines allow users to search for web pages using words or phrases, i.e. the textual characters that make up a web page. By design, text search engines search for words or phrases that actually appear on the page. They do not read into the meaning of the pages, nor do they understand (as a rule) synonyms. Intelligence such as understanding a synonymous term, must be added by the searcher or the indexer. Keep this in mind when using any text search engine on the web.
AltaVista's Advanced Search option was selected by the majority of professional researchers as their first Internet search option. Advanced searching on AltaVista gives a researcher the closest thing to field-searching on the Internet. AltaVista includes options to search by image, url, domain, link and title. Northern Light searches the World Wide Web and a database of "Special Collection" articles. The Special Collection articles are indexed and collected from magazines and trade journals. Northern Light recently added US Government Search option to their holdings. This gateway allows users to search government and military documents through one source. Google This unique search engine differs from other text search engine in the way it ranks its search results. Other search engines calculate the results rankings by the number of times the search phrase appears in the page. Google calculates the ranking based on the number of other web pages that link back to the search result. This prototype large-scale search engine was developed at Stanford University. It boasts a database of 24 million pages.

Other Search Options

Deja News searches the discussions from newsgroups. Searchers can restrict their search to a particular newsgroup "channel" (subject) or can search through all newsgroups.
Dogpile one of the newer meta-search engines lets users search up to twenty search engines, usenets, and ftp sites concurrently and returns the results four search engines at a time. Dogpile searches help direct users to the search engine with the most promising results. Using a meta search engine limits users though, because the search defaults to the most common search. Meta search engines cannot use the unique features designed for some search engines. Liszt contains information on over 90,000 mailing lists, chat rooms and usenet groups. Discussion lists can be identified using the drill-down subject categories appearing on the front page. They can also be searched at the Liszt site by size, subject and geographic location. Information available about the lists include the approximate list size, administrative address, and list owner. Catalist is another listing of e-mail lists. It contains a directory of lists and information necessary to subscribe to on-line discussion lists. provides a directory of over one million web sites across the Internet. This site allows users to input a company name, web address or part of a web address to find out who "owns" that site.

Updated 11/08/99