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Programs: Smart Searching on the Web


Introduction
Search Engines
Specialized Search Engines
Subject Directories
Deep Web

Why Evaluate?
Web Addresses & What They Mean

Evaluating Web Sites

In Conclusion

Introduction

Class Objectives - Learn how to use search engines and subject directories, learn about the "deep web" and how to evaluate the websites you find.
Prerequisites - You should be able to use a mouse, scroll bars, and have some familiarity with web browsers.
Time - The maximum time allotted for the class is an hour and a half.


How do you find information on the web?

There are different ways to search the internet.  Basically, you need to go to a website that accesses a pre-selected set of internet pages, which is composed of either a list of links or electronic copies of many internet pages.  You access these pages either by going to a subject list or by using a search box to enter words. 


Getting too much information from the internet is often a problem, so learning how to control the number of websites that you retrieve is a good way to control frustration and information overload.  In this class, we will explain some useful techniques to help you do this.

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Search Engines

The main feature that distinguishes search engines from subject directories is how their list of web sites is created and organized. 

  • Search engines find web pages by using small, automated computer programs called spiders or crawlers. These programs visit web pages continuously and add a copy to the search engine's computer.
  • Search engines look for your search words on millions or billions of pages quickly
  • Be as specific in your search as possible to avoid getting too many irrelevant results
  • Using keywords and phrases can help narrow down your results

Popular search engines:

For more search engines, see the library's Search Engine page.

 

Find web sites on the following:

  • hiking
  • hiking at Day Mountain in Mount Spokane State Park
  • books that libraries recommend for boys
  • the lyrics to the banana boat song
  • how to start a janitorial service
  • Who said, "Mark Twain quotations - WorkI do not like work even when someone else does it"?

Advantages:  Search engines' very large website lists mean there is a good chance of finding something on your topic.

 

Disadvantages: If you are not specific enough, you may get too many unrelated hits. Also, search engine web sites are not reviewed for quality or authority but are simply compiled by a computer program, so evaluating these websites is important.

 

To see reviews and comparisons of various search engines, check out Search Engine Showdown - www.searchengineshowdown.com.

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Specialized Search Engines

There are specialized search engines for particular subjects:

  • WolframAlpha.com - a "computational knowledge engine" - enter dates or formulas for computed answers
  • Usa.gov - searches all levels of government web sites
  • Kidsclick.org - web search for kids by librarians
  • Technorati - searches the content of blogs

There are thousands more specialized search engines out there, such as this list from Search Engine Guide.  You can also do specialized searches on the general search engines as well, such as an Image search on Google or a News search on Yahoo.

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Subject Directories

  • Reviewed and arranged into subjects by people rather than by a computer
  • Websites placed into categories; may be reviewed or summarized
  • Smaller selection of web sites
  • Search broad, general topics

Well-known subject directories:

Search the subjects:

  • diabetes
  • hiking
  • philosophy

Advantages: Since subject directories are categorized by people, you will almost always get relevant results.  If the subject directory is selective or specialized, you can find authoritative web sites for important topics such as health, law, or education.

 

Disadvantages: The smaller selection means you cannot get very specific with your searches.  Some subject guides may not have anything at all on your topic.


Yahoo Directory and Open Directory are larger, less restrictive Subject Directories.

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Deep Web  

Also known as the Invisible Web, a large portion of the internet is not findable with search engines because the information on many web sites is in databases that are only searchable within that site. 

 

Some examples of these types of web sites can be found on the library's Public Records Online page.  For instance, records in the Washington State Charities & Commercial Fundraiser's Database would not be found by a search engine since they are "invisible" to it; the search engine only looks at the main search page, not the individual records in the database.

 

Many of the following search tools are similar to the specialized search engines above.  Some good Deep Web search tools:

  • Research Beyond Google - from the Online Education Database
  • www.completeplanet.com - discover and search 103,000 searchable databases and specialty search engines.
  • Another tip:  Search in Google www.google.com using the words "database" or "search" along with your subject terms. For example - [roller coasters search] or [portrait database]

For more information on the Deep Web, check out this Internet Tutorials page.


The deep web includes subscription databases, such as the ones the library pays for. You must use them in the library or have a city resident card.

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Why Evaluate?

Why should you evaluate web sites?  The top search engine results are not necessarily the most accurate or useful; they often just the most "popular".  Also be aware that some sites pay to be listed more prominently.


The internet is mostly unregulated.  This means just about anyone with access to a computer can put anything on the web, including personal opinions, hoaxes, scams, and content that may be illegal.  So if the information you retrieve is important to you, you need to evaluate web sites for accuracy, authority, and reliability. 

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Web Addresses & What They Mean

One way to find out about a website is to look at its web address.  A web address is the unique location of each computer file on the internet.   It is composed of several parts, but must include at least a domain name to work.


The domain name includes information about the organization that provides, creates, or sponsors the web site.  It can give you a clue to the purpose of the web site. 

  • .com: a commercial site (usually, but not always)
  • .edu: an educational site (post secondary - colleges &universities)
  • .gov: a government agency (city, county, state or federal government)
  • .mil: a US military agency
  • .net: a network access provider
  • .org: a nonprofit organization (usually, but not always)
  • .us: United States
  • .ca: Canada
  • .fr: France

Recently added domains: .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .int, .museum, .name 

See this Wikipedia article for a more comprehensive list.

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Evaluating Web Sites

Who? What? When? Where? Why? - These are all questions that researchers need to ask when determining the legitimacy of a resource.  


What to look for:

  • Look for information under "About Us" or "Background" or "History"
  • Is there a physical address for a company or organization? 
  • Do a search engine search on the web site creator to find more information. 
  • Modify the web address to see if you can discover more information about the web page you are looking at.

A particularly useful web site:  WhoIs - Who owns a domain name?


Watch for personal web sites - look for a name following a tilde (~), a percent sign (%), or the words "users," "members," or "people" in a web address.

Use web subject directories that evaluate for authoritative sites.  Check out the library's Internet & Email Safety page for more information. 

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In Conclusion

  • Choose one search engine to learn at first. Once you feel comfortable using that search engine, using other search engines will be easier.  Many search engines have similar features.
  • Use a subject directory for very general searches or to find more authoritative sites.
  • Be as specific as possible with your search terms when you use a search engine.
  • Remember that not everything is found using a general search engine search.  Try looking for a specialized search engine on your topic or looking for a web site that would have information in a database on your topic.
  • When you get results, remember that web addresses can give you clues about who sponsors or creates a web site.
  • Since the web is mostly unregulated, you should evaluate the information on web sites, especially if the information is important to you.  Ask yourself Who? What? When? Where? Why?

You can find further information on web searching and web safety by checking out some of the following books:

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