USING SEARCH ENGINES
Or how to find the specific
information you want

Vicky Vickers

The amount of information available on the World Wide Web is growing at an astounding rate! The main problem is how to access it. It is not unusual to search for a topic, only to find there are literally millions of references.

Popular Search Engines
While everyone may not agree, I see the ten most well-known search engines as:

AltaVistawww.altavista.com/
Excitewww.excite.com/
InfoSeekwww.infoseek.com/
Lycoswww.lycos.com/
Magellanwww.magellan.com/
MetaCrawlerwww.metacrawler.com/
OpenTextwww.opentext.com/
Search.Comwww.search.com/
WebCrawlerwww.webcrawler.com/
Yahoowww.yahoo.com/

Note: Yahoo also has a Canadian directory and search engines at www.yahoo.ca/.

My current favourite search engine is AltaVista. I find it easy to use and it certainly finds all the information, and more, that I want. MetaCrawler is somewhat different from the others. It is an multi-threaded search site which can take your search terms and simultaneously feed them to several sites, including AltaVista, Excite, Lycos, WebCrawler, and Yahoo, then organize and display the results into a uniform format.

A Search Engine's Search Engine
WebTaxi (www.webtaxi.com/), which bills it's self as "the search engine and database navigation interface", is very handy. It has a toolbar feature which you can access by clicking on their "remote" button. This produces a small, secondary window which is accessible (until you close it) at all times behind your regular browser window. The beauty of this toolbar is that you can enter a search word or phrase into it and then, using a pop-up menu, select which search engine to use. If you don't like the results, you can go back to the toolbar and select a different search engine. Using WebTaxi, you can access 44 different search engines from all over the world, some of them country specific, including two for Canada.

Specialized Search Engines
Besides the general search engines, there are many specific ones on various disciplines such as Arts, Humanities, Business, Economics, Law, Medicine, Health, Science, Mathematics, Engineering, Social Science, etc. Scout ToolKit (scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/toolkit/) has a list of some of these specialized search engines under the link, Scout Select Bookmarks. While you're there, check out their information on Searching the Internet, Internet Publications and Sidekicks, which are postcard-sized quick-reference guides to searching the Internet and to subject guides and directories. The cards are in PDF format, so you can print them out and stick them to your monitor for easy access.

DejaNews (www.dejanews.com) is a specialized search engine which can search all newsgroup postings made since 1995. Its good for finding answers to specific questions or finding which of the 10,000+ newsgroups (Internet Discussion Groups) are most relevant to a topic you're interested in. Their site also lets you participate in newsgroup discussions without having to install any special software.

Narrowing Your Search
Using either a combination of words or a phrase will narrow your search considerably. An example of the problems you face can be illustrated by using the word "pitch". This word has many meanings, you can have a music pitch, ball pitch, sales pitch, pitch a tent or put pitch on a road or roof. So you need to be more specific. With most search engines you can use the word AND (in caps) or the + (plus) symbol to search for a webpage or document which contains two or more words. eg. music AND pitch, ball AND pitch, etc. This may still produce an over abundance of results, depending on the number of words you use. Searching by phrase will cut down on the numbers considerably. Most search engines allow you to search for phrases by using double quotes, although some require brackets. For example, if you wanted to find information on MUGs, you could type in "Macintosh users group". This brings up another point, don't use capital letters unless you're sure the word should be capitalized. Most search engines are smart enough to search for all words, capitalized or not, if you don't capitalize and for only capitalized words if you do.

Want More Information?
For more information on search engines and their use check out Search Engine Watch (www.searchenginewatch.com/). This is a web site devoted to how search engines work, search engine news, search engine information, tips on using search engines, and more about search engines.

Tip
With most ISPs (Internet Service Providers) it is now possible to get rid of that rather confusing tilde symbol. If you've ever tried to verbally give someone, especially a novice to the `web, a URL (website address) which contains a tilde, you know how different it is. The conversation goes something like this "How do you spell it?", asks the novice. "Spell what?", you say. "Spell tilde." "You don't spell it, its a symbol." "A symbol, what kind of symbol." So very patiently, you explain that it can be found as the capital of the key above the tab key on most modern keyboards. There is no point in saying that it is the capital of the agrave key, as the next question would be "What is an agrave and where is the agrave key?"

So most ISPs whose members have to use the tilde symbol in their website address, are now offering alias addresses. My ISP charges $9.95 plus tax per alias for this service. Now anyone running a 7.x system on Macintosh knows about aliases. The neat thing about them is, your old address still works, just the same as the original of an alias you create on your Mac still works. And, like the Macintosh aliases, you can change the name. For example, my new website address without the tilde is www.crunchers.bc.ca/vicky, vicky being the alias for the old ~vicky. However, I could have changed it to www.crunchers.bc.ca/crunchers just as easily and could have both if I wanted pay for them. You can also purchase aliases for folders within your website if you are involved in many different areas. For example, my employer's URL is now www.connor.bc.ca/connor. However, as he is also the local Dialogue Canada chapter head, the local chapter has an extensive site on our website. So we purchased an alias (www.connor.bc.ca/dialogue) for it.

The main reason I'm explaining this is because VMUG (Victoria Macintosh Users Group) also recently purchased an alias, so its new address is now www.vmug.bc.ca/vmug. However, all our old addresses will work including, www.vmug.bc.ca/~vmug, www.islandnet.com/~vmug and now www.islandnet.com/vmug. Four addresses for one website!

Acknowledgements
This article was published in the September 1997 issue of the Victoria Macintosh Users Group's monthly newsletter "MACtalk" in Vicky's monthly article "VMUG On-Line" and in the Winter 1997 issue of the Web Enthusiasts Association of Victoria's quarterly on-line newsletter.

Vicky Vickers is the owner of Word Crunchers, Etc. which specializes in website design and HTML training. She is a past-president (1994-6) and former webmaster (1995-8) of Victoria Macintosh Users Group (VMUG). She also founded and was the first president (1996) of the Web Enthusiasts Association of Victoria (WEAV).

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Call me today at 250-595-6593 to discuss your website design
or e-mail me at vicky@crunchers.bc.ca

Vicky Vickers, Word Crunchers, Etc.
3290 Shelley Street, Victoria, BC, V8P 4A5
Fax: 250-595-7384 (call first)


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