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Searching the World Wide Web:
Search Engines


by Dr. Raj Mehta

(Note: This paper is going to be presented at TWIN(Technical Writers of India) annual meeting to be help on Oct.2, 1998 in Pune. The paper will be read in absentia by Mr. Guru Kamath, one organizers of TWIN)

Millions of pages of information are sprouting up on the World Wide Web. It is estimated that there may be anywhere between 70 million to 100 million pages available as of now.

They contain information, which some one has found it useful and taken trouble to collate. They may be useful to someone some time the other.

For people using Internet it has become a matter of learning as to how to search and access the information that is available. With a bit of effort one can become reasonably apt in homing in on the desired information.

In this short exposition for searching information, I deal with how one can use search engines effectively. Here I deal with basically two common ways to search the information:

    • Boolean Search
    • Phrase Search

In my experience I have found that this leads to the information about 80-90% of the instances. This is, however not an exhaustive way to search all the different sources of information.

What this exposition attempts to do is to give you is collection of different search engines and the strategies that to follow. Towards the end there are two examples which when you try them, they will give you some direct experience of what is involved.

Search engines are tools that use computer programs called spiders and robots to gather information automatically on the Internet. With this information, they create a database. Each of the major search engines attempts to do the same thing—namely, index the entire Web—so they handle a huge amount of data.

There are advantages to computer-generated databases. They are frequently updated, give access to very large collections, and provide the most comprehensive search results. If you are looking for a specific concept or phrase, a search engine is the best place to start. And you would be smart to look in more than one, because each engine gives different results.

Some of the most popular search engines are as follows:

Search Engines:

Altavista

Home page:

http://altavista.digital.com

Help, simple searches:

http://altavista.digital.com/av/contenthelp_simple.htm

Help, advanced searches:

http://altavista.digital.com/av/content/help_advanced.htm

FAQ:

http://altavista.digital.com/av/content/about.htm

Excite

Home page:

http://www.excite.com

Help:

http://www.excite.com/Info/searching.html

FAQ:

http://www.excite.com/Info/features.html

HotBot

Home page:

http://www.hotbot.com

Help:

http://help.hotbot.com

FAQ:

http://help.hotbot.com/faq/index.html

InfoSeek

Home page:

http://www.infoseek.com

Help:

http://www.infoseek.com/Help?pg=HomeHelp.html

Jadoo
(for Indian Resources)

Homepage

http://www.jadoo.com

Help:

http://www.jadoo.com/cgi-bin/show_page.pl?help

Khoj
(for Indian Resources)

Homepage

http://www.khoj.com

Lycos

Home page:

http://www.lycos.com

Help:

http://www.lycos.com/help

Northern Light

Home page:

http://www.northernlight.com

Help:

http://www.northernlight.com/docs/
prod_help.htm#simplesearch

FAQ:

http://www.northernlight.com/docs/annafaq.htm

Open Text

Home page:

http://index.opentext.net

Help:

http://index.opentext.net/main/help.html

FAQ:

http://index.opentext.net/main/faq.html

WebCrawler

Home page:

http://www.webcrawler.com

Help:

http://www.webcrawler.com/Help/Help.html

Meta-search Tools:

All-in-One Search Page

 

Home page:

http://www.albany.net/allinone

Dogpile

 

Home page:

http://www.dogpile.com

Help:

http://www.dogpile.com/notes.html

Internet Sleuth

 

Home page:

http://www.isleuth.com

Help:

http://www.isleuth.com/about.html

Metacrawler

 

Home page:

http://www.metacrawler.com

FAQ:

http://www.metacrawler.com/faq.html

SavvySearch

 

Home page:

http://guaraldi.cs.colostate.edu:2000

Help:

http://guaraldi.cs.colostate.edu:2000/help

FAQ:

http://guaraldi.cs.colostate.edu:2000/faq

Search.Com

 

Home page:

http://www.search.com

Help:

http://www.search.com/Help

FAQ:

http://www.search.com/About

Search Engine Similarities

All of the major search engines are similar in that you enter keywords, phrases, or proper names in a search form. After you click on search, submit, seek, or some other command button, the database returns a collection of hyperlinks to your screen.

The database usually lists them according to their relevance to the keyword(s) you typed in, from most to least relevant. Search engines determine relevance in different ways.

All search engines have online help to acquaint you with their search options. Two common search options that most search engines support are

Boolean and phrase searching

. We will briefly discuss these two options below.

Boolean Operators

The Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT.

  • The use of AND placed between keywords in your search expression will narrow the search results.

For example, hiking AND camping would narrow your search so that you would receive only those sites that have both the words hiking and camping in them.

  • Placing an OR between keywords broadens your search results. For example, hiking OR camping would retrieve those sites that have either the word hiking or the word camping in them.
  • The NOT operator will also narrow the search.
  • For example, hiking NOT camping would narrow your search so you would get all hiking, but not camping.
  • In some search engines, if nothing is typed between two words, you can assume an OR is between them. This is what we’d refer to as default setting.

In order to override this setting, you’d either have to type AND between the words or put a + before both words.

Here are a couple of links to other Web pages dealing with Boolean expressions:

Phrase Searching

    • Searching by phrase guarantees that the words you type in will appear adjacent to each other, in the order you typed them.
    • Let’s say you are searching for information on global warming. If you typed in the two words global warming separated by a space, the system you’re using may assume that you are in effect saying global AND warming, or in some cases (depending on the search engine), global OR warming. Your search results would not be very precise, because the words global and warming could appear separately from each other throughout the document.
    • Most search engines support phrase searching, requiring the use of double quotation marks around the phrase. We would type "global warming" in our example.

Search Engine Differences

The major search engines differ in the following ways:

    • Size of the index.
    • Search options (many search engines support the same options but require you to use different syntax in order to initiate them).
    • Speed.
    • Update frequency.
    • Relevance of the search results.
    • Overall ease of use.

It is important to know these differences, because in order to do an exhaustive search of the World Wide Web, you must be familiar with the different search tools. You cannot rely on a single search engine to satisfy every query.
 

Exercise Using Boolean Search Operators

Overview

Let’s try to find Web pages on recycling plastic products. We found some general information on recycling in a previous activity by searching the hierarchical directory of Excite Channels "Web Sites." This time we’ll use a search engine to find more specific information, specifically about the recycling of plastics.

We’ll use the search engine WebCrawler which was one of the firsts to appear on the Web. To start, we will type in the keywords we want the Web pages to include. We’ll examine the results and then check the help screen to find out how WebCrawler handles advanced search options. Then we’ll do the search again using Boolean operators. We’ll note how our search results were narrowed in size and how the contents of the pages were more relevant.

We’ll follow these steps:

    1. Go to the home page for WebCrawler.
    2. Type in keywords and start the search.
    3. Examine the search results.
    4. Consult search help.
    5. Modify the search by typing in a new search expression.
    6. Examine the results.
    7. End the session.

Let us start the search Engine:

Begin Exercise

 1. Go to the home page for WebCrawler. (We’re assuming your Web browser is already started.)

  • Use the mouse to point to the location field and click the (left) mouse button.

The URL of the current Web page will change color. Now you can type in the URL for WebCrawler.

2 Type in keywords and start the search.

  • Type the keywords recycling aluminum containers in the search form next to Search.
  • Now click on the Search button.

3 examine the search results.

 Notice the large number of hyperlinks retrieved by WebCrawler. They are listed according to their relevance to the search query, from most relevant to least relevant. After scrolling down and checking out some of the Web pages retrieved by this search, we start to think of other possibilities. What if there are some perfect hyperlinks out there that use the word plastics instead of plastic? How would we construct a search so we would get Web pages that included the words recycling and products and plastics or plastic? We’re identifying the need to use Boolean operators, and we need to know whether WebCrawler supports Boolean searching. We hope that by using Boolean operators, we’ll retrieve not only more relevant results but also fewer results. We could most easily find out whether WebCrawler supports Boolean searching by accessing its online help.

4 Consult search help.

  • Click on the help   button on the left side of the screen.

A partial list of the search help topics appears.

 We discover that WebCrawler does support Boolean searching. We can use AND, OR, and NOT. Farther down on the "Advanced Searching" page, we also learn that if there are ANDs and ORs in one search statement, then parentheses must be used to guarantee good search results.

 

  • Click on the WebCrawler icon at the top left of the screen.

You should now be back on the WebCrawler home page.
 

5 modify the search by typing in a new search expression.

  • Type recycling and aluminum and containers

This search expression will retrieve hyperlinks to those sites that have the words recycling AND containers (must have both words) AND aluminum   (must have either one).

  • Click on Search.

6 examine the results.

Take a few minutes and explore the first Web pages retrieved. Notice that we received significantly fewer results by using the Boolean search operators.

 

  • To read the summaries or annotations of the Web pages, click on summaries.

Note that you can also click on Similar Pages at the end of each annotation. This will lead you to other pages that are related to this particular page.

7. End the session.

Wasn’t that easy? Let’s end this session and do another activity. You can stay online and continue to the next activity or end this session now.

  • To disconnect, click on File in the menu bar and select Exit from the menu.

Exercise for Boolean Search finished


Exercise  Using Phrase Searching to Find Information

Overview

In this activity, we will open Infoseek and look at the online help before we begin searching. We will type in the phrase currency exchange rates using the syntax that is particular to Infoseek, and we will examine the results. We’ll have you bookmark the best site we find so that you can start building your own reference library. We’ll follow these steps:

    1.  Go to the home page for Infoseek.
    2.  Read the help screens in Infoseek.
    3.  Use the search form provided and type in a search expression.
    4.  Examine the results and click on a hyperlink that appears to have the information you need.
    5.  Find the currency exchange rate for Indian Rupee.
    6.  Bookmark it!
    7.  End the session.

Once you see how easy it is to find an answer to a reference question on the World Wide Web, you may never want to comb through newspapers or journals again. And after you make a bookmark to the site that provides the answer, you’ll be able to flip to the information whenever you need it in a few seconds. Let’s go find it!
 

Begin Exercise

1 Go to the home page for Infoseek.

Use the mouse to point to the location field and click the (left) mouse button.
The URL of the current Web page will change color. Now you can type in the URL for Infoseek.

2 Read the help screens in Infoseek.

Notice that in Infoseek, you must place quotation marks before the first word and after the last word in the phrase you are searching for. This will ensure that the words in the phrase appear together.
 

3 Use the search form provided and type in a search expression.

  • Scroll up to the top of the page and click on Infoseek.
  • Type the phrase "currency exchange rates" in the search form provided and click on seek.

4 Examine the results and click on a hyperlink that appears to have the information you need.

The first page or two of results should contain the most relevant resources. Find a resource in your hit list that most likely would have the information you are seeking. In this activity, we’ll click on a Web page entitled "Currency Exchange Rates...Sonnet Financial’s Daily Currency Rates as provided by Reuters." If you find it, click on it. If not, click on another Web page title that you think will help you find the information.

  • Click on Reseller Currency Exchange Rates—Interlink Communications System. Find the currency exchange rate for the Indian Rupee. 
     
  • Click on the hyperlink or a similar resource and explore it.

5. Find the currency exchange rate for the Indian Rupee.

6 Bookmark it!

After finding this informative Web page, you may want to locate it again quickly, so let’s put it in your bookmark list.

  • Point your mouse to Bookmarks in the location toolbar and click.
  • Point your mouse to Add Bookmark and click.

The URL’s title is automatically added to your bookmark list. You can check the list to see that this happened.

 

  • Click on Bookmark again and see that the title of the location is there.

You can access this page later simply by clicking on it.

7 End the session.

  • Click on File in the menu bar and select Exit from the menu.

If you’re not using your own computer, you may want to delete your bookmarks at this time.
 

End of Exercise on Phrase searching

 


Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998 Dr. Raj Mehta. All rights reserved.