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- Grogan -

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Are you relatively new to the Internet? If you are, you probably find the amount of information on the Web a bit overwhelming. This How-To Guide will help you learn to make efficient use of search engines for finding what you need. To accomplish this, we will discuss a few of the major search engines and then provide a list of links to several that you can bookmark, at the end of the tutorial. We'll start with the most basic and work our way towards more advanced search engines and techniques. Many of the techniques you will learn here can be carried over to other search engines.

What Exactly is a Search Engine?

A search engine is basically a program running on a Web server that searches documents on the Internet for keywords that you specify. The programs that make up a search engine use algorithms (programming routines) that index Web sites, so that a meaningful list of links can be displayed for the user.

Yahoo -

Yahoo is what I would consider to be one of the most basic search engines. Type in a few words and it searches by title words and keywords in documents. You'll find your results broken down into categories. You can narrow down your initial search by choosing from the various categories. For example, if you click Science you'll see Acoustics, Agriculture, Animals, Anthropology; all arranged alphabetically. Let's say you wanted to read about birds, click the Animals, Insects and Pets category and click the Birds category, or enter a word or two into the search field (e.g. canaries). In the drop box to the right you have two choices: Search all of Yahoo or Just This Category. You will get more matches than you can possibly investigate. For example, you'll find sites about canaries, and also sites from travel agent companies with flights to the Canary Islands.

This is fine if all you are doing is browsing for entertainment; I guarantee you that you'll pass the hours enjoyably. What if you are looking for something specific and you don't have time to waste combing through irrelevant matches? Well then you need to refine your search. Try typing a few words that are specific to what you are looking for, like "Yorkshire Canary". Yes, the quotes mean something, they tell it to search for that phrase. Without it, you will get matches for both Yorkshire AND Canary. If you want to book travel plans to England, this would be great. Having searched for the phrase, we get only a few matches, however each one of them contains the words Yorkshire Canary together in a sentence. If "Yorkshire Canary" didn't find what you want, try rewording your search, for example, "Yorkshire Canaries" and you will find some different matches again.

Alternatively, if you go back to the Yahoo starting page, click the link beside the search button, advanced search. Now you'll see more options in bulleted lists and drop box lists. All I can say is give the different options a try.

How does Yahoo get these links? Unlike other search engines that use remote "Web bots" (a.k.a.. "Spiders") Yahoo uses the human element: People with Web sites submit their URL to Yahoo, and then a human visits your site, evaluates it and places it within the Yahoo hierarchy. What does this mean? The advantage of this is that you will not get as many irrelevant or inappropriate matches (e.g.. sometimes porn sites are displayed as a result of a keyword search that is too broad). The disadvantage of the method they use is that it will be a limited search, for the most part, restricted to what they have compiled.

Ask Jeeves! -

Let me introduce you to a different kind of search engine that is a lot of fun, and fast provided you aren't looking for anything really specific. You ask Jeeves a question in plain English and he will return matches with drop lists to choose from. Jeeves will also search a few other search engines for you and give you the results in drop lists, with the most relevant on top. Preserving our example, I entered the following question.

Where can I find information about the Yorkshire Canary?

The first thing it gave me was my question rephrased, Where can I find a concise encyclopedia article on canaries? (a drop list to choose from other encyclopedia articles). I clicked the Ask button and was taken to an "article" with about two sentences on what a canary was. (sigh...) Below that, it found some matches for me from other search engines. It found a link through WebCrawler, for Song Type Canaries. Most of the matches in the drop lists were for the Canary Islands.

Our search for Yorkshire Canaries was too specific for Jeeves. Now, if you are searching the Web for something out of casual interest, Jeeves will find you entertaining things, plenty of links to browse. I asked it, Where can I find pictures of birds? That question turned up some very relevant sites, with nice photos.

Depending on what you want to do, Jeeves might be just what you are looking for in a search engine. It's fast, fun and easy to use and doesn't require complex search strings.