Created by Collette Knight 2/20/11 Basic Tutorial: Search EnginesAspen: Mom, I have to do an assignment and my teacher said that I have to search on theinternet, but I’m stuck at the beginning. What are search engines?Me: Aspen, search engines are large databases of web pages. Users type in a key word, phrase,or quote and the search engine has electronic spiders or robots that scan an index(es) of web sitesfor what the user typed .Aspen: How come when I search I get a bunch of stuff that wasn’t what I was looking for?Me: One of the cons to a search engine is that it looks for the key word or phrase and returnssites that contain that word or phrase just one time. Most search engines will list the mostrelevant results, those where the phrase or word is used multiple times, first and the less relevantones will be listed further in the results.Aspen: What’s the difference between a search engine like Google and one like Dogpile?Me: There are two types of search engines: individual and meta. A search engine like Google iscalled an individual search engine where it just scans its own databases. A search engine likeDogpile is considered a metasearch engine since it scans a number of individual search enginesat the same time and returns results from those search engines.Aspen: Mom, sometimes when I search on Google it doesn’t return anything useful. Whatshould I do?Me: Try using a metasearch engine like Dogpile. Not only is it fast, but it may return manymore results since it scans multiple search engines at once. One thing to be aware of when usinga metasearch engine is that the results may be returned as a single list or as multiple lists. A
Created by Collette Knight 2/20/11single list will show the results from various search engines and remove the duplicates. Amultiple list will provide a list per search engine and you may see duplicate sites listed.Aspen: My teacher said something about subject directories. What are those and when would Iuse them?Me: The search engines we talked about before are run by robots or electronic spiders. Subjectdatabases are maintained by people (editors) who review sites and include them in theirdirectories based on their own criteria. These directories are smaller than search engines and arespecific to subjects. Some of the subjects are: general, academic, commercial, portals andvortals. Your teacher may have been referring to an academic directory.Aspen: Wow, Portals and Vortals! That sounds like something in Star Trek!Me: Well, it does, doesn’t it? In this case portals and vortals are also types of subjectdirectories. Portals represent commercial interests and are gateways to the web and may haveemail, news, maps and other features. Vortals are vertical portals and are more specific thanportals. Yahoo and MSN are examples of search engines and subject directories.Aspen: Yahoo and MSN offer both?Me: Yep, sometimes subject directories partner with search engines and vice versa.Aspen: Hmmm….well I can see that using a subject directory may be better than a regularsearch engine because if the editors are picky, maybe the results will be better. But, one problemwould be if the editors don’t know a website’s been changed and the directory shows pages orlinks that don’t exist anymore.
Created by Collette Knight 2/20/11Me: Great analysis Aspen! You’ve summed up the main pro and con to using a subjectdirectory! Subject directories are kind of like telephone books. You use them for specificpurposes but like anything else on the web, they are not fool proof or 100% accurate, 100% ofthe time.Aspen: There’s a lot more to searching on the web than I thought…Me: Yep, and there’s more too. We haven’t even talked about gateways and subject-specificdatabases.Aspen: There’s more… (Sigh)Me: No worries, I’ll make it easy. Remember I mentioned “Vortals”? Well, vortals are subjectspecific databases and are dedicated to just one subject. Gateways include vortals but alsoinclude library gateways. Library gateways are a collection of databases and informational sitesthat have reviewed and recommended by specialists and librarians. These are used for when youare doing research or need references for your projects.Aspen: Wow that sounds like I can search everything on the web!Me: Well, not exactly. There is something called the “Invisible Web”. These are sites thatsearch engines are unable to search because these sites may be password protected, or haveother security measures that prevents them being searched.Aspen: That sounds suspicious…Me: (Laughing) This “Invisible Web” may represent 60 to 80 percent of Web documents andmaterials. These sites may be accessed using library gateways and subject specific databasesbecause they point directly at them. Like you said before, the quality of the information you get
Created by Collette Knight 2/20/11from using a library gateway or subject specific database will be better than a regular searchengine because this information has been reviewed by specialists.Aspen: There’s so much stuff on the internet. How do I know what is good information?Me: Yes, you have to be careful. There is a lot to be found on the internet and sometimes thatinformation is not accurate even though it may “look” like it is. It’s important that you payattention to the web site’s address. These are accepted domains (although you must still becritical of content): .edu (educational sites), .com (commercial business sites), .gov (U.S.governmental sites), .mil (U.S. military sites), .net (networks, internet service providers, etc), and.org (U.S non-profit organizations).Aspen: I’ve seen some others, Mom, like .biz. Are those okay?Me: .biz sites are business sites. There are other domains and whether they are okay are not isdependent on their content. One way of evaluating a website is by looking at who created it orits publisher.Aspen: How would I do that?Me: A reputable website has information that shows you who created the website and providesinformation on how to contact that person or organization, including the name, address,telephone number or email address. It is also important to evaluate the content of the web page.Aspen: What do you mean by content?Me: A lot of people think that if it is written on a web site then the information must beaccurate. This is not true. While reading the content, keep in mind that information on web sitesis not reviewed or edited for inaccuracies. Also, the website could be biased and present
Created by Collette Knight 2/20/11opinions mixed with facts or it could be sponsored by an organization or person who is biased.Also, look at when the website was last updated. Sometimes websites are not maintained andcontain invalid, old information. And to be honest Aspen, not everyone takes the web seriouslyand some can even be mean or dishonest.Aspen: How come a website a visited last year, is no longer around?Me: Websites are constantly changing. A website you visited in the past, may have changed, orwill change, or may be deleted. Also sometimes the website owner may relocate the page andfail to provide a link to the new web address. This is why it’s important to pay attention to datelast updated and whether the site is reputable. Also, if you come across something that isimportant, you may want to print it out. That way you have a hard copy of it in case somethingchanges with the particular website.Aspen: So how do I go about searching?Me: Well first ask yourself, “What do I want to do?” To just browse you may want to start withYahoo. To look up something more specific, try a larger search engine such as Google. If youwant a lot of material on a subject, try a metasearch engine such as, Dogpile combined with nonweb resources.Aspen: How can I be more specific when I’m searching because sometimes I get results that Idon’t want?Me: Many search engines automatically but an “And” or “Or” between the terms. If you wantthe search engine to not show results for a particular term but include others, you could put aminus sign right before the term to exclude, for example, “girl sports –tennis”. This will search
Created by Collette Knight 2/20/11for results that involve girl sports but not return any that involve tennis. It also helps to put a +sign in front of the important terms. But, most importantly, try to be specific and use phrases. Ifyou put the phrase in quotation marks, the search will look for that phrase exactly as is. It alsohelps if you put important words first in the string. Another helpful symbol is the asterisks *.When used, it will look for spelling variations for a particular term.Aspen: I heard one of my classmates mention “Boolean” searches. What is that?Me: Boolean is a logic system that when used produces better search results. It uses words like,AND, OR, and NOT. When you place AND between terms, your search will be narrowed tocontaining both of those words. When you use OR between terms, your search will containresults that have either word. You can also use NOT, which will return results that have the firstword but NOT the second term. There are also Boolean terms that you can use that have to dowith how close a term is to another. For example, ADJ, means adjacent which means that bothwords must appear in the text but in any order.Aspen: Geez…Boolean sounds complicated!Me: Once you have the list of Boolean terms and practice using them, it becomes easier and youmay be happier with the search results you get. You can also search by “Field”.Aspen: I’m almost afraid to ask. What is Field Searching?Me: A web page is broken up into fields. So the title is a field, the domain is a field, the addressitself is a field and so on. Sometimes search engines will allow you to search for content in aparticular field. This will really provide some great results!Aspen: Hmm…so how would I search by let’s say, the title?
Created by Collette Knight 2/20/11Me: You would type in, “title: “Alaskan Huskies” for example. This will give you a list ofwebsites that have Alaskan Huskies in the title. I notice that you search for a lot of images orpictures. You can also search for a particular image by typing, “IMAGE:justinbeiber.gif”.Aspen: Aww, mom, Justin Beiber, really…Me: So Aspen, pop quiz: What do you do if you get too much stuff on a search?Aspen: Uh, maybe I should try to be more specific?Me: Good! Now what would you do if you get a tiny bit of results?Aspen: I think the opposite. I would take a word or two away, or maybe I should try one ofthose metasearch engines.Me: You go, Girl! What happens if you visit a website that you visited previously and it you getan error message like, “File Not Found”.Aspen: I think you said that websites change all the time and that I should print stuff I think isimportant right?Me: You’re brilliant! Just keep in mind to be flexible and try not to get frustrated. If searchingone way doesn’t work, try it another way and you are bound to have more success! Love ya,now go do your homework and stop procrastinating! (Laughing)