Web Search Engines:
Because the increasingly expansive Internet has no card catalogue, we turn to the next best thing: search engines. Essentially, search engines are computer programs that hunt through the vastness of cyberspace to find Web sites containing words that match your search request. There are about a dozen major search engines and dozens more with lower profiles.
The first cardinal lesson of Internet research is as follows: There is no single, one-stop resource that will provide an exhaustive list of relevant Web document on your topic. Learn it, memorize it, live it.
Each search tool catalogues different information in different ways. There are no standards and no cross-company co-operation. Search engines are for-profit, advertising-based data fiefdoms, each protective of their own database as a lure for drawing Web traffic to their site. And as these search sites -- or "portals" -- emerge as some of the leading money-generators on the Web, it's increasingly commercial interests rather than library science that determines which resources appear prominently in your search result list.
For evidence, simply type the same keywords into a few different search engines and survey the results. Chances are, they'll be very different.
In short, any exhaustive search of the Net requires a sampling of a few search engines in order to get a good summary of what the Net knows about your topic. There are about a dozen major search engines, some of which I've presented below.
The second important point about search engines is that they not only contain different information, but they have different rules about how they want you to search for that information. That means you'll need to familiarize yourself with the specific search criterion for the search engines you eventually decide to call your own. For a tutorial on some standard as well as little-known search techniques, visit this Search Engine Strategies page.
Turning countless hours of pointless surfing into accurate, precise and targeted research begins with your search terms.
Because you're relying on computers to retrieve your findings, you have to realize they give you exactly what you ask for. They don't read between the lines and they aren't intuitive enough to get the general idea from vague and confusing search terms. So think about exactly what you want, narrow it down to a clear focus and experiment with the best way to express it through keywords.
A good search has at least two parts -- the subject and the angle. So don't even try to type "cancer" into a search engine. It's ugly. What kind of cancer? And what about it? Treatment? Personal stories? Research? Organizations?
Once you've come up with the obvious keywords, think again. Are there other ways to express the concepts you're looking for? A dip in employment, for example, is also a rise in unemployment. That dip could also be a fall, slide or drop. And the rise might also be expressed as a jump, lift or hike.
If you're under the impression that Web searching is as simple as typing in a couple of keywords and waiting for a tidy collection of useful information to appear, beat that notion out of your brain now.
- Google: This relatively new search engine has Net surfers buzzing. Google is based on a new search engine concept borrowed from academia where the quality of a published paper is partly measured by the number of times it is referenced by other papers. In this case, Google presents its search results according to the number of sites that link to it. And now, the Canadian version: Google.ca
Goolge News is one of the best ways to search for news online. Google also has an Advanced News Search for more control, such as searching by media outlet, date or country.
Google News Alerts is a remarkable -- and free -- tool that will send you an e-mail whenever an article is published that matches your pre-programmed criteria. It's a brilliant way to keep track of issues you're working on for long-term projects.
Wisenut: Returns results in subcategories that let you dig deeper.
Vivisimo: A so-called "clustering engine" that it also gives you subcategories in response to your queries.
Teoma: This engine draws on the wisdom of experts on various subjects for solid results and advice on how to expand your search.
- Alta Vista: A great first-blush search tool for getting a general sense of what's out there. It was among the first in-depth search tools on the Web and remains one of the best. You can search by subject category or run a regular keyword search.
As well, you can search Web site titles (title:Microsoft for example), or the Web site address you're after (url:ryerson). A cleaner, faster version of the engine is available at Raging.com.
- AltaVista Canada: The Canuck version for Canada-specific searches in English or French.
Hotbot: Consistently rated among the top indexes of Web sites. Search newsgroups and discussion forums, current news sites, business and residential directories, E-mail listings, classified ads, stock quotes, and even Internet domain registrations. Hotbot Advanced: Allows you to focus on a country, dates and other options
- Northern Light: A unique search tool that searches both the Web and its own database of articles from nearly 2,000 sources. But that special collection of resources are not free. Northern Light charges a monthly fee or a pay-as-you-go charge to retrieve the documents.
- Webcrawler: Searches by document title and content.
- Lycos: Search for title of documents, headings, links, keywords.
SUBJECT CATALOGUES AND HYBRIDS:
- Yahoo: Technically not a search engine at all, but a subject directory where all of the sites have been catalogued by human beings instead of listed by a robot.
Google抯 Web Directory is a Yahoo-style search directory that let's you search by general subject area rather than keyword.
Britannica: A search tool that dishes out content rubber stamped by the editors of Britanica.
Canadian Information By Subject: The National Library of Canada's subject-based catalogue of information about Canada from Internet servers around the world.
Excite: A kind of subject guide-slash-search tool offering specific search tools for people, businesses, stock quotes and classified ads. Excite also has concept searching, meaning it compares your keywords to its own database of synonyms and related concepts. That can make the results more intuitive that other search engines. You can also search newsgroup postings through a link to DejaNews.
TradeWave Galaxy: Keyword searching as well as subject-oriented browsing. Search Web, gopher, hytelnet at once.
Argus Clearinghouse: A searchable catalog of subject catalogs that let you browse into a subject or type in keywords.
Internet Public Library: A collection of resources including links to online newspapers, magazines, reference materials and search engines.
CANADIAN SEARCH ENGINES AND DIRECTORIES:
Canada Start Page
CBC News Search
Alert Services: organized by cateogry (science/health, government, environment, news alerts, politics...) this listing points to a number of U.S.-based alert services.
Reports@CNW:Offers annual reports from participating Canadian corporations.
Portfolio E-mail: Get up-to-the-minute news about the companies of your choice delivered directly to your e-mail box.