Web Searching, Sleuthing and Sifting
What is The Web? Why Canít I Find What I Want?
What is the World Wide Web? | Why is the Web so popular now? | Who "polices" the Internet? | What's out there on the Web? | Why canít I find what I want? | For more information | Suggested Exercises | Starting Points for Exploration
Most Web browsers now are "GUI's" (goo-eys) (graphical user interfaces). The Web has existed for a long time, but its exponential use and growth began in 1995 when graphical Web browsers became more popular (the interest spurred development in more user-friendly products and Web sites for a variety of consumers).
An example of a web browser that is a character client, which in other words is *not* graphically based, is "Lynx." Reasons why you might use a character client include:
For a start, more of us are using relatively inexpensive personal computers with powerful processing capabilities. Increasingly faster and more reliable Internet connections have made the use of graphics and other media, which require a lot of bandwidth, practical for the "rest of us folks." This was not true in the past when only large companies or research organizations could afford the equipment required to transport and manipulate the large volumes of data reliably. Also, even if a "residential" (as opposed to business) user purchased a larger capacity modem, frequently it was hard to find an Internet service provider that would allow you to use it to its full capacity. Fortunately now, most of this is ancient history (or at least 2 years ago!).
Commercial developers noticed the potential of the web as a communications and marketing tool when graphical Web browsers broke onto the Internet scene (Mosaic, the precursor to Netscape Navigator, was the first popular web browser) making the Internet, and specifically the Web, "user friendly." Web browsers such as Netscape Explorer became an immediate "hit" with users frustrated at the Unix technospeak often required previously to browse the web and when this began to happen people began to develop content, that is, something to look at! The more sites that were developed, the more popular the browser became as an interface for the Web, which spurred more Web use, more Web development etc. etc. Now graphical web browsers are powerful, easy and fun to use and incorporate many "extra" features such as news and mail readers.
Also, the nature of the Web itself invites
user interaction; web sites are composed of hypertext documents which means
they are linked to one another. The user can choose his/her own path by
selecting predefined "links" -- which may be phrases, images or parts
of images which have been designated as links which will take you to another
page, a video clip, a track of music or other audio output, images or even
connect you to a live video cam! Since hypertext documents are not organized
in an arrangement which requires the user to access the pages sequentially,
users really like the ability to choose what they will see next and the
chance to interact with the site contents.
The Web is a self-publishing medium This means that anyone with a computer, a modem and a link (Internet Service) to the Internet can produce a Web page and because anyone can mount a web site, users must carefully evaluate the information they find. For a start, consider:
(Don't' panic if you are lost! In Lesson 2a, we will be discussing how to evaluate web sites in greater depth...)
one of the most common problems and easy to remedy
(e.g. searching for "stacks" instead of "stocks")
know what you are looking for, and if this is not possible, know what you are *not* looking for (eliminate if necessary)
(e.g. searching for "something on tobacco" instead of "tobacco and government subsidies")
narrow your focus
(e.g. searching for "cars" instead of "Toyota Camry 1998")
broaden your search using synonyms or larger categories
(e.g. searching for "flashing lime green stop sign in a gif format" instead of "stop signs and gif"
review the "help" pages of the search tool you are using
Note: no one web tool catalogs,
indexes or organizes the whole web. When using a web finding aide it
is important to remember that you are searching and viewing data extracted
from the web which has been placed into a database. It is this database
which is actually searched -- not the web. This is one of the reasons
why you get different results when you use different search engines.
Don't understand? Don't panic! We will be discussing these concepts in more detail during the course.
Sometimes you will find things that are not what you actually want, but according to the search facility you are using, they are on target. This may happen because:
(for example: Blues can mean music or depression, depression can describe a mental illness or a dimple in a cake...)
(for example, documents about a topic tend to repeat key words and phrases several times, not just once)
(for example, you enter the search terms "new" and "york" expecting documents that contain *both* terms and the search engine presents you with documents that have *either* "new" or "york" )
(each search engine uses a different algorithm or method of computing something called "relevancy." Relevancy is an estimate regarding how closely the search results match your search terms or concept. Search results are usually presented with the top ranked in relevancy first.) (More on this in Lesson 3)
(some search engines will search or expand by "concept" or in other words, its interpretation of your terms)
(for example, search engines will not search for many commonly occurring terms because of their frequency. The "stop" words dropped from the search may affect your results.)
(perhaps the document(s) are not (yet) included in the database you are searching -- try another search engine)
(sometimes this occurs when you find a lot of "hits" -- try using a search engine that groups results in some manner)
( you may need to search again using a different "case" -- especially with proper names -- different search engines tackle this problem differently)
(by using + and - signs, or field labels such as url: or ti: you can make your search more specific. Unfortunately, the way these signs/labels are used varies among the search utilities)
(if you are looking for information in the Arts, an search engine specialized in the Social Sciences will not be of much help)
(because words function to describe a picture, for example, you must rely on the information given by the cataloger who provides the keywords which are used to find them) More on Picture Searching in Lesson 5
Look at the following resources:
Last updated: March 7,, 2002; Links checked March 2002
Copyright © 1998-2002, Simone Leroy, Instructor, Washtenaw Community College
Syllabus | Lesson 2 | Lesson 2a | Lesson 3 | Lesson 4 | Lesson 5 | Lesson 5a | Lesson 6