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Searching on the Internet

There are four different types of search facilities on the Internet:

  • keyword databases
  • category databases
  • natural language engines
  • content-specific repositories

Each of these has advantages depending on the type of search you need. In some cases, you may want to use several types of these facilities, just to get the best coverage possible.

Keyword databases involve "spiders": programs that crawl all over the web reading every web page they come across. They send the pages back to their database where each word is indexed. So when you want to lookup flibbertigibbet, they can tell you all the pages that word appears on.
Google is the most awesome search engine I've ever seen! Not only does it have amazing coverage, but it is blazingly fast as well. Plus, the Google people haven't sold out by selling top ratings to the highest bidder: instead, they sell small, identifiable sponsored links at the top and along the sides of the results pages.

In addition to scouring the web, Google has bought the DejaNews database which covers Usenet newsgroups. This is an invaluable resource for just about everyone, but especially for technical people who are looking for answers to specific problems.

But wait, there's more! The Googleoids are working on a very fancy-shmancy catalog search facility: you enter your keywords and Google shows you the pages those words appear on, and even highlight the products on the page, where those words are used. Uberkewl!
Alta Vista used to be the coolest search engine around; now Google is better and faster. You can try this one out for comparison.
Another fan of Google suggested AllTheWeb as an alternative when Google or Yahoo don't yield the desired results. I've just added it to my arsenal, so I don't yet have much experience with it. Film at 11.

Category databases involve human reviewers and editors, who visit each website, write a short description of it, and place it in a category. The first, and perhaps most famous of these, is Yahoo.
Actually, Yahoo uses both types of databases: keyword and category. Plus, not only are they a search engine, they're also a portal: you can register with them for free and get news, sports, entertainment, web-based e-mail, participate in all kinds of groups, or even start your own group. Of course, all of these services are now starting to sprout price tags. Oh well, it couldn't last...
The Open Directory Project (ODP) claims it is the largest directory on the Internet. It probably is, too, because they don't pay their editors! That's right, they're all volunteers. So the directory itself is also free, and many search engines use the ODP's directory to supplement their own data.

Want to be an editor? Step right up! You can find all the information you need on the ODP website.
I like this one. used to be called The Mining Company. Their concept is more focussed than Yahoo's: For each category or topic, they have a guide; a human specialist in that topic. The guide creates a website with weekly articles, links and so forth, and also hosts a discussion forum on the topic. The guides actually get paid based on the amount of traffic to their particular site. Of course, puts in sponsored links (aka ads) on all the pages, but not only do they not get in the way, some of them are even, can you believe it, relevant and useful!

Natural language engines allow you to ask your questions in English. There's only one of these I know about. If you know of any others, please let me know.
Ask Jeeves can accept either entire questions, or simply keywords. It tries to figure out what the user wants, and looks in its vast database of pre-canned questions for a match, then displays the answers to those questions it thinks you're asking. Sometimes it gets it, sometimes it doesn't. When it does, it can be bang on.

Some of the questions I've asked it:

  • What is the meaning of life?
  • How much does an F-18 cost?
  • Who devised the 80-20 rule?
  • Is Jeeves gay?

Content-specific repositories tend to concentrate on one type of information, and are therefore extremely good at providing the information you're looking for. Here are a few I'm especially enamoured with. If you've got one you think should be on this list, by all means, let me know.
An excellent resource of Canadian history, culture, art, science, sports and society.
It's no secret, I'm a movie addict. Love movies, hate the MPAA. But that's a topic for another day. If you want to find anything about a movie, actor, director, producer, or whatever, your best bet is The Internet Movie DataBase.
Another movie database site.
The Movie Review Query Engine is great: you enter the movie title, and it gives you a list of links to reviews of that title. With the rising cost of going to the movies, you're best off arming yourself with good research to decide if you want to blow upwards of $30 on the latest Hollywood drek, or wait for it to come to television.
A movie review site with a difference: they canvas the reviewers and give you a summary of their opinions. Probably a good way to find reviewers with the same sensibilities as yourself.

The site also sports a number of useful features, such as: link to the official movie site; capsule overview including release date, cast and crew, plot summary, MPAA rating, runtime, genres, and parent evaluations.
Startlingly complete bios and discographies of bands and musicians, comprehensively cross-referenced. If they would only add a searchable lyrics database, it would be complete; but the RIAA prevents this...
Staggeringly good lyrics site! I've been looking for something like this for a long time. They could make it marginally better by adding credits and dates for the songs. Wondering about the .ly country code? It's Libya. Can you spell RIAA?
The best place to look up a word used to be the Merriam-Webster site. But no more. This site looks up words on several sites, and presents the results.
Looking for an address or phone number? Sadly, this site doesn't support address lookups. Otherwise, it would qualify as awesome.

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Created 1998 02 16; last modified 2006-05-03 1:30 .
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