of the greatest features of the Internet is the amount of
information it contains. Information that used to be limited to
regional distribution via newspapers , television, and flyers is now
available on a national or even global basis. You can look for a job
in a faraway city or state. You can sell your coin collection via a
national classified ad. You can look up a phone number for a
restaurant in Paris. But all this newly available information comes
as a price: confusion. The interconnected and dynamic nature of the
Net prevents it from being organized like a traditional medium, such
as a book or a newspaper. But don't worry, another great thing about
the Internet is that it comes up with solutions for its own
problems. Enter Internet Guides and Search Engines...
of Contents vs. Index
If the Internet were a book, Internet Guides
would be the table of contents. They organize web sites into related
categories or topics, just like a table of contents organizes the
chapter in a book into different sections. Of course, in the case of
the Internet, the "book" is so big that even the table of
contents needs its own table of contents. That's why most Internet
Guides start with top-level categories and let you "drill
down" to more and more specific topics.
If the Internet were a book, Search Engines would
be the index. In order to combat the dynamic nature of the web,
Search Engines are constantly running software called
"robots" or "crawlers" that real entire web
sites and update the index entries for the specific Search Engine.
Search Engines save their data alphabetically, just like a book's
index. But, again, due to the incredible amount of information, you
don't browse through a Search Engine's listings, you search through
them by entering a word (or words) that captures what you're looking
for. Enter the words or phrases and the Search Engine should provide
you with a set of "results pages,' depending on the number of
successful "hits" that your search produces.
Should I Use?
How do you know when to use an Internet Guide and
when to use a Search Engine? the best answer is: Use both.
Now, let's pretend you're reading a book on genealogy. You might look through the table of contents (a guide) to
see if there's a chapter on researching your family tree. But if you
were looking for a more specific topic---like how to read a ship's manifest--you would look in the index. Of course, looking in the
table of contents for related topics doesn't hurt, especially if
there is an entire section on ships' manifests. By the same
looking up "research" or "family tree" in the
index doesn't hurt either, but you might simply get too many entries
related to such general terms.
A good rule of thumb is: If your topic is
general, go for an Internet Guide first. If your topic is very
specific, go for a Search Engine. But in all cases, be flexible, and
check out multiple sources. Internet Guides and Search Engines vary
greatly, and no one resource claims to have indexed the entire Web.
Do You Get...
So now, here's a riddle: What do you get when you
cross an Internet Guide with a Search Engine? The answer: A
Searchable Internet Guide. These resources allow you to enter a
search word or phrase and they look in the Internet Guide for
matches. The result: You get the best of both worlds.
Categories of web sites that match your request. Individual web
sites that match your request. And individual web pages that match
Still sound confusing? Well, it can be at first.
But be patient. Read through this tutorial to see how each works.
Try a variety of services and see which ones serve you the best.
Bookmark those for further reference. But don't forget to mix it up
every so often. All Internet Guides and Search Engines are
constantly updating their data, and a successful surfer is one that
is comfortably using a combination of services.
Finally, don't get caught up in "Web Tunnel
Vision". There is still a great deal of information that isn't
on the Net. Remember that libraries, phone directories, newspapers,
and periodicals are still great resources. Just because it's not on
the Web (yet) doesn't mean it's no worth knowing.