"The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage."(1)
Knowledge is often equated with power. Why? Because it provides competitive strength that brings about productivity and ultimately, economic prosperity. The Internet is a resource that holds a wealth of knowledge. To locate the information in the Internet, though, takes time and practice; both are limited commodities in today's workplace. This article will help you tap into the power of the Internet by learning the ways information can be located from its most well-known source: the World Wide Web.
Any discussion of the Internet needs to begin with a brief overview of web browsers. Browsers are software programs used to view sites on the World Wide Web. Not only do they allow you to retrieve text, but browsers support graphics, hyper-links, sound, images, and animations. Without this software, a user will not have the full functionality of a web site.
Browsers can be downloaded free from the Internet or bought from a commercial vendor. By purchasing the software, written documentation for the browser, plus notices of new versions, promotional offers and customer service support will be available.
The most popular browsers include:
* Netscape Navigator (available at http://home.netscape.com/)
* Internet Explorer (available at http://www.microsoft.com/)
* NCSA Mosaic (available at http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SDG/Software/Mosaic/NCSAMosiac Home.html).
To use a browser, it is helpful to understand how Internet addresses (called Uniform Resource Locators or URLs) are designed. A typical URL looks like: http://www.microsoft. com. The first part, http:// tells your browser to use hypertext transfer protocol to connect to the Web site. The second part www.microsoft. com is the domain name. In this case it is the registered name for Microsoft Corporation.
Browsers also support a feature called a "bookmark." When given a URL, browsers "transfer" the user to the URL's first (or home) page. If the site is worth revisiting, the URL can be saved into the computer's memory as a "bookmark." This eliminates retyping a URL each time you visit a site or go online. To avoid unnecessary searching, bookmarks can also be organized by placing them in "folders."
To make a bookmark in Netscape, go to your favorite site. Pull down the "Bookmarks" menu and click on "Add Bookmark." To access your bookmarks, pull down the "Bookmarks" menu and click on the site name you would like to view. Other browsers will have a similar feature for adding and organizing bookmarks.(2)
WEB SEARCH DIRECTORIES
Many times you will know the address for the site you want to visit; in that situation simply type in the URL for that location and your computer will retrieve that site. URLs are case and space sensitive so type the address in exactly as it is printed.
Most searching, however, is not that simple. If you are looking for information on a particular topic or a broad idea, the best place to start your query is with a search directory. Search directories (also known as subject directories) are designed like a telephone book. They have pre-defined categories that list the available topics you can search. To use a search directory, a user locates the appropriate heading, and simply points and clicks on that caption. You will retrieve a group of URLs that are suitable for that topic.
Each search directory has a program that reviews sites and organizes them under the appropriate heading. Topics are determined both by a computer search of the Internet and from information provided to the subject directory by the developer of the Web site. The information retrieved will be quite extensive and reliable; however, similar to a telephone book, if you are looking for a topic that does not exist in the directory, you will have to look for an alternative title.
The most well-known search directory is Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo. com). Yahoo will search its entire database to find listings that match the terms you provide. Or, you can ask it to search one of its search categories. Some of the main search categories that would interest records and information managers include Business and Economy, Computers and the Internet, Government, and Reference.
There are also available other search directories that are less publicized. These include:
* Lycos A2Z:
* Argus Clearinghouse:
WEB SEARCH ENGINES
Due to the limitations of search directories, most searching on the Internet is done with search engines. To use a search engine, the user simply types in keywords or concepts and the search engine finds a list of document titles and URLs containing those terms. Unfortunately, each search engine works differently; results will vary because each operates under a different computer program. Fortunately, search engine sites provide instructions on their use. Users should print these instructions for later reference because each engine also has special search rules that will affect the efficiency of your searching.
The major search engines include:
* AltaVista (http://altavista.digital.com/)
Provides access to 31 million pages found on 476,000 servers, and four million articles from 14,000 Usenet news groups.(3) Claims to be one of the largest search engines. Digital Equipment Corporation operates it. Supports image searching.
* Excite (http://www.excite.com)
Uses "concept" based search technology(4) called Intelligent Concept Extraction (ICE) to summarize information located on 50 million Web pages.(5) Allows you to "Query by Example." Also is America Online's search engine of choice.(6)
* Hotbot (http://www.hotbot.com/)
Searches 54 million documents updated weekly. Created by Hotwired and Inktomi. Uses multimachines parallel computing for Internet searching.(7) Has recently launched its "SmartCrawl" system, which plans to index up to 10 million pages daily.(8) Also searches images.
* Infoseek (Ultraseek) (http://www.infoseek.com.)
Has recently updated its search software and is being promoted as the preferred search engine by many in the computer industry.(9) Holds over 50 million "meaningful", URLs in its database(10) and is the fastest search engine to index pages.(11) Is featured in CNN web sites as their preferred method to search the Internet.
* Lycos (http://www.lycos.com)
This is one of the oldest search engines. It allows both subject and word searches. Searches graphics, sounds and video.
To use a search engine, you can type in its address; however, browsers also have a search button or icon that will take you directly to search engine links. Not surprisingly, each browser seems to "spotlight" different search engines. This is because search engines pay a browser to be listed on their search menu. Some engines pay a fiat price for their placement. Others base the payment on the amount of traffic the engine receives from the browser's home page.
Most search engines work with a program called a "spider" that crawls the Internet looking for information. Documents are not individually searched; rather each program searches certain documents to pull out words that are believed to be significant. A few, called "full-text" search engines, index every word on a web page; however most, referred to as "abstract" search engines, only use a portion of the page such as the title, summary and URL. The information from this search is placed in an index. When a user places a search request, the search engine reviews its index to retrieve a response.
Updates to the index vary by search engine. Some are updated instantly, while others are reviewed multiple times a week or just weekly. Because each search engine operates a little differently, it is important to run your search with multiple search engines. Never rely on just one search engine as you might retrieve more relevant information from another engine.
Once an answer is given to your query, the search engine will display the documents in a hierarchy based on their relevancy. Relevancy will be different for each search engine; however, it may be as simple as the number of times your search terms appears within a document. Others base the ranking on the number of times your words appear in places like the search engine's index or title.
It is not clear how many documents a search engine actually searches. Some of the search engines, such as AltaVista, will list the number of documents it searched and how many sites meet your search requirements. For others, it is unclear. Because there are many uncertainties with Internet searching, again, it is best to run a search request on multiple search engines.
Search engines will display a listing of the documents that meet your search terms. The information will vary by search engine, but it usually includes the title, URL and a short description. The description will not always contain your search terms and often you must click on a document to evaluate its relevancy. Also, once you have retrieved a search document, you can't always tell where your search terms are located. To locate the exact location of your search terms, you will need to use your browser's "find" feature.
TIPS FOR SEARCHING
If you have done any type of database searching, you will find that search engines use familiar "Boolean-type" logic. This means that you can simply type in the phrase or key words you would like to search in the search box; or, you can use Boolean "connectors" with your terms for a more precise search. Common "connectors" include and, or, not, near and followed by.
The Boolean and (&) means all terms must appear in the document. Or means that one or both of the terms must be present while not marks a term cannot appear in a document. Instead of and and not, some search engines will use the plus sign (+) to include terms and the negative sign (-) to exclude terms.
Near and followed by are known as "proximity" connectors. A proximity connector refers to a numerical relationship between words. Near means your words must be within a certain number of each other(12) while followed by means a word must directly follow another.
For example, to search the phrase "document security," a user could simply type the phrase document security. However, many search engines will insert the word "or" between words typed next to one another and be read as document or security. Another approach is to search document and security; in this situation the connector and means the terms must appear somewhere in the web site. A more appropriate search would be document near security or document followed by security. This requires the words to be in close proximity to one another.
Searching, however, is not that simple. Of concern is that each search engine uses different search connectors. Some do not support proximity connectors such as near; others do not search the negative connector not. Users should read the instructions with each search engine to become familiar with the search requirements for the program. Otherwise, your search results will not be as accurate as you would like.
The following search tips, though, will assist you with the formulation of your queries:
* Searching can be case sensitive. In general, use lower case for your searches unless you are searching a term that is generally written in upper or mixed case. Examples would include NExT and RFP or proper names.
* To search a phrase or "term of art," place the search query in quotation marks. Quotation marks tell the computer to search the terms as a phrase. For example, the phrase electronic signature should be searched as "electronic signature."
* It is easy to lose track of your favorite Internet sites. To keep better track of URLs save them on your browser as bookmarks.
* Internet search engines work differently. Always run your search on multiple engines and compare your results. You may find that you prefer certain engines over others.
* Omit articles and prepositions in search terms. These are known as "stop words" which do not add value to a search. For example, the search request for proposal should be searched without the preposition "for."
* If your search includes an unusual word, you should use it. This will make your search results more accurate.
* Most search engines will truncate your words. Some do it automatically (such as Infoseek and Lycos), while others require a truncation character. The basic truncation sign is an explanation mark (!); however, AltaVista uses an asterisk (*). Using truncation, the search vault! would retrieve vaults and vaulting.
* An asterisk used in the middle of a word will work like a wild-card. Most search engines use one asterisk for one character (AltaVista is an exception). For example, the search cent** will retrieve both center and centre.
* Words written together without any search connectors are read as AND/OR. This means that the search cost benefit analysis will retrieve documents having all or some of these terms present.
* If your search retrieves peculiar results, change the order of your terms and rerun your search. Search engines tend to place more emphasis on the first few terms in your search.
* Avoid running searches written as "Plain English" queries. Some search engines are encouraging these types of searches. However, you will only confuse the computer and retrieve irrelevant or less efficient responses.
* Search engines have developed "advanced" search techniques. Check the Frequently Asked Questions ("FAQs") or help menus in the search engine for details. Sample advanced techniques include field searching (by date, URL), and proximity connectors (such as near).
* It is difficult to recreate a search at a later date and get the same results. Always save your favorite sites as bookmarks and make hard copies of relevant information.
After you have retrieved your search results, scan them to see if they solve your query. If not, check the search engine's help option or read the FAQs for assistance in refining your search. Or, try running your search with another engine.
A SAMPLE SEARCH
Let's take a simple example to illustrate how these search engines work.
Suppose you have just changed jobs and the legal department in a corporation has recently hired you. Your experience, however, has been in the medical field. You have been asked to review the retention schedule for the legal department's documents and to recommend any changes.
Before you begin the search, you need to analyze your problem to identify key words and concepts. In our example, the main words would include records retention schedule and law. In addition, users need to look at alternative spellings or synonyms for the search terms. For example, the phrase records retention schedule could also be searched as retention schedule or records retention. Any of those would be appropriate phrases to search. In addition, law might also be referred to as legal so a search for law or legal would be fitting. After completing this analysis the search might look like this:
"retention schedule" & law or legal
which will look for the phrase retention schedule and look for either of the words law and legal.
This search could be run in any of the major search engines with successful results. To familiarize yourself with the types of results you will retrieve from the various search engines, you might try this search and compare the answers. This will also give you an opportunity to evaluate some of features on other sites. Another suggestion is to try a different query of your own.
Keep in mind the search engine that worked well yesterday may not be the best place to solve today's question. This is because the Internet and search engines change daily. Keeping up on changes with search techniques is not difficult and takes only a few minutes a week. And, as the popularity of the Internet continues to soar, there will be more standardization between the search engines.
1. Aire De Geus, Head of Planning, Royal Dutch/Shell as quoted by John Naisbitt in Megatrends.
2. America Online refers to bookmarks as "favorite places"; Mosaic calls them a "hotlist."
3. http://www.altavista.digital.com 3/3/97
4. Concept based searching tries to determine what the searcher is looking for rather than searching the words exactly. It searches and indexes themes or concepts.
6. Available at http://www.aol.com/netfind/.
8. Search engine guide: What's new. Retrieved April 4, 1997 from the World Wide Web: http://www.calafia.com/webmasters/whatsnew.htm.
9. http://www.infoseek.com refers to the Washington Post, PC Computing, PCWeek and USA Today, to name a few.
11. Search engine guide: What's new. Retrieved April 4, 1997 from the World Wide Web: http://www.calafia.com/webmasters/whatsnew.htm.
12. AltaVista supports the "near" connector. The search document near security means that document must be within ten or fewer words of security.
More "Tips" on WWW Searching
* A comprehensive review of the major search engines can be located in the Webmaster's Guide to Search Engines located at http:/calafia.com/web-masters. This site also offers a "Search Engine Report" that will email you changes in search engines.
* The Spider's Apprentice located at http://www.monash.conm:80.html discusses search strategies and compares search engines.
* Carleton College Library's Web Search Tools Resource page located at http://www.library.carleton.edu/websearch/welcome.html provides tips on evaluating and selecting a search engine.
* Understanding and Comparing Web Search Tools located at http://www.hamline.edu/library/links.comparisons. html has links to various sites offering search tips.
* Advanced Searching: Tricks of the Trade can be retrieved from http://www.onlineinc. com/onlinemag/MayOL/zorn5.html.
AUTHOR: Konnie G. Kustron is an assistant professor in the Business and Technology Education Department at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Prior to joining EMU she was a Branch Manager in Detroit, Michigan, for LEXIS-NEXIS. In total, Mrs. Kustron has over sixteen years' experience with information and on-line searching.
Mrs. Kustron received her J.D. from Detroit College of Law and her B.S. degree from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. She also actively practices law.
A member of ARMA since 1994, Ms. Kustron has spoken at the 1995 international Annual Conference and will again speak in Chicago this fall. She has written several Internet related articles including the chapter "Researching the Internet" published in The Internet Guide for Michigan Lawyers. She is also frequent book and software reviewer for Legal Information ALERT.…