Carol@mirror.Co.Uk: Clues That Unravel a Web of Mystery; SEARCH ENGINES PROVIDE A HI-TEC SOLUTION

The Mirror (London, England), October 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

Carol@mirror.Co.Uk: Clues That Unravel a Web of Mystery; SEARCH ENGINES PROVIDE A HI-TEC SOLUTION


Byline: KYLE MACRAE

THERE'S only one way to find a needle in a haystack, and that's with a very powerful magnet.

Search engines work in much the same way with the web: used properly, they can help you pluck the perfect web page from the two billion or more that are out there. But which one to use?

No single search engine comes close to covering the entire web, and no two work in quite the same way. Here's our guide to finding the right tool for the job.

Search Engine vs Directory

FIRST, let's make one critical distinction. A search engine is a searchable database of websites submitted by their creators and/or found by software programs, called spiders, that roam the web indexing all they find. The entire process is automated.

A directory, on the other hand, is compiled and sorted by human editors who examine websites and categorise them according to content. You can then search the index using keywords, just as you do with a search engine, or drill through categories and sub-categories until you hone in on the right area.

There are tricks that can fool search engines into giving undeserving sites a high ranking, and directories are much less prone to these. But they generally cover less ground.

Syntax

When searching, use several keywords instead of just one or two. You will get many fewer hits but they should be more relevant. To narrow the field even more, all search engines and directories encourage you to get clever with your keywords.

For example, don't use unnecessary or misleading terms and group words into phrases. A search on "mirror" in Google throws up a ludicrous five million-plus hits, but searching on '"the mirror" "daily newspaper" "uk" reduces this to 1,600.

Spend a minute checking each site's Help, Tips or Advanced page and you'll improve your success rate dramatically.

Google www.google.com

When Google first hit the search scene, people were amazed by the uncanny relevance of its hits. The technique is deceptively simple. Google ranks web pages largely according to how many other sites link to them. This produces a measure of popularity rather than quality, but try it once and you'll be forever converted. Google also keeps a snapshot of every page that its spiders visit so you can often access sites that have recently died.

Alta Vista http://uk.altavista.com/

One of the first (going strong since 1995), one of the biggest and still one of the best search engines around. Alta Vista now has separate sections devoted to finding audio, video and picture files. Use the full range of syntax options for best effect.

Mirago www.mirago.co.uk

The world wide web just too damned big? Mirago focuses strongly on UK sites and thus consistently returns hits with regional rather than international content. There's also a useful filtering option for parents - sex, violence and drug-related queries are blocked - so you can let the kids loose without fear.

HotBot www.hotbot. …

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