Magazine article Information Today

The Challenge of Research on the Web; Tools Have Been Developed That Can Deliver Reasonably Effective Search Results

Magazine article Information Today

The Challenge of Research on the Web; Tools Have Been Developed That Can Deliver Reasonably Effective Search Results

Article excerpt

Tools have been developed that can deliver reasonably effective search results

"Reports frequently arise of wasted afternoons spent plowing through the Web trying to find that one morsel of useful information amidst the vast reservoirs of gossip, rumor, and political propaganda. Hope springs eternal; with all this horse manure, there's just got to be a pony in there somewhere."

--Langdon Winner, Technology Review, Nov./Dec. 1995

Research on the Web. It's a challenge, to say the least. Often, you feel as if you need a pitchfork. This is because of the things you won't find on the Web--authority control, for example, or quality control.

Understand that the World Wide Web was never designed to be a large-scale information retrieval system. It originated in 1989 at the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Switzerland as a way for physicists to share their research results. From there, it just "growed"--with little or no thought given to the development of refinements to maximize information retrieval.

But the situation is a heck of a lot better than it was a couple of years ago or a year ago--or even six months ago--thanks to a number of new developments:

* Search Engines. Try the "All-in-One Search Page" (http://www.albany.net/allinone/) for an amazing collection of search engines.

* Subject Trees. Yahoo! (http://www.yahoo.com) is the preeminent one, but Tradewave Galaxy (http://galaxy.einet.net/) includes gopher servers and telnet sites as well as Web-based resources.

* Distributed Subject Trees. The crown jewel of these collective/volunteer efforts is the Clearinghouse for Subject-Oriented Internet Reference Guides (http://www.lib.umich.edu/chhome.html).

Web "Meta Pages"

These resources are the classic Internet research tools we hear about most often. But true success as a "cybrarian" requires more than just mastering the ins and outs of Yahoo!, Infoseek (http://www.infos eek.com), Alta Vista (http://www.altavista.digital.com), et al. The savvy Internet researcher is always on the lookout for what are commonly called "meta pages," Web pages that contain comprehensive collections of URLs in a particular subject area, usually put together by librarians or other experts in a particular field. Why reinvent the wheel when someone who is likely to be more knowledgeable in a particular subject area than you are has already done the Web hunter/gatherer thing?

Here are some gems you may want to consider adding to your bookmark file:

* History. Horus's World Wide Web Links to History Resources (http://www.kaiwan.com/[R]lucknow/horus/horuslinks.html). At last check, this site (done by a history professor at the University of California--Riverside) contained about 1,500 separate links in a well-organized collection of topics, from African-American History to Women's History. There are also links to offbeat resources such as antique and decorator catalogs, real estate ads for historic properties, genealogical materials, specialized museums and exhibits, etc. It's amazing.

* Government. The Federal Web Locator (http://www.law.vill.edu/fed-agency/fedwebloc.html), a project of the Villanova University Center for Information Law and Policy, is intended "to bring the cybercitizen to the federal government's doorstep." Those familiar with that venerable ready reference tool, The U.S. Government Manual, will notice a similarity of organizational structure here; government servers are grouped by branch and agency. Particularly helpful are the numerous "quick jump" links, provided for convenience. Near the top of the site is a section of "Latest Additions to the Federal Web Locators." Check this out for new and/or topical government Web servers.

* Online News. The BIG List of Internet News Sources (http://www.dcez.com/~season/inetnews.htm) is a compilation of resources posted to the InetNews listserv (e-mail to: list serv@nstn.ca; subject line blank; message body: subscribe INET-NEWS Yourfirstname Yourlastname). …

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