Magazine article Online

Search Engines in the Internet Age

Magazine article Online

Search Engines in the Internet Age

Article excerpt

Online has certainly become mainstream. A decade ago, the talk was all about end-user searching, but it never took off with the general public any more than CompuServe and America Online could grab the attention of the masses without the multimedia hyperlinked capabilities of the World Wide Web. The Web offers everyone with Internet access and a bit of knowledge the opportunity to become a publisher, to share information with others. So, in a sense, the advent of the Web and Windows-based graphical browsers was the dawning of the Internet age.

As the information content available on the Web grew, the Web public needed ways to find it. Since all of the information was in digital form and was generally free to all virtual visitors, creating a software program to retrieve and index the content was relatively simple. Dump the indexed files into a database, add Web-based search capabilities on top, and voila! Finally, an online database with search features that the general public not only wanted to use, but clamored to use. So much so, that the database could be supported merely on advertising dollars.

And what have these large databases of indexed Web pages come to be called? Search engines. Despite the fact that the term only describes the search component of the information system and despite all the other search engines in use in non-Internet products and other software programs.

The Web search engines have broad popular appeal. They are the tools that have finally made end-user searching a reality. And while they cater to the general public, the Web search engines are increasingly important tools for the information professional as well. Not ones to disdain free searching or free information, we make good use of these search tools, even while we sometimes wish for the precision and advanced capabilities of our traditional command line systems with accurate Boolean processing, extensive field searching capabilities, advanced output and display options, truncation, search saves, controlled vocabulary, current awareness services, and a targeted subject focus.

As more and more substantial, current, and even authoritative resources become available on the Web, the Internet becomes an ever more important source to search. And effective searching is easier the better we understand how our search tools work.

CURRENT FEATURES AND FUTURE PLANS

This issue of ONLINE focuses on search engines, especially the Web search engines. So what is the state of the search engines in this new age of the Internet? How do they work? Which ones have which commands and when are metasearch engines a helpful alternative? What can be used on an intranet? Where are they going in the future? Read on for an overview and some detailed analysis by search engine industry experts.

Randolph Hock, in his detailed Features and Commands Comparison Chart, provides an easy-to-use reference for the professional searcher. Going beyond the usual information presented in such charts, Hock provides more details on Boolean operators, output options, and special features, all from the vantage point of the professional searcher. In addition, he gives clear descriptions of each of the features covered in the chart and even notes the default search operator. Study the chart and accompanying commentary closely since there are many features listed that may be useful to add to your search arsenal.

Danny Sullivan, the well-known keeper of Search Engine Watch and the Webmaster's Guide to Search Engines, offers "Crawling Under the Hood: An Update on Search Engine Technology," which provides an excellent overview of some of the hot issues facing the search engine companies. Based in part on his many conversations with search engine representatives, Sullivan discusses their concerns with database size and freshness, the search engines' perspectives on what users want, and a sense of what professional searchers would like to see. …

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