Magazine article Insight on the News

Web Wise: Smart Cybersurfers Choose the Right Search Engine for Specific Research Projects. (Technology)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Web Wise: Smart Cybersurfers Choose the Right Search Engine for Specific Research Projects. (Technology)

Article excerpt

Internet search engines have become intertwined in our daily lives, says Danny Sullivan, a British journalist who writes Search Engine Watch (www.searchenginewatch.com). "Some surveys find that search engines are the top way people seek information, over asking a friend or going to the library" he says. "We depend upon them so utterly."

Cybersurfers look for ease of use, relevant search results and speed when they punch in their search terms, according to Eileen Rodriguez, spokeswoman for Google.com, a popular search engine. Her company's research shows that users go online for searches more than for any other activity, save e-mail.

But finding something on the World Wide Web can be like finding a needle in a haystack, given the Web's endless array of virtual pathways. That's why search engines that give surfers a significant boost toward finding exactly what they want online are becoming valued tools.

In the Web's earlier days -- a mere six years ago -- most Internet dwellers flocked to "portal" sites for search purposes. Portals, or Websites offering news, online chats and other services, were one-stop destinations that experts predicted would attract surfers and advertising revenues alike for years to come.

The rudimentary search engines offered by such sites -- Excite.com and Lycos.com, for example -- examine Webpages by looking for key words buried within the pages or for words buried in a page's HTML coding, the hypertext markup language that creates the pages. Today, however, "search has become a specialized business," says Ross Rubin, vice president of New York-based Jupiter Media Metrix, a company that measures Webpage viewing and offers Internet consulting work. "It returned to its roots. It's more of a technological business."

The owners of some sites take a hands-on approach and register themselves with various engines to make their presence felt. When a cybersurfer punches in a key phrase or word, the engine then scans its indexes to find relevant matches. Other sites now rely on outside companies to supply the search technology. Msn.com and Hotbot.com use Inktomi, a Foster City, Calif., company, for example.

"Google has done a much better job than anything before it," says Rubin, referring to the popular search engine that began as a research project at Stanford University in the mid-1990s. It's now the highest-ranked searchonly Website. The engine uses a network of about 10,000 computers to tap into an index of more than 1.6 billion Webpages, up 60 percent from a year ago. It searches the Internet via key words inside Webpages, as other search engines do, but also through link analysis. That is, if one Webpage is linked to another, the first page considers the other page worthy of its, and the surfer's, attention. The more such votes a page gets, the higher it appears on the search-results pages.

A few other wrinkles have emerged on the search-engine scene. Iwon.com provides a search service with an incentive -- every time a registered user surfs its site, he or she is entered in a variety of sweepstakes. Prizes range from $1,000 to $35 million on April 15, its annual promotion on Tax Day.

Another new trend is sponsored searches. If a consumer searches for "shoes" on a sponsored site, a link to Payless. corn (paid for by the company) may appear at the top of the search list. Overture. corn, a search engine formerly known as Goto.com, offers such searches.

Still another search engine, Northernlight.com, hopes to coax customers looking for specific information with business implications. "We're not the search engine for people who are just browsing the Web" says Chief Executive Officer David Seuss. "We've always had subject classification as one of our leading consumer benefits"

Northern Light offers a dense listing of search options geared toward the serious surfer, indexing more than 60 million pages of business information from a database of more than 7,100 sources. …

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