Forget Surfing, Let's Go Fishing!

By Kennedy, Shirley Duglin | Information Today, October 2001 | Go to article overview

Forget Surfing, Let's Go Fishing!


Kennedy, Shirley Duglin, Information Today


Recreational Internet use has given way to more focused application

There's a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore like an idiot.--Steven Wright, U.S. comedian

Surfing may have been an appropriate metaphor for what was done on the Internet back in the days when we were still filled with a sense of wide-eyed wonder at the richness of the World Wide Web. But as more people incorporate the Internet into their lives as an information utility, perhaps we need a fresher metaphor that is more descriptive of what people are actually doing online.

We're fishing.

Few of us have the time to spend idly riding the waves of cyberspace anymore. And that's not just true for information professionals. If you keep up with the ongoing series of Internet-user studies done by the Pew Internet & American Life Project (http://www.pewintemet.org), you can read between the lines and see that there's less recreational Internet use these days, but more focused use. Indeed, people may be spending fewer total hours on the Net because they're getting more efficient at finding what they need. (See the Time Online report "Why Some People Use the Internet More Than Before and Why Some Use It Less" at http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/toc.asp?Report=37.)

If you use the Internet regularly in your job, you get very good at knowing exactly where to toss your hook into the water. Yes, we all love Google (http://www.google.com), but we also know that starting our research with one of the "big gun" search engines is not always the best approach. Through trial and error, we eventually identify a series of reliable fishing holes that work well for us in different types of situations. You know what I mean. A colleague asks, "Where can I find ...?" and you reply, "Well, I'd start looking at ..." and spout off a site name or URL.

A recent example: My neighbors all know that my job requires that I spend most of my life on the Internet. So it's not unusual to be waylaid by someone when I walk outside to pick up the newspaper, get the mail, trim the bushes, etc. "I need to buy a new printer," a neighbor said to me recently. "How can I go about looking up reviews and stuff on the Internet?"

OK, here's what I would do. Toss my hook in the water initially at CNET's Hardware Reviews (http://computers.cnet.com/hardware/0-1016.html?tag=dir), read a few general articles about printers to get some idea of what features to look for, and take a glance at the editors' top picks in various categories. Then I'd drill down to the serious brand-by-brand reviews. CNET lets you do side-by-side comparisons of several models. Once I've narrowed down my choices to a few printers, I'd go looking for more reviews. My top three fishing holes for locating computer-related product reviews are the following:

* ReviewBooth (http://www.reviewbooth.com), a searchable database of published hardware and software reviews. It contains roughly 14,000 reviews from tech and consumer publications worldwide.

* ReviewFinder (http://www.reviewfinder.com), a site where you can browse by category or search by keyword. It includes reviews from other sites and publications as well as in-house reviews.

* About.com Computer Reviews (http://compreviews.about.com), a hardware review nexus where you can browse alphabetically by vendor name or search the site. It also includes shopping advice, customer service ratings, links to relevant publications, and price-comparison sites.

After reading professional-type reviews, it's helpful to see what real live consumers have to say. Assuming you've narrowed your printer choices down to two or three different models by now, you should head over to Epinions.com (http://www.epinions.com), where you can browse through reviews written by individuals who have actual experience with the product you're looking to purchase. Finally, it can be enlightening to run a quick search for the models you're considering (and their parent companies) at Google Groups (http://groups. …

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