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How to Find Answers to Your Questions Using the Internet

Finding Information on the Internet 
The Internet is a vast array of information (that is why a portion of it is called the World Wide Web).  Finding information on the Internet is easy.  Finding the right information, that is, information which is pertinent to what you are looking for, can be a bit more challenging.  Below you will find tips and links that will help you more easily find the information you are looking for. 

For most of my general purpose searches on the Internet, I use the Google Search Engine.  Google is great!  I consider it the best all around search engine out there.  To perform a relatively exhaustive search, I use software called Copernic to perform a meta-search (i.e. a search involving many different search engines at once).  To learn how search engines work, click here.  For a list of search engines, click here

Where to Find Answers to Your Questions 

  • General Purpose Searches
    • Google.com - the best all around search engine.  Go to the site, type in a search term and in a moment you will have lots of results.  Very fast, very accurate. You can also search for images, content on news groups, and the Open Directory Project.
      • Google News - search for news from news media sources.
      • Google Special Features - Catalog Search includes the full content of hundreds of mail-order catalogs, US street address and phone number lookup, stock quotes, etc.
      • Google Answers - Ask a question. Set your price. Get your answer. Google Answers gives you access to more than 500 approved Researchers. For as little as $2.50 per question they will do your research for you. Google Answers guarantees satisfaction or you will get a full refund. 
      • Google Labs - Google's technology playground where they showcases a few of their favorite ideas that aren't quite ready for prime time.
      • All About Google - a behind the scenes look at the company, the technology, and different ways to use the web site.
    • AnswerBus Question & Answer System - a question answering system based on sentence level information retrieval.  It accepts users' natural-language questions in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese and extracts possible answers from the Web.  Five search engines and directories (Google, Yahoo, WiseNut, AltaVista, and Yahoo News) are used to retrieve Web pages that potentially contain answers.  This site returns surprisingly good results to your questions.
    • Ask Jeeves - you can type in a question using natural language and the search engine will deliver pretty good results.
    • How Stuff Works - a media company that is internationally recognized as the leading provider of information on how things work offering in-depth articles that explain the world from the inside out.
    • A List of Other Search Engines 
  • Finding People
    • AnyWho.com - searches for a person or business's phone number and address.  Also has a phone number reverse lookup feature (type in a phone number to see who it belongs to).
    • PeopleSearch.net
  • Maps & Directions
    • MapBlast - use this site to get a map of a particular address and/or driving directions. (My Favorite)
    • MapQuest - similar to MapBlast.  A neat feature is the Aerial Photo tab that will display an actual overhead photo of an area.
    • Topo Zone - topographical maps
  • Encyclopedies & Dictionaries
  • Miscellaneous
    • FirstGov - The Official Government Gateway for connecting to just about anything that has to do with government from the White House down to your local city and county government.
    • Internet Movie Database - go here to find out facts about virtually any movie, TV show, actor, director or other entertainment figure.
    • CIA World Factbook - has information on the geography, people, government, economy and military of the different countries of the world.
A Warning About the Internet 
Once you have completed your search on the Internet and found that bit of information that seems most pertinent to what you are looking for, you need to continue to be critical of what you have found.  Check the validity and reliablity of the information.  There are a lot of opinions and missinformation out there.  Anyone can post information on the Internet (look at me for example), so you must be critical of what you read.  Look at the source of the information (e.g. health information from government sites tends to be more reliable than that from a personal web page).  Is the information up to date and accurate.  And lastly, ask yourself if what you read challenges your common sense?  Always be CRITICAL of what you read! 

Understanding the Search Tools 
These sites offer information on the differences between the available search tools, as well as which ones you might use for particular searches. They also have advice on how to make your searches more accurate. 

The Search Engine Watch - Tips and Comparisons 
Internet.com 
Internet Navigation Tools
 
 
How Search Engines Work 
The term "search engine" is often used generically to describe both crawler-based search engines and human-powered directories. These two types of search engines gather their listings in radically different ways. 

Crawler-Based Search Engines 
Crawler-based search engines, such as HotBot, create their listings automatically. They "crawl" or "spider" the web, then people search through what they have found.  

If you change your web pages, crawler-based search engines eventually find these changes, and that can affect how you are listed. Page titles, body copy and other elements all play a role. 

Human-Powered Directories 
A human-powered directory, such as Yahoo, depends on humans for its listings. You submit a short description to the directory for your entire site, or editors write one for sites they review. A search looks for matches only in the descriptions submitted. 

Changing your web pages has no effect on your listing. Things that are useful for improving a listing with a search engine have nothing to do with improving a listing in a directory. The only exception is that a good site, with good content, might be more likely to get reviewed for free than a poor site. 

"Hybrid Search Engines" Or Mixed Results 
In the web's early days, it used to be that a search engine either presented crawler-based results or human-powered listings. Today, it extremely common for both types of results to be presented. Usually, a hybrid search engine will favor one type of listings over another. For example, Yahoo is more likely to present human-powered listings. However, it does also present crawler-based results (as provided by Google), especially for more obscure queries. 

The Parts Of A Crawler-Based Search Engine 
Crawler-based search engines have three major elements. First is the spider, also called the crawler. The spider visits a web page, reads it, and then follows links to other pages within the site. This is what it means when someone refers to a site being "spidered" or "crawled." The spider returns to the site on a regular basis, such as every month or two, to look for changes. 

Everything the spider finds goes into the second part of the search engine, the index. The index, sometimes called the catalog, is like a giant book containing a copy of every web page that the spider finds. If a web page changes, then this book is updated with new information. 

Sometimes it can take a while for new pages or changes that the spider finds to be added to the index. Thus, a web page may have been "spidered" but not yet "indexed." Until it is indexed -- added to the index -- it is not available to those searching with the search engine. 

Search engine software is the third part of a search engine. This is the program that sifts through the millions of pages recorded in the index to find matches to a search and rank them in order of what it believes is most relevant. 
 

 
 
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Last updated: 7/17/03