Harley Hahn's
Internet Advisor


Chapter 11...

Finding Stuff On The Net

The Internet is one of the best sources of information in the world. There are hundreds of millions of Web pages and tens of thousands of Usenet discussion groups: the products of people all over the world who contribute and share.

However, information is only useful if you can find it, and the Internet has no central directory. Moreover, since no one is in charge, there is no one to organize everything. Nevertheless, once you understand what is out there and how to access it, there are ways to find what you want when you want it.

In this chapter, I am going to show you how it all works by answering one of the most common questions people ask me: How do I find stuff on the Net?

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Starting a Search

Searching the Net requires more than skill and knowledge. It requires time to develop your skills. I was once at an Internet conference when a young man came up to me and asked, "How do I find information about Carnegie Hall?" My answer was, "Practice, practice, practice."

I spend a lot of time finding stuff on the Net. For some years now, I have published a book called Harley Hahn's Internet Yellow Pages (the original Internet Yellow Pages). Every year, I revise the book and spend many, many hours looking for information on the Internet.

I published the first edition of the book in 1992, and, since then, I have watched the Internet grow and change. Although the Internet is much larger than it was in 1992, it is, in my opinion, easier to search than ever before. The main reason is that millions of people are compiling information and creating resources and putting it all on Web sites to share with everyone else.

For example, say you are looking for information about ancient Roman coins. Somewhere on the Net, other people with the same interest have created Web sites devoted to this topic. When you visit these sites, you will find more than information and pictures, you will also find links to other Web sites about ancient Roman coins.

When I am searching for something, I often start by looking at the Web pages of people who are fanatics about that particular topic. Such people almost always collect links to related resources.

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Search Engines

A SEARCH ENGINE is a program that can search a large database for specific information. On the Web, there are a number of search engines devoted to keeping track of everything on the Web, and you can use them for free. (The companies that maintain them make their money by selling advertising.) Each search engine is different, and you must learn to use it in its own way. As an example, let me talk about GOOGLE, one of my favorite search engines.

The Google search does its best to maintain a copy of all the information on the Web. Of course, keeping a copy of everything on the Web is impossible — there is too much data, and it much of it changes every day — but Google does extraordinarily well.

When you use Google, you look for specific words, and it responds by showing you a list of links to Web pages that contain those words. Here is an example.

If you search Goggle for my name, the results will consist of a long list of links to all the Web pages in the database that contain the words Harley Hahn. When I performed this search, Google found several thousand Web pages. The Google database is huge, and within that database, there are a lot of Web pages on the Net that contain the words Harley Hahn. However, the results are organized with the most relevant links first. In this case, the first item was:

Harley Hahn Web Site

... Welcome to a place to think, learn, and
have fun - the Web site of Harley Hahn,
the best-selling Internet author of all time
and the creator of...

www.harley.com/ - 24k - Cached - Similar pages

The first five lines of information (the title and some text) are taken from the beginning of the actual Web page. They are included to help you decide whether or not you want to look at that page. If so, you have several choices.

First, you can click on the title, which is a link to the URL shown in the last line. This will take you directly to the Web page.

Second, you can click on the word Cached. This will take you to the copy of the Web page that is stored in the Google database. This is a fast way to see the Web page, because the Google Web server is designed to respond very quickly. However, since you are looking at a copy of the page, it may be out of date.

Your third choice is to click on Similar pages. The meaning of "similar" is difficult to pin down. Just try it, and see what you get.

I chose this example because in is simple. Google, and all the other search engines have far more complex capabilities than what you see here. Every search engine has built-in help documentation, and you should take the time to read it. Knowing even the basic ideas will make a big difference in the type of results you get and, ultimately, in your ability to find stuff on the Net.

In general, search engines present their data in one of two ways. First, they can show you a list of Web pages that match the criteria you specify. This is the case with the Google example above.

Second, most search engines can also present you with a list of categories. When you are looking for something, you can choose a category, then a sub-category, then a sub-sub-category, and so on, until you find what you want.

To see what I mean, click on each of the following two Google links, and notice the difference. The first link takes you to a page when you search for individual pages. The second link takes you to a page where you can use the various categories:

As you gain experience, you will see that, like Google, many of the other search engines allow you to access their data in more than one way.

As computer programs go, search engines are complex. However, they are only tools. Your success in searching the Internet depends more on your skill than on which particular search engine you use. In order to hunt down specific information, you will often have to examine various Web pages, following links from one page to another.

In general, search engines can only show you places to begin a search. It is not realistic to depend on them to do all the work, because they do not have the intelligence and discrimination of a human mind. Moreover, when you are looking for something, only you know what you really want.

My advice is to experiment with various search engines. Then choose the two you like best, and learn how to use them well by reading the help information and by practicing. All search engines have built-in help to teach you how to best use that particular search engine.

This last point is so important, that I am going to repeat it. Don't just use a search engine blindly: take some time and read the help information. Most search engines, including Google, can do a lot more that people ever realize, simply because most people won't take the time to read the instructions.

— hint —

When it comes to searching the Internet, it is far more important to develop your own skills than to use a lot of different search engines.

There are a great many search engines on the Internet. For reference, here are some of the best ones. If you have a copy of my Yellow Pages book, look in the section called "Finding Stuff on the Net", where you will find a more comprehensive collection of resources.

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Techniques for Using a Search Engine

The best way to learn how to use a search engine is to read the help documentation and then practice. To get you started, I will show you a few techniques that should work with most search engines.

First, if you want to search for words that must be together, you can put them within quotation marks. For example, let's say you use Google to search for:

Harley Hahn

This tells Google to search for all Web pages that contain either of the words Harley and Hahn anywhere on the page. When I did this, Google found 52,500 such pages. It would be more expedient to search for pages that contain the two words Harley Hahn together. To do so, put the words in quotation marks in the order you want to see them:

"Harley Hahn"

The better the search criteria, the more exact the results. In this case, Google found 7,870 pages. However, you have to be careful. If you search for this pattern with Google, you will get good results. If you use the same pattern with the Yahoo search, it won't work as well, because Yahoo classifies author names with the first name last:

Hahn, Harley

Thus, if your first search doesn't find what you want, it is a good idea to try different combinations.

Sometimes the best way to use a search engine is to specify a list of words that are related to what you want. For example, one day, I wanted to make a pizza for someone who is a vegetarian. To find a suitable recipe, I said to myself, "What words are related to what I need?" I then used Google to search for:

recipe vegetarian pizza

The results contained over 65,200 items. Why? Because I asked for all the Web pages that contain any of these three words in any order. To narrow it down, I specified that the words vegetarian and pizza must be together:

recipe "vegetarian pizza"

This still yielded way too many items, because I was picking up all the Web pages with the word recipe regardless of the context.

When this happens, there are two easy ways to narrow the search.

  • Use a plus sign (+) to indicate you only want Web pages that contain a specific word
  • Use a minus sign (-) to indicate you only want Web pages that do not contain a specific word

So, to narrow down the pizza search, I searched for pages that contained both of my search terms:

+recipe +"vegetarian pizza"

Now the search was more successful: there were 1,240 items. However, as it happens, the person I was going to cook for does not like olives, so I needed to eliminate all the recipes with olives. To do so, I searched for:

+"vegetarian pizza" +recipe -olives

I was now down to 669 items. Then I remembered that my friend does like artichokes, so I changed the search to:

+"vegetarian pizza" +recipe -olives +artichoke

This yielded a nice, manageable set of results: 49 items. Within these items, I was able to find several suitable recipes for vegetarian pizza with artichoke but no olives. Thus, thanks to the Web (and a search engine), I was able to cook the pizza I wanted, and a good time was had by all.

Use the plus or minus sign when you suspect in advance that a particular set of words is going to yield a lot of spurious results. For example, say I was looking for information about the movie Rocky made by Sylvester Stallone. I could search for Web pages that contain either stallone or rocky:

stallone rocky

However, since I know I want to eliminate as many irrelevant pages as I can, I would start with a more specific search:

+stallone +rocky -mountains -bullwinkle

In this case, by specifying -mountains -bullwinkle I am able to eliminate a great many unwanted items.

— hint —

If you want to get good at using a search engine, take some time to read the online help, and teach yourself how to use the advanced features.

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Usenet Search Engines

In my experience, searching the Web allows you to find what you need almost all of the time. The Web is mature enough that virtually everything you might want is out there somewhere. Sometimes, however, you need more than information. There will be times when what you really need are people's opinions, particularly those having to deal with personal experience and preferences. At such times, you can often get better results by searching Usenet.

Usenet is a global system of thousands of different discussion groups. I described Usenet generally in Chapter 2, and will talk about it in detail in Chapter 13. For our discussion here, there are only a few important points you need to know.

To access Usenet, you use a program called a newsreader. (For historical reasons, Usenet discussion groups are often called "newsgroups", although they don't really contain news.) Anyone with an Internet connection can participate, and millions of people around the world have been doing so for years. There is a Usenet newsgroup for every topic you can imagine, including current events of all types. In fact, I would be inclined to say there is not much that happens in the world that isn't discussed somewhere on Usenet.

Within a specific newsgroup, people from all over the Net post (send in) articles that are seen by everyone who reads that group. Thus, one of the best ways to find help is to post a message to the appropriate Usenet newsgroup, especially if what you need is unusual or timely. Of course, you will have to wait for people to read and respond to your article.

For example, I have a friend who wanted to buy a certain type of camera, but she wasn't sure exactly what to choose or where to buy it. She posted a message asking for help to one of the Usenet photography groups, and a half dozen people sent replies. Over the next few days, she was able to correspond with some of these people by email, and ask more questions as she narrowed down her search. The people who wrote her gave a lot of good advice, and, as a result, she was able to find exactly what she needed at a good price. Moreover, she made a few friends who know a lot about photography, people who would be glad to help her if she has a problem in the future.

— hint —

No matter what you need to know, there are people on the Net who already know it and would be glad to help you. You can use Usenet to help you find those people.

Earlier in the chapter, I described how I used a Web search engine to look for a recipe for a particular type of vegetarian pizza. Probably, at some time, someone on Usenet discussed a similar recipe. However, the conversation on Usenet is always changing, and the articles are kept for only a short time. Nevertheless, there is a way to search through old articles.

At one time, there were a number of Usenet repositories on the Net that were maintained as archives. Now, there is only one (maintained by Google). To access this archive, you use a USENET SEARCH ENGINE. This allow you to access the vast number of articles that have been posted to all the newsgroups around the world.

As with the Web search engines, it can take a bit of time to learn how to use these tools well, so be sure to read the help information. Moreover, your searching will be a lot more rewarding if you understand what Usenet is and how it works, so do take some time to read Chapter 13, where I discuss these topics in detail.

Usenet Search Engine

http://groups.google.com/

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Accessing Your Favorite
Search Engines Quickly

There are two ways you can customize your browser in order to be able to access your favorite search engines quickly.

First, with Internet Explorer, you can put their addresses in your Favorites list. (I explain how to do this in Chapter 7.) My suggestion is to create a folder named Search Engines. If you are not sure which ones you like best, start with all the ones I mention in this chapter. Put them all in one folder, and experiment. Over time, you will develop your own favorites.

Accessing a search engine (or any Web site) from your Favorites list is easy, but for sites you visit a lot, you can make things even faster by creating customized buttons. (Again, this is something I discuss in more detail in Chapter 7.) Figure 11-1 shows custom buttons with Internet Explorer.

Figure 11-1: Custom buttons for accessing search engines

With Internet Explorer, you can create custom buttons on the Links toolbar. All you need to do is place items in the Links folder of your Favorites list. Internet Explorer will automatically create a custom button for each item in this folder.

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The Internet Explorer Search Facility

Internet Explorer has a built-in search facility. To use it, click on the Search button or press Ctrl- E. When you do, Internet Explorer will open a special area called the EXPLORER BAR. (See Figure 11-2.) You can use the Explorer bar to make multiple searches, one after the other.

When you are finished, you can close the Explorer bar by clicking on the Search button or pressing Ctrl- E once again. Alternatively, you can click on the X in the top right-hand corner of the Explorer bar, to the right of the word Search. (Don't click on the X in the top right-hand corner of the browser window, or you will shut down Internet Explorer.)

As you are working with the Explorer bar, you can make it narrower or wider by dragging the rightmost edge to the left or right. (That is, move your mouse pointer to the line that separates the Explorer bar from the right side of the window. Then, while holding down the left button, move the mouse to the left or right.)

Figure 11-2: The Internet Explorer search facility

What's in a Name?

Explorer Bar


Within Internet Explorer, whenever you click on the Search, Favorites or History buttons, the browser opens up a special area called the Explorer bar.

Don't be confused by the word "bar". The name is just one of those meaningless Microsoft terms you can either ignore or memorize.

There are two ways to make use of the Explorer bar. First, you can use the SEARCH ASSISTANT. This allows you to enter words to search for, and then use more than one search engine, one after the other. The other choice is to specify only one search engine and use it for everything.

To use the Search Assistant:

  1. Click on the Search button to open the Explorer bar.
  2. Within the Explorer bar, make sure that Find a Web page is selected from the list of categories.
  3. In the box below the list of categories, type the words for which you want to search.
  4. Click on the small Search button at the right side of the box. Internet Explorer will submit your query to a search engine and display the results for you.
  5. To repeat the search with another search engine, click on the Next button near the top of the Explorer bar.
  6. To start a brand new search, click on the New button near the top of the Explorer bar. (Once you get used to using the Search Assistant, it's a lot easier than it sounds.)

Learn how to...

Customize the Search Facility

You can customize the Search Assistant by choosing which search engines it should use. Alternatively, you can turn off the Search Assistant and use only one search engine.

So, should you use the Internet Explorer search facility? My feeling is that, for several reasons, it is better to ignore the search facility and use your favorite search engines directly.

First, it is easy to create a few custom buttons on the Links toolbar to access the search engines of your choice. (I explain how to create custom buttons earlier in the chapter.)

Second, when you use the search facility, the results of your search are condensed (because they have to fit within the Explorer bar). You will only see a portion of the results, with many of the details omitted. If you use a search engine in the regular manner, you will see a lot more information.

Finally, as I discussed earlier in the chapter, it is a fallacy to assume you can get good results by using multiple search engines. The best way to find things on the Internet is to learn how to use one or two good search engines well, and to develop your own skills by reading the documentation and by practicing.

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Cool Browser Tricks

Since searching the Web is such a common activity, your browser has a special feature to make the job easier. Wherever you can type a URL, you can also enter a ? (question mark) character followed by a list of search words. When you press Enter, your browser will automatically submit the words to a search engine and then display the results. For example, to search for information about cats, you can click on the address bar and type:

? cats

This is shown in Figure 11-3. (Notice that you must type a space after the question mark.)

Figure 11-3: Entering a search request: the address bar

If you like, you can search for multiple words. For example:

? travel cruise bahamas

However, you can't, as a general rule, use more complex searches like the ones we discussed earlier in the chapter. For example, yf you want to use special characters (such as + and -), you may need to use a search engine directly.

Learn how to...

Specify Which Search Engine to Use for Address Bar Searches

Within Internet Explorer, you can choose which search engine is used for address bar searches.

When you enter a query directly to your browser, how do you know which search engine will be used? The choice of search engine depends on the current marketing agreements the browser company has with the various search engine companies. As you probably will have guessed, making deals to send your queries to this or that search engine is another opportunity for browser companies to make money. Are you starting to get a feeling why both Microsoft and AOL (which owns Netscape) want to control the browser market?

When typing a search request, you can use either a ? (question mark), the word find, or the word go. For example, the following search requests are equivalent:

? cats

find cats

go cats

If you are searching for more than one word at a time, you can even leave out the ? character. For example:

travel cruise bahamas

? travel cruise bahamas

find travel cruise bahamas

go travel cruise bahamas

As I mentioned in Chapter 7, you can press Ctrl-O to display a window into which you can type an address. Well, you can also type a search request into this same window.

Thus, a quick way to perform a simple search is to press Ctrl-O, type ?, followed by one or more search words, and then press Enter. For example, try this:

  1. Press Ctrl-O
  2. Type ? cats
  3. Press Enter

If you are entering more than one word, you can leave out the ? character. Try this:

  1. Press Ctrl-O
  2. Type travel cruise bahamas
  3. Press Enter

You can see such a search being initiated in Figure 11-4.

Figure 11-4: Entering a search request: the address window

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Question Lists)

It was a beautiful, sunny Southern California day. I was sitting on my beachfront patio, watching the intricate patterns of the waves as they lapped lazily on the sand. In the distance, a school of dolphins frolicked playfully, while the pelicans flew in tight formation, skimming down low, barely a foot above the tips of the whitecaps.

I had just finished an early morning surfing session and was relaxing in a comfortable chair, sipping a tall, cool fruit smoothie. I listened to the distant cry of the seagulls as they foraged for their breakfast. I closed my eyes and listened to the rhythmic sound of the waves and the gentle stirring of the wind as it rustled the leaves of the nearby palm trees.

It hadn't been more than five minutes when I felt a shadow cross my chair, and without even opening my eyes, I could tell who it was. Only a cop would walk with that heavy, thumping, flat-footed gait, even on the sand.

"Go away, Lieutenant," I said. "I told you never to bother me before noon. Why aren't you off catching criminals somewhere?"

"Aw... why do you have to be like that? You know we always cooperate with you. Why can't you help us out once in a while?"

"Because I don't like cops, especially dumb cops, and especially in the morning. What do you want? I assume you didn't come all the way to the beach just to get a suntan."

"They told me that someone named the Colonel has the whatcha-ma-hoosers."

"The what?"

He pulled a small, beat-up notebook out of his pocket, and flipped through a couple of pages. "The FAQs," he said.

I sat bolt upright in my chair and took off my lime-green sunglasses. "The Colonel's got the FAQs? If that's true it means trouble for you. Lots of trouble. How did it happen?"

The Lieutenant produced a stained white handkerchief and wiped his brow. He was sweating profusely. "I don't know, but if Superintendent Babin finds out, I'll be back pounding the street within a week. What are these FAQ things anyway?"

"How much do you know about finding information on the Internet?" I asked.

"The regular stuff, what they teach in the Academy. But I never heard of FAQs."

I lay back in my chair and closed my eyes. "A FAQ," I began, "is a frequently asked question list. Years ago, people who used Usenet noticed that newcomers always seemed to ask the same questions. For example, whenever people join, say, the cat discussion group, they ask the same basic questions about cats.

"So, in many Usenet groups, someone would prepare a list of all the frequently asked questions along with the answers. This list, a FAQ, would be posted to the group regularly, as well as to one or two special groups used for periodic postings. Over time, a great many FAQs were written dealing with many, many topics. "Today, there are several thousand different FAQs, just from Usenet alone. As a matter of fact, when I am looking for information, I often search for a FAQ from a related Usenet group. For example, if you wanted some information about cats, you could check to see if the cat discussion group had a FAQ. If so, there is a good chance that what you need would be in the FAQ."

The Lieutenant thought about it. It took him a few minutes. Thinking was not his strong point. "So how do you find a FAQ when you need one?"

I laughed. "Don't you learn any of this at the Academy? What do you do, ride horses all day long?"

He snorted like a bulldog choking on a bone.

"There are several ways to find a FAQ," I continued.

"First, there are Web sites that act as FAQ repositories. You can check those, or you can use a search engine to look for a FAQ related to the topic you want. For example, to find FAQs about cats, you could search for +cats +FAQ.

"Alternatively, you can use your Usenet newsreader and look in the appropriate discussion group. As I told you, FAQs are posted regularly to the related groups. If you know the name of a discussion group, that's always a good place to look for a FAQ. For cats, that would be rec.pets.cats.

"Another group to check is news.answers. This is a special Usenet group to which people post copies of all the FAQs and other periodic Usenet postings. When you look in news.answers, you'll see all kinds of FAQs. Sometimes I look just for fun, to see what's there.

"And, of course, you can use a Usenet search engine. That's often the fastest way to find a FAQ and get the information you need."

The Lieutenant nodded. "I see. But what does that have to do with the Colonel?"

"The idea of a FAQ," I answered, "has proven to be very popular. People make up FAQs on all different topics, not just those associated with Usenet groups. For example, I have a FAQ on my Web site to answer the most common questions people ask me.

"Now, I happen to know that for the last six months, Superintendent Babin has been working on a set of FAQs about police procedures and tracking down criminals on the Internet. These FAQs are highly confidential and were never supposed to leave your internal computer network. Just before he left for Guatemala, he encoded everything. Evidently, the Colonel has found a way to break into your system and decode the files."

"So, can I find the Colonel?" The Lieutenant was really beginning to sweat now. "Can you help me get back the FAQs before it's too late?"

"The Colonel is a very talented hacker in the pay of a foreign power. Fortunately for you, we are dealing with a highly secretive person who moves slowly and deliberately. Chances are, yes, if we find the Colonel quickly, we can get the FAQs back before it is too late."

"So what should we do?"

"Hold on." I went inside and used my high-speed connection to make a few fast searches on the Net. "You're in luck," I told the Lieutenant. "I think I know where we can find the Colonel. Let's take my car."

We jumped into the red BMW 328i, and in twenty minutes, we pulled up outside a nondescript gray building. Fifteen seconds later, we were knocking on the door of #127.

"Better call for a patrol car. Then get your handcuffs out, " I said.

We heard the sound of gentle footsteps and, a moment later, the door was opened by a ravishing ash blond woman with a set of curves that could cause a traffic jam in the Gobi Desert. She was wearing a black and gray skin-tight outfit that accentuated every natural resource in her collection. Her eyes were a chilled blue, the color of the ocean on a winter afternoon, and her plump crimson-lined lips were twisted upward, in a shallow half-smirking smile. If she was surprised, she didn't show it.

"Lieutenant," I said, "may I present Colonel Valerie Babushka." I walked into the room and picked up a CD from the table. "And here, if I am not mistaken, are the missing FAQs."

She tried to run, but the Lieutenant had his own ideas. It was the work of a moment for him to produce the handcuffs, clamp them over the Colonel's slender, feminine wrists (from which I caught just a hint of fragrance of chypre) and hustle her out the door.

I threw the CD to the Lieutenant. He looked at me gratefully. "The entire department," he said, "is in your debt."

The Colonel looked up at me, pouting. "You're a good guy," she said. "Can't you help me? Without your expert testimony they haven't got a case. Couldn't we make a deal?"

"Sorry, sister, but you play too rough for me. You used Sammy to get the FAQs, but when he wanted more than you agreed on, you hired Starkwell to bump him off. And when Starkwell wouldn't play along, you took care of him yourself that night with the dwarf and the one-eyed harmonica player. You thought you could get away with it then, and you think you can play me for a sap now. Well, you can't. You were just about to skip town, to sell the CD to the Little Nipper and stiff your own people, weren't you?"

At the mention of the Little Nipper, her blue eyes grew wide with fear and her mouth quivered. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said.

I motioned to the Lieutenant and pointed at the police car which had just driven up. "Take her in," I said. "I'll catch up with you later. "

As the car started, she began to panic. "Look," she said, "it isn't too late. We can still make a deal. What do you need? I'll give you anything you want."

The color of her eyes changed to a deeper, more magnetic blue, and her pupils widened. Her mouth took on a wry, vulnerable smile as she raised her carefully manicured eyebrows like two question marks. As I watched the car pull slowly away from the curb, the nearby jacaranda trees cast a pattern of bar-like shadows over her face, and her expression changed to a silent and fearful plea for help.

She twisted her body toward me and leaned out the window. "Surely, there must be something I can give you. Isn't there anything you want? Anything at all?"

"Just the FAQs, ma'am," I said, as I pulled down my lime- green sunglasses, slipped into the red BMW 328i and drove off into the warm, California sun.

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Web Rings

A WEB RING is a collection of Web sites organized into a loop. From any Web site in the ring, you can follow a link to move forward to the next site, or a different link to move backward to the previous site. If you keep moving in one direction, you will eventually transverse the entire ring and end up where you started.

The idea behind Web rings is to make it easy to visit a group of related Web sites. There are literally tens of thousands of Web rings devoted to a variety of subjects: movies, computers, sports, health, hobbies, pets, and so on. A popular topic will have many different rings; a more esoteric topic will have only a single ring. A typical Web ring might have 10 or 20 Web sites, although many rings are larger, some with well over a hundred sites.

The Web ring system is organized by a group of people who manage a central Web site containing a catalog of the various rings. They also maintain the software that makes the whole thing operate. The content of the rings, however, consists of hundreds of thousands of regular Web sites created by individuals around the Net.

If you have a Web site, it is free to have it become part of an existing Web ring. Similarly, anyone is allowed to start a new ring, which is also free. Each Web ring is administered by a volunteer called a RINGMASTER, usually the person who started the ring. He or she will maintain a master list of the Web sites in the ring and ensure that the links stay intact as various sites join and drop out. The ringmaster will also build up the ring by inviting people to add new sites.

I like Web rings because they are useful for finding information. The best way to do so is to start at the main Web ring site (see below), where you can search for rings devoted to a particular topic. Once you find such rings, you can check the individual Web sites for what you need.

— hint —

If you have your own Web site devoted to a particular topic, you can attract people to the site by joining a Web ring.

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An Approach to Searching the Net

In this chapter, I have discussed a variety of different tools and techniques you can use to find information on the Net. However, tools and techniques only take you so far. In my experience, the best Internet researchers develop a feeling for the Net and an innate sense of how to approach a problem. To help you develop a style of your own, I have a few final hints for you.

If you have a copy of my book Harley Hahn's Internet Yellow Pages, use it as a starting place.

Every year, as I revise the book, I look for the best items I can find in each category. I particularly look for resources that will lead you to other resources. I often use the book myself as a shortcut when I need to find something fast.

Pick at least two different search engines and learn how to use them well.

Search engines are complex tools that can help you in many ways if you know how to ask for that help. Each search engine is different and has its own strengths and weaknesses. The more you use them, the better they will work for you. Take time to read the help information and experiment with different types of searches.

Become familiar with Usenet and how it works. (See Chapter 13.)

The strength of Usenet lies in the millions of people who participate in the discussion groups. There will be times when you will find the help of other people invaluable, so it is a good idea to learn about Usenet now. Once you are familiar with Usenet, spend a little time with the Usenet search engines. They are valuable tools that will often help you find what you need when all else fails.

The more you know about your topic, the easier it is to find what you want.

If you are looking for information about which you are not particularly knowledgeable, it is often a good idea to start by looking up some of the basic facts and terminology. This helps you in two ways. First, you will be able to think of better search words. Second, when you do find information, you will more likely be able to make sense out of it. The Net covers a lot of topics, but in many areas, there is a significant paucity of introductory material.

Preparing for a search is especially important if you are a student. The Internet is a great place for research, but it is not a substitute for the library. I can tell you that, although I search the Internet for a living, I have more than seventy different reference books on my bookshelf, and generally speaking, the information in these books is more reliable than what I find on the Net.

Ask other people for help.

If you find a Web site that is close to what you want, you can send a polite note to the person who maintains the site asking for help. Most people who create Web sites are willing to help people with similar interests.

However, don't be disappointed if you do not get an answer. Some popular Web sites take a lot of work to maintain, and there isn't always time to answer every message, especially when someone receives a lot of mail.

Learn to search creatively.

The best researchers learn to be creative in how they look for something. If your first search doesn't return what you want, change the search words and try again. You will often find that you need to slowly close in on your target. However, with practice, you will become faster. Some of my researchers are so fast that just watching them is an awe-inspiring experience. You would not believe how quickly they can break an idea into parts, and try various combinations, one after the other, until they get what they want.

My goal is to teach you more than how to use search engines, FAQs and Web rings. What I want is for you to begin to think in a new way. There is no central Internet administration, but that does not mean there is no order.

The information on the Internet (and the Web in particular) tends to organize itself in certain ways that you can teach yourself to understand. The Internet has a rhythm, and once you tune into this rhythm, you will almost always be able to find whatever you want, whenever you want it.

— hint —

Give a man information about a fish, and he will be satisfied for a day.

Teach a man how to find information about fish on the Internet, and he can satisfy his needs for a lifetime.

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