Studying Russian Language, Literature and Culture Online
Navigating the Web

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2.1 What is a Search Engine?   

2.2 Types of Search Engines   

2.3 Understanding Search Results  

2.4 Choosing Keywords   

2.5 Overviews of Specific Search Engines

What often surprises first-time Internet researchers is how much information there is on the Internet - on almost any topic. So how do you find websites that deal with your project topic? The next few sections will introduce you to some search tactics to help you locate the websites you need and avoid the ones you don’t.

2.1 What is a Search Engine?

The best way to get around on the Internet is to make use of the many search engines that are available. Search engines (like Yahoo! or Altavista) allow you to search the Internet much like you search the University's online library catalog. As you know, the catalog allows you to enter keywords that define the subject that you are researching.

Search engines for the Internet work much the same way. You use keywords to tell the search engine what you want to find, but instead of providing you with a list of book titles and their location in the library, search engines provide you with a list of websites and their location on the Internet (the network address or Uniform Resource Locator [URL]) .

While each search engine has its own program for performing searches, on the whole they function in similar ways. Typically search engines match your keywords with words in the title, published keywords or text of a website that the engine comes across as it scans the web. It uses the matches to create a list of results.

2.2 Types of Search Engines

Here's an overview of three common types of search engines: directories, indexes, and meta-search engines.

Directories (like Yahoo! or About.com) organize websites in their search range into categories, according to subject matter. For instance, in Yahoo! the Regions category brings up a list of sites dealing with different regions of the world. Click on a specific region and you get a list of sites dealing with that region.

If you are not sure what to search for, the directory allows you to narrow your interests with every click by dividing each category into more specific, but still related subjects.

Directories can be very helpful because the sites listed have been evaluated for content, often by humans, more often by computer. So the results you get when you search are often more focused then when you search with an index (see below). The downside is that the search range of the directory is limited to the websites that have been categorized - a relatively small portion of the Internet

Indexes (like AltaVista or Google), while they often have categories like directories, usually indexes focus on searching a greater percentage of the Internet by computer, so you get more results per search. The results you get back typically have not been evaluated by the engine, except to determine the frequency of your keywords in the title of the website or the text of the first page.

Indexes are helpful if you are looking for a large number of results on a specific topic. You often find sites through the indexes that the directories have not yet evaluated and added to their search range.

Meta-search engines (like Dogpile or Mamma) work like the indexes, using the computer to search and generate results without evaluating or categorizing. Their main feature is that rather than searching the Internet directly, meta-search engines search the search engines. So, theoretically, you should get a much larger number of websites coming from the results of ten to fifteen different search engines on the web. Sounds great, huh? The downside is that the meta-search does not always list all of the results it finds. Dogpile, for example, only lists ten finds per search engine. To see the rest of your results for a particular search engine, you have to follow a link to that original search engine.

We performed a trial search to test out the result capabilities of these different types of search engines. For each search engine, we typed in the keyword 'russian' and got these results:

Directories:

Yahoo.com 1899 individual sites + 72 categories
LookSmart.com 2008 individual sites + 5 categories
About.com 8000 individual sites

Indexes:

Altavista.com 11 million individual sites
Google.com 8 million individual sites

Meta-search engines:

Dogpile.com no listed total (5-10 per search engine)
Mamma.com 78 individual sites
Metacrawler.com 48 individual sites

Notice that we were only looking at the number of results, not the quality of the results. Keep in mind that high volume does not equal high quality. But the numbers do give an interesting view of the effectiveness of the meta-search engines to generate results versus the other two types of engines.

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2.3 Understanding Search Results

The engine often arranges the results in a hierarchy to give you the best matches first. Websites with your keywords in the title are placed at the top of the results list. Websites in which your keywords appear at frequent intervals in the text are placed higher on the list than those in which the keywords appear only once. Some search engines, like Google, use other criteria like the number and quality of links on the page to determine its importance and its place in the results list.

Note! Some search engines, like Infoseek, allow individual sites to pay in order to be placed higher on the results list. Make sure you find out how the search engine you use functions by going to the "search tips" or "about us" section. If you don't, you run the risk of wasting time on sites that don't fit your criteria.

The entries in your results list usually provide several important bits of information about each website. The title of the website is usually listed first, and is often hyperlinked to the website itself. The title is often followed by a summary or description of the page, or even a brief excerpt showing your key words in context. Other information that may be provided, depending on the search engine, includes: related categories, size of the website, URL, a link for 'similar pages' or 'pages like this', and an option to translate the page into another language. You can use all of this information to decide whether or not to visit the site for a more in-depth look at what it offers. See the section How to Evaluate a Website for more.

If you need to visit several of the sites listed in your search results, it is time-consuming to repeatedly hit the 'back' button on your browser to return to the results list. Instead, you can choose to open each of the sites in a new window. On a PC, just right-click with your mouse over the hyperlink, and a menu should appear. On a MAC, just press the control button as you click to see the menu. If you choose the 'open in new window' option, your browser will open the hyperlink in a separate window, leaving your original search results window available to you so that you can choose other sites on the list later.

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2.4 Choosing Keywords

Because search engines match your keywords to words in the websites, choosing keywords is an important step in this part of your Internet research. The keywords you choose need to match your goals. If you are still brainstorming on your topic, choose keywords that are more general. At the very beginning of your research, this may be all you can do. That's fine. Just like skimming through a few books at the library, browsing a part of the Internet is often an important step in deciding on a more specific topic. Keep in mind that the categories in the directory search engines can be helpful at this point, too.

If you are ready to start more focused research, choose keywords that are more specific to limit the types of results you will get. For example, if you want to research a particular area of Russian culture, choosing to enter 'Russia' as a keyword might return 7000 results. Choosing 'Russia AND Moscow' might return 1500. Choosing 'Russia AND Moscow AND nightlife' might return 50. If you want to know what the nightlife is like in Moscow, using multiple and specific keywords will get you to the information much more efficiently.

You can use symbols on your keyboard with your keywords in special ways to narrow down your search, as well. Each search engine responds to a particular set of 'operators' (often symbols like +, -, or *) that indicate how the keywords that you choose should be interpreted. For instance, if you type in 'Russia AND Moscow', the AND indicates to the search engine that it can search for both terms. Your search results would then place the webpages with both terms at the top of your results list.

Often the AND is understood to be active even if you do not type it. For instance, typing 'Russia AND Moscow' or 'Russia Moscow' would get you the same results.

Here are some common symbols, how they are used, and what they tell the search engine:

AND

AND must be in caps between words (Russia AND Moscow)

Indicates that both words can be included in the search
+ + must go in front of word (+Russia) Indicates that word must be included in the search
NOT NOT must be in caps before word (Russia NOT Moscow') Indicates that Russia can be included but Moscow' must NOT be included
- - must go in front of word (Russia -Moscow) Indicates that Russia can be included but Moscow' must NOT be included

" "

quotation marks go around a phrase ("Moscow daily tribune") Indicates that words are a phrase and must be in that exact order
* * is used for stemming (russ*) Indicates that any word starting with russ- can be included (Russia, Russian, russ)

Most search engines use similar operators. If you are not sure about the search engine you are using, check the ‘search tips’ or ‘help’ link usually located on the main page of the site.

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2.5 Specific Search Engines

The following is a short summary of the pros and cons of several search engines available on the Internet It may be helpful to open up the search engine in a separate browser window as you read through each summary, so you can see for yourself what the search engine is like.

One advantage you can give yourself as an Internet researcher is to become familiar with at least one directory and one index search engine. Getting comfortable with the search tactics for those particular engines will make the rest of your Internet researching a far more efficient and pleasant experience.

- Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) Yahoo is a directory - a search engine that organizes web pages into categories by subject. You can type in keywords to get a list of websites that match your keyword, but this only searches websites already categorized in the directory. Yahoo search engine does not "crawl" the Internet by computer to generate results.

Yahoo works best when you are searching for a particular topic rather than a specific web site. For example, if you are interested in Russia, you might click on the Regional category. You could then choose the topic Countries, then click on Russia, to get to a list of websites dealing only with Russia. From there you can narrow your search to sites with more specific topics, like Art or Government or Travel.

Yahoo is one of the better directories on the net because it is human-edited - real people evaluate the websites and place them in categories Though editing by humans often means fewer results (humans aren't as fast as computers), it means higher quality results, too. Yahoo is also partnered with Google (see below for overview) which gives you access to a computer-generated, and high-volume list of search results along with the categorized results that Yahoo provides.

- About Network (www.about.com) The About Network is a unique project on the Internet Like Yahoo, sites are grouped by subject into specific categories, or channels, by humans rather than computers. About takes it a step further, however, by providing human guides who manage each topic. The top of each web page provides a picture of the guide who compiles the links, organizes chats and forums on the topic, and evaluates the pages in the directory. They are available by e-mail to answer questions or give suggestions.

The big advantage of using the About network is the human factor. An experienced guide can provide quality links, descriptions of web sites, can organize newsletters and chats, and a host of other extras that a computer search engine simply does not provide. The downside is that the human factor means fewer results. Also, keep in mind that you are depending on someone else's opinions about which sites are worth including in a list on a particular topic.

- Altavista (www.altavista.com) Altavista is helpful primarily as an index, generating results by matching the keywords you choose to the titles and text of websites on the Internet Altavista does provide a directory, but the pages are organized into categories by computers, not humans.

One of the advantages is that you can choose to restrict the language of the websites Altavista searches. If you want to find pages only in Russian, for example, you can select Russian from the menu just under the keyword text box and then click Search. Though not all of the pages Altavista lists will be in Russian, most will be. Altavista also uses Babel Fish to translate entire web pages. If you find a website in Russian that you want to read in English, just click Translate on your search results entry and choose to translate from Russian to English.

Another interesting aspect of Altavista is that you can perform searches of individual servers. For example, if you want to search for something on the OU web, you can go to Altavista and enter host:ou.edu followed by your keywords to limit the search to OU's web server. If you find a Russian university that really interests you, Altavista makes it possible for you to search its server using this "host:" operator.

- Google (www.google.com) Like Altavista, Google provides both an index and a directory of categories, but it is primarily useful as an index. The best thing about Google is its size: 1 billion URLs to search and growing everyday. Go to Google and you are guaranteed to get lots of results, just remember that they are computer-generated.

Google does its best to guarantee good results. Its search engine only lists results that match all of your terms, and favors sites in which your terms appear near each other. Google "evaluates" your page by checking other elements like the quality the page's links, etc. A nice bonus is that the Google shows your keywords in context on the results page, so you can make better choices about which URLs you visit.

Unique to Google is the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button. If you feel confident that your keywords are going to take you to the site you need, hitting this button will send you straight to the #1 pick in Google's results.

Google does not provide any translation service at this time, but it does offer the ability to search particular servers using the "site:" operator. Just type site:www.ou.edu followed by your keywords to generate results coming from OUs server only.

 

New search engines are popping up on the web almost every day. If you want to see what’s new, you can search for search engines using any of those engines listed above. Just type "search engine" as your keywords and the results will be a list of search engines on the web. You can also use this strategy to find other Russia-specific search engines that might be of interest to you.

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