Studying Russian Language, Literature and Culture Online
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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
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
Here's an overview of three
common types of search engines: directories, indexes, and meta-search
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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,
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
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.
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
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:
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.
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 whats 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.