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Panpa Bulletin : May 2006
50 | PaNPa bULLETIN May 2006 TECHNOLOGy MaTTERS StePhen QuInn The most effective internet searches With the internet now a vital tool in a journalist’s research arsenal, Stephen Quinn looks at how to get the most out of internet search engines. The past months have seen some exciting develop- ments in the range of tools that journalists can use to find information. Given that report- ers work to deadlines, the issue of time must always be consid- ered when choosing a search tool. When in a hurry, it's best to use multi- or meta-search tools plus some of the big search engines. This article talks about both. Multi-search tools are called that because they combine several search queries when you type your keywords. For example, Mamma includes the services of Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves, Gigablast, Wisenut, Entireweb, Looksmart, Business.com and About. For many years, multi-search tools were slow compared with single search engines because of the clunky way they were built. All have become much faster in the past half decade, and are ideal when you are on deadline if you seek obscure information. Here's why: Because the web is expanding so quickly -- most- ly because of the boom in .com sites -- one search tool, even im- pressive ones such as Google, cannot possibly cover all of the web. So when looking for quite specific and/or rare informa- tion, it's best to use a variety of sources -- just as you would use a variety of sources if you were interviewing people. Most search engines self-re- port the numbers of sites they index. Accurate data is difficult to find. In its last update late in 2003 the online magazine Search engine watch listed the four largest search engines and the number of sites they in- dexed. Google was top of the list, claiming to index 8.1 bil- lion sites. Next was MSN with 5 billion. Yahoo!, with 4.2 billion, was next followed by Ask Jeeves (2.5 billion). Note that these numbers are self-reported, which means they are prone to being exaggerated because numbers influence the adver- tising rates they can charge. It is almost impossible to meas- ure them independently. These figures may seem to be big numbers, but they rep- resent only a small part of the ever-expanding web. Like the universe, no-one knows how big the web is, but some esti- mates say that Google's 8.1 bil- lion sites represent not even a third of the total web. How do multi or meta-search engines work? When you enter keywords in the search box, your search is simultaneously sent to several search engines. The results come from each individual search engine's da- tabase. A meta-search engine does not have its own database and does not accept submis- sions. At the fifth annual search engine awards last year, Jux2 (http://www.jux2.com) was named best meta-search en- gine. It is a lovely piece of technology. Jux2's name came about because it was designed to compare or juxtapose results from two major tools, Google and Yahoo! Ask Jeeves was lat- er added. Interestingly, these three were named the three best overall search engines at the same awards. Runner-up in the meta- search awards was Dogpile (http://www.dogpile.com) which combines the resources of Yahoo!, Google, MSN and Ask Jeeves. Three of the other impressive multi-search tools are Vivisimo (http://vivisimo.com), Mam- ma (http://www.mamma.com) and Clusty (http://clusty.com). The last is a personal favourite because of its clean interface, and it has joined Google in my favourites list. Back to single or stand-alone search engines. These cover more of the web than other tools but as explained earlier, even they can- not hope to cope with the way the web is expanding. Some search every word on a site while oth- ers only search a fixed number of lines in each document (often the first 20-25). Journalists seem to like search engines because they have a simple interface and are relatively easy to use. All journalists should learn how to use the advanced capabilities for each site. The principles are the same for each. Look for terms like 'advanced search' or 'help' on the home page, and insert infor- mation into the relevant boxes. Google's advanced search is easy to use. Most sites offer instruc- tions on how to use the advanced search facility. Watch for freshness of infor- mation, because some search engines do not update their da- tabase very often. As mentioned earlier, it is very difficult for most engines to keep up with the web's growth. Two of the best new individ- ual search engines are Wisenut (http://www.wisenut.com) be- cause it has one of the simplest and cleanest interfaces and Mooter (http://www.mooter. com). The latter gives you the option of searching solely for Australian sites. Stephen Quinn is the associate professor of journalism at Deakin university. because the web is expanding so quickly – mostly because of the boom in .com sites – one search tool, even impressive ones such as Google, cannot possibly cover all of the web fairfaxpphotos