CeePrompt! Computer Connection 

One little column casts a wide net

by Cathi Schuler

Seems hard to believe, but this little ol' column from Stockton, Calif., actually receives global attention from readers around the world. 

Since the Computer Connection has been published at The Record's Web site and past articles archived at my own Web site, I've answered informational requests from the Saskatchewan Board of Education, technical questions from Limerick, Ireland, and countless inquiries seeking resource information and advice from readers both locally and abroad.

The amazing technology of the Internet and the World Wide Web allows users to easily search this vast knowledge network for keywords or phrases on a desired topic. Search engines are the mechanisms used to locate information on the Internet and are your best bet for finding either specific topics or general interest categories that are published around the world on the Net.

Unlike commercial services such as America Online or CompuServe, the Internet itself doesn't have a "main menu" or an organized starting point. To locate information directly from the Internet requires that you visit one of the Web directories specifically designed to search for information and deliver results.

Yahoo! is probably the oldest and best-known of all the Internet directories. From this Web site, users can follow category links or enter specific search requests. AltaVista is my personal favorite and probably the most comprehensive indexing utility on the Internet. This valuable resource provides full-text indexing of 30 million Web pages and 4 million newsgroups. C/Net also offers a comprehensive search utility simply called Search.com. This site additionally provides "White Pages" for assistance in locating people and e-mail addresses on the Internet.

To effectively extract the most useful information during a search, it's important to enter the text of your search request properly. In other words, ask the right question to get the right answer.

If you simply enter: San Francisco sourdough bread as the search request, 10,000 relevant articles are returned containing the words "San Francisco," "sour," "dough," and "bread" in random combinations. Surrounding the entire search string in quotes, however, "San Francisco sour dough bread," returns only 22 Web sites containing the specific phrase, many of which are restaurants featuring the famous bread.

Other symbols, such as plus and minus, can be used to filter and fine-tune searches as well. A query phrased as golf+Hawaii-Oahu returns documents that include golfing in Hawaii, but don't include Oahu. Not all search engines use the same syntax when formulating the best queries, but help and guidance are usually just a mouse click away at these Internet directories.

So how do these search engines learn about the millions of Web sites around the world? Anyone with an Internet address can easily announce their presence to the Internet community by filling out an on-line form at a search site. The Web site Submit-It is one-stop shopping for submitting Web site information to all the available search engines from one location. This is a real convenience and a time saver.

Additionally, search engines are able to catalog information on their own from the Internet. Once a Web document or Internet listing is published on a public site, it's fair game for electronic search robots and "spiders" that spend their time ferreting out Web servers and indexing as much information as possible.

Authors of Web documents can control, to some extent, how these auto-bots index their sites during these electronic expeditions. Every Web page has a title "tag" which is the actual heading that appears in the title bar at the top of the screen. Search engines will often catalog their sites based on the text in this title bar. More-advanced Web page developers use metatags in their pages to ensure that the search engines properly index and describe the Web site.

So, it's not entirely by accident that a search on "new modems" would retur, The Record's Computer Connection article from Oct. 21, 1996, as the first and most relevant of 900 Internet documents on the subject. The search text was phrased properly, the Web site has been "announced" to cyberspace and "new modems" is part of the document title tag. ... But it still amazes me when I get e-mail from a Florida reader who can't decide between ISDN and a 33.6 modem.

So much for traditional boundaries!

Surf's up

Some useful Web sites and search-engine sites:

RecordNet -- http://www.recordnet.com

CeePrompt! -- http://www.ceeprompt.com

AltaVista -- http://www.altavista.com

Yahoo! -- http://www.Yahoo.com

Search.com -- http://www.search.com

Submit-It! -- http://www.submit-it.co

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.
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