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Search Engines

The Extreme Searcher's Guide to Web Search Engines: A Handbook for the Serious Searcher

Randolph Hock. Foreword by Paula Berinstein

Reviewed by Nicole Redman

Ever try searching for something around the house when you really need it and you find just about everything else but that one crucial thing? You wish you had a bloodhound or good detective to speed up your search. You gradually begin to narrow your search to certain areas and hopefully eventually you find what you're looking for. Sometimes you find yourself in a similar situation on the Internet. It can be a cluttered roadblock and without search engines there would be no one to help direct the traffic.

If you are like most casual surfers, you put in your keyword or words and let it rip....Only to have your search engine come back with tons of stuff. You then resign yourself to sifting through this madness hoping to come across the item pertaining to your particular search. There are ways around this chaos. Randolph Hock's guide is a good start to achieving a much more efficient search on the Information Highway without getting run over.

This practical handbook, written by an Internet trainer and authority on Web search engines, is a great remedy for those headache-inducing searches. The author also includes as a bonus to readers information regarding his "The Extreme Searcher's Web Page" - http://www.onstrat.com/engines which provides up-to-date links for all the search engines and meta-engines cited in the book.

The Extreme Searcher's Guide offers tips and techniques for competent and quick queries using some of the more popular search engines, directories and meta-search engines. If you are a novice you may be intimidated by some of the more complicated search techniques and terms. However, the glossary, although somewhat brief, contains relevant explanations of some terms which may be new to you. It is clear even by the subtitle of the book that Hock does intend this book for the more experienced searcher.

The book starts with very detailed Table of Contents, List of Illustrations, and List of Tables which are helpful for the "skimmer" looking for quick information and fixes. Throughout the book there are Hints and Tips displayed in boxes with a illustrated magnifying glass for Hints and a lightbulb for Tips.

Chapter 1 starts with a brief history of search engines and their components, explaining their commonalties and backgrounds. Hock makes it very clear that the quality of results you obtain from search engines depends largely on the quality of your query. Most search engines cover fewer than fifty percent of the 320 million-plus pages of information on the Web. In order to improve your searches Hock suggest different features typically offered by Web search engines. The descriptions of these features: Boolean logic, truncation, phrase searching, proximity searching, proper name searching, and field searching are excellent. Hock points out their strengths and weaknesses. Output options are also discussed in this chapter.

If you want a quick look at the differences between search engines, Table 1.4 on pages 32-33 contains detailed benchmark results for seven popular search engines. Table 1.5 on pages 36-41 is a Search Engines Features Guide of eight major search engines.
Chapters Two through Nine profile the leading engines looking at popularity and searching proficiency. Every profile describes what the engine has to offer and how to use it efficiently.

Hock covers AltaVista, Excite, HotBot, Infoseek, Lycos (both versions: Home Page & Lycos Pro Search), Northern Light, WebCrawler, and Yahoo!. Each profile start with an overview of the engine, followed by a thumbs up/thumbs down chart for its strengths and weaknesses. The writer manages to be fair in his criticisms -- a challenging task because a significant amount of his documentation came from the search engine providers themselves. The profiles continue with sections on What Happens Behind the Scenes, Search Features, Output, Special Options, Add-Ons, Directory and ends with a Summary of the search engine. Add-ons, such as home pages, links, and E-mail addresses of each search engine are mentioned but not thoroughly discussed. Hock emphasizes that add-ons are expendable supplementary items that do not apply to the actual capability of the engine and that are also constantly changing.

Hock highlights unique features of each search engine. AltaVista, for example is known to have one of the widest spans of conventional search functionality. Excite is unique in its ability to find information built on its automated thesaurus. HotBot has an advanced version with more choices, Infoseek also has this and a directory. Hock highly recommends Northern Light for the researcher interested in proprietary publications as well as Web pages. Northern Light is also well-known for its extensive subject index. This specific type of information on each site is helpful for the researcher who wants undertake a constructive search.

Chapter 10 looks at Meta-Search Engines and their ability to scour many sites at once. Hock highlights six of them, their methods, advantages and disadvantages. He cautions the reader that results from Meta-engines are limited.

Chapter 11 recommends sites, E-mail newsletters, and articles for future reading on search engines. The conclusion in Chapter 12 offers suggestions for benchmark testing and better searches.

Hock's book is an excellent sources for information on search engines for those ardent information seekers out there on that clutter highway known as the Web.
For your surfing pleasure I have included the URLs of the some of the search engines discussed in the book.

AltaVista http://www.altavista.com or http://www.av.com
Excite http://www.excite.com
HotBot http://www.hotbot.com
Infoseek http://www,infoseek.com
Lycos http://www.lycos.com
Northern Light http://www.northernlight.com or http://www.nlsearch.com
Yahoo http://www.yahoo.com

Meta-Search Engines

DogPile http://www.dogpile.com
Inference Find http://www.infind.com
Internet Sleuth http://www.isleuth.com
MetaCrawler http://metacrawler.com
ProFusion http://profusion.com
SavvySearch http://www.savvysearch.com


Published in Sources, Number 45, Winter 2000.

See also:
Digging Up Ottawa's Gold
Researching on Parliament Hill
Using the Library of Parliament
Getting the Goods: Information in B.C.
Finding Answers: Approaches to Gathering Information
An Intelligent Guide to Successful Online Research
Life In the Fast Lane: E-Prints Speed Spread Of Research Results
An Intelligent Guide to Intelligent Research
Index of Book Reviews


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