If you approach the Internet as an information resource, it can seem virtually boundless, an unlimited mine of facts, figures and sometimes even bona fide knowledge. Problem is, finding just what you want can be like looking for buried treasure.
I make my living digging up information, and for tools I use my own observations; phone and in-person interviews; subscriptions to newspapers, magazines, and newsletters; commercial research databases; CD-ROM encyclopedias; and books.
In recent years, I've been using the Internet, and particularly the World Wide Web, more and more. The reason: Web search sites.
With a Web search site, I can quickly find even the most obscure tidbit. For a book I'm writing, I wanted to find transcripts of George Bush's speeches from his first year as president in which he poked fun at his penchant for malapropos when speaking off the cuff.
Before the Internet exploded in popularity, I might have had to travel to the Bush presidential library at Texas A&M University and spend many hours hunting through dusty old boxes. But I typed in a query at the search site HotBot, quickly found the Web site of the Bush library, and using the site's own search tool, found the passages I was after.
Making the most of Internet searching requires that you use the right tool for the task. Many people find a general-interest search site they like and stick with it. Some sites, however, are better for some tasks, other sites for other tasks.
If you're looking for obscure facts, use a search engine that periodically indexes the Web, creating a list of keywords and other information about the sites it finds. My favorite search engine these days is HotBot (www.hot bot.com). It's fast and comprehensive, has an easy-to-use interface with handy pull-down menus for refining your search parameters, and lets you display summaries on a single page of up to 100 sites that have been found.
But don't stop with one search engine if you don't initially find what you're looking for. Each search engine uses different technology, leading to different indexes. AltaVista (altavista.digital. com) is another comprehensive and well-regarded site that has been helpful to me when HotBot turned up nothing of use.
If you're looking for a general category of information, such as astrophysics, rather than obscure facts, use a Web directory instead of a search engine. Whereas search engines are like book indexes, Web directories are like tables of contents. They offer fewer items, but they're organized by category. The best and most popular Web directory is Yahoo (www.yahoo.com).
There's a lot of overlap these days among search engines and directories. HotBot and AltaVista, for instance, now let you browse by category as well as carry out detailed searches, and Yahoo uses AltaVista's search engine if you're looking for more obscure information.
Some Web sites, called review guides, help you decide which sites are worth visiting by evaluating the quality of the information found there. Excite (www.ex cite.com) recommends what it considers the top sites in each category. Magellan Internet Guide (magellan.mckinley.com) ranks sites under each category and provides capsule reviews.
Another option is to use metasearch sites. These access multiple search engines and directories elsewhere on the Web when you type in your query. They can help you find other sites, but they don't provide you with the same degree of control as individual sites, and they're slower. The best metasearch sites: ProFusion (www.designlab.ukans.edu/pro fusion) and MetaCrawler (www. metacrawler.com).
Whichever site you use, scan the help page for tips on making your search more efficient. Spending a minute here might save you an hour of search time by eliminating irrelevant sites. Most search sites, for instance, let you place quotation marks around a name or phrase to link the words together in a search.
Searching on the Web isn't an exact science. Despite your best efforts, you may not turn up information that's out there. But you may also find fascinating tidbits not directly related to the purpose of your search, which you weren't even looking for.
Naturally enough, the Web is the best source for additional information about Web searching.
The following are among the best sites for additional tips and background information: Search Engine Watch (www.searchen ginewatch.com), Search Insider (www.searchinsider.com) and Internet Searching (www.mnsfld. edu/depts/lib/search.html).
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at [email protected] axs.com or members.home.net/ reidgold