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THE CUTTING EDGE / PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | COMPUTER BASICS

Sharpen Search Tools to Cut Through Web

June 01, 1998|KIM KOMANDO

The journal Science recently reported that there are about 320 million publicly accessible Web pages, and even the best search engines index just a fraction of them--usually no more than 40%.

While you may have bookmarked an all-purpose search engine, such as Yahoo, AltaVista or Excite, you might not be using the sharpest tools in the shed. Here's a sampling of some of the search engines out there.

If the goal is to widen a search rather than narrow it, there are several sites that can accommodate your needs. HotBot (http://www.hotbot.com/) goes beyond the usual searches using keywords or phrases. With this site, you can also search by date, domain and links to a URL, and can check to find pages that contain audio, video and images.

Dogpile (http://www.dogpile.com) puts another twist on searching. Instead of using one search engine, Dogpile combines several of the most popular--including Yahoo, Lycos, Excite, PlanetSearch, Magellan, WebCrawler, InfoSeek and AltaVista--and runs a search using all of them simultaneously.

Much like Dogpile, Goto.com (http://www.goto.com) lets you search from a single site box. The beauty of the site is in its simplicity; all you get is a field into which you can type your keywords. Putting a twist on ad-supported Web sites, Goto.com allows companies to pay for placement among the search results, and the cost to the advertiser is indicated.

Northern Light (http://www.northernlight.com) allows you to customize your search and group results according to categories and domain name. So, for example, any hits from http://www.komando.com would be grouped together.

What really sets Northern Light apart is its Special Collection, which contains about 2 million articles from more than 3,400 publications that it says are not available on any other search engine. The search results display a brief synopsis of each Special Collection article; if you want to read the whole article, you'll have to pay $1 to $4.

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Looking for news? There are a number of sources available on the Web. For example, many local newspapers have searchable online editions and archives. Several search engines also offer news search capabilities. But if you want more, you should go somewhere that specializes in these searches.

Among the most comprehensive news search sites I've seen is NewsHub (http://www.newshub.com/). Updated every 15 minutes every day, it draws from an impressive list of sources, ranging from ABC News to the TechInvestor Web site, and presents them on screen sorted by topic, such as financial, health, science, entertainment, technical and general world and U.S. news.

Most search sites offer detailed documentation to help you fine-tune results. It's time well spent learning how each site offers simple and advanced searching.

Generally, if you are looking for an exact phrase, put the phrase in quotes. For example, a song lyric search might include "don't you step on my blue suede shoes."

Use only lower case unless you want your search to be case-sensitive. And don't forget that you can also use "Boolean phrases," typing in "and," "not," "or" and "near" to pinpoint information.

When conducting your searches, don't neglect Usenet newsgroups. With more than 30,000 newsgroups, trying to track down all the information on any one topic would be nearly impossible--unless you use a search engine specializing in newsgroup searches.

Deja News (http://www.dejanews.com) brings a Web interface to searching Usenet newsgroups. Just type in a keyword or two and Deja News will find any recent newsgroup postings that relate to your topic, regardless of which newsgroup they are in.

Much like Deja News, Reference.Com (http://www.reference.com/) allows you to search newsgroups. But registering at this site gives you the option of storing queries at no charge. You can then run these queries at your convenience, and the results will be e-mailed to you.

A common way to participate in online discussions is through what are collectively known as mailing lists. Here's how they work: First you subscribe to a list that addresses a topic you're interested in. Upon doing so, you'll begin to receive any and all e-mail messages sent to the list server by other subscribers. If you have something to say, you can send your comments in via e-mail, and the server will forward your message to other subscribers.

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Participating in a mailing list is easy. The hard part is finding one that interests you--unless you use a search engine that deals exclusively with mailing lists. There are a few of them out there, but my favorite is called Liszt (http://www.liszt.com).

The last time I checked, Liszt had indexed nearly 85,000 mailing lists, all searchable through a standard keyword interface. One warning: Subscribing to more than a handful of mailing lists will result in a flood of e-mail.

As time goes by, you're likely to find more specialized search engines for every imaginable topic. For example, while surfing the Web the other day, I discovered '80s Search (http://www.80s.com/Search), billed as "the first search engine that searches exclusively for 1980s information on the Web."

I always wondered what happened to the B-52s.

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Kim Komando is a TV host, syndicated talk radio host and author. You can visit her on the Internet at http://www.komando.com or e-mail her at komando@komando.com. Her national talk radio program can be heard on Saturdays from 7 to 9 a.m. on 97.1 KLSX-FM.

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