timothy b. demoss, associate editor
Gentlemen, start your engines
I originally planned to begin this column with statistics about the size of the Internet and the nearly unfathomable number of documents available in the form of Web pages, Usenet news and the like. As I scanned different sources for statistics, I soon realized that any numbers published in this issue of Power Engineering would be outdated by the time you read them; that is how quickly things change in cyberspace.
Nonetheless, this makes my intended point–that finding the proverbial needle in the haystack sounds at times like a cinch compared to the task of searching the Internet for that special Web page or document that holds all the answers to your questions. As the Net grows, searching grows ever more difficult. I`ve watched experienced users plead with their merciless computers in vain attempts to extract much-needed information from the bowels of the Net. No search technique guarantees success; but there are many tools available that increase your chances of finding “The Golden Page.”
A search engine does exactly as its name describes; you fuel it with search terms or keywords, and it scans an index of words found on the Web, returning a list of Web pages most likely to contain the information you are seeking. Not every search engine contains an index or database of every Web page, but one company claims to have the largest index. Digital Equipment Corp.`s AltaVista (see sidebar for address) gives you access (as of June 26, 1996) to more than 30 million Web pages on 225,000 servers and three million articles from 14,000 Usenet news groups. AltaVista returns not just links to relevant Web pages, but brief text excerpts from the pages to give you a better feel for whether a particular page will be useful. The capability to search Usenet groups makes it a breeze to find esoteric references to your topic of choice. Internet World gave AltaVista a “Best-of-the-Net” rating for the search engine with the most comprehensive results.
Another must-try database, Info Seek Guide, searches Web pages, newsgroups and Usenet FAQs (frequently asked questions), returning sites ranked by relevance and offering links to similar pages. This engine also received Internet World`s “Best-of-the-Net” endorsement for providing the most relevant results. One other engine that deserves mention is Architext Software`s Excite, searchable by keyword or concept. Excite gleans pages from a smaller index, but the combination of the index with a conceptual search is an awesome tool; you may find Web pages you would never find with other search engines. Excite also returns a brief summary with each page listing. There are several other search engines listed in the sidebar. Visit them all to see which works best for you.
If you prefer the narrow approach over the shotgun approach of searching the entire Web, try a directory to focus your efforts. The most popular directory is Yahoo. Yahoo staff spend hours categorizing Web sites to provide a hierarchical list (what Dewey did for the library, Yahoo does for the Web), searchable by topic or as a whole. A whole-list search returns results listed by category. Some directories such as PointCom`s Top 5% and McKinley`s Magellan Internet Directory review sites for you and provide an index of only those sites they found worthy to include. Actually, Magellan indexes all reviewed sites, but you can search based on its four-star rating system.