Nuggets of Gold: Search Tips for the Internet

Wednesday, 29 March, 2006 - 09:58

A South African Account for CybersleuthsThe Early DaysWay back when I first started getting to grips with what the Internet was about, I had one of the Apteker brothers come to the law firm

A South African Account for Cybersleuths

The Early Days
Way back when I first started getting to grips with what the Internet was about, I had one of the Apteker brothers come to the law firm where I was working and demonstrate what was then the World Wide Web.

That was some 16 years ago, before there were even any browsers and, needless to say, I wasn't quite able to provide a convincing case to my corporate superiors for having online access to the fairly limited repository of resources that existed back then.

However, a couple of years later, I managed to persuade the head of administration to allow me to buy a modem and have a monthly dial-up subscription to the more accessible version of the Internet which I could now search using a browser called Mosaic.

My first "big break" came when the annual South African Budget speech was released online and I was able to bring it into the boardroom, where a bunch of senior executives grabbed copies in sheer amazement and my lawyers proudly showed off their "advanced" technical resources. My personal shares reached an all time high.

Getting to Google
As time moved on, new trends and patterns began to emerge in the Internet arena and I was able to use my information skills to hone in on resources that others battled to find.

One of the first really useful search engines at that time was Alta Vista. For a brief moment it felt as if nothing could ever replace the wonders of using Alta Vista! It allowed all sorts of search techniques that none of its competitors seemed able to provide and the extensive range of web pages it indexed with rapid speed was phenomenal.

Then, suddenly, the wheels started coming off. For some unexplained reason, the search results were no longer that accurate and the information didn't seem to have as much impact as when Alta Vista made its debut. Those cybersleuths who sent out regular newsletters and were at the forefront of search experimentation were beginning to refer to a new search alternative called Google.

And so it was that Google became (and still is) my favourite search engine. What the future holds, I cannot tell. Rumour has it that Microsoft has taken up the search engine challenge and is very busy developing clever algorithms and other fancy bells and whistles in an attempt to win over the Google loyalists.

Search Tips
I guess the most useful thing other people want to know is: "What tips and tricks do you have for making my search results more relevant?"

Well, I'm not up there with the best of Google hacks - actually, nowhere close, to be precise. However, I can make a few suggestions for how to improve your search strategies, so here goes:

  • When you initially start your search , try to think laterally. Make an effort to identify a wide range of related keywords. For example, if you are looking for jobs, don't just type in jobs but rather use the following search syntax: jobs OR vacancies OR employment opportunities OR positions OR careers.
  • Use certain keywords to narrow your search so that the results are more specific. For example "jobs in South Africa" would use the above search string (syntax) and follow this with the phrase "South Africa".
  • Try to develop a good understanding of the advanced search features of at least one Internet search engine and have another two alternative search engines to fall back on because not all search engines index the same resources.
  • Develop a basic understanding of the terms "public domain",   "fair use", "open access", "copyleft" and "creative commons" so that you can source free alternatives to commercial content that carries onerous copyright restrictions.

New trends on the horizon
Some of the more recent developments on the Internet include the increased use of multimedia, such as audio and audiovisual content by individuals who are keen to communicate using alternatives to text based media. Searching for this type of content is still in its infancy and various search engines are currently being launched, Podzinger being one of them. Other tools for searching non-text based formats include Flickr, Digital Music Search, Google Earth and the more technically obscure (for an old-timer like me, that is) del.icio.us which is aimed at building social networks through "tagging" technologies. 

The Politics of the Internet
Idealogically, the Internet has never given me cause for concern. To the contrary, I see it as reflecting many of the feminine traits that I possess. The lack of linear thought progression that is implicit in the linkages created by hypertext is but one example. Another would be the ability to form virtual communities of common interest and mutual support. Finally, I thrive on the potential of the Internet to circumvent so many of the bottlenecks that have, for many decades, laid seige to the wealth of intellectual assets that have been generated in abundance during the history of humankind. 

In closing, whilst I can never assert this this is a comprehensive guide to all the tricks and tools of my trade, I hope that it provides a useful launching pad for your future ventures into the networked world of cyberspace.

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Upcoming Internet Conferences and Training Events
- 2006 15th International World Wide Web Conference
- Training Workshop: To Google or Not to Google - That is the Question?

Diane Babak - Civil Society Information Services Manager, SANGONeT.

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