Tuesday, February 14, 2006

You're Online, But When Are You Going to Start USING the Internet?

When people get online, most of the time they do one of two things: read their email or use a search engine. But how many of you really know how to use a search engine? Sure using a search engine is easy. You open the page, enter what you're looking for in the box and hit the search button. How hard is it?
Well, you're right, but there actually are a lot more features built into search engines than that, and knowing what they are and how to use them will help you harness the vast amounts of information that are on the Internet.
There are many search engines on the Internet: Google, MSN, Yahoo, Lycos and quite a few others. (There's even one that's named after a dog that "fetches" the information you're looking for... sheesh). For the use of this article I'll be using Google. I prefer Google because of its simple interface.
This AND That OR The Other
In every programming language I know, every single one has something called "operators". Operators are words such as "and" and "or", that help describe the results you are trying to get from whatever datasource you are using, such as a database or in this case Google. (Ok, ok... I'm on a plane right now and I can already see my wife's eyes glazing over, so I'll get back out of the weeds.)
Let's say I'm trying to find out why my dog insists on chewing on the window ledges in the kitchen when we leave him home alone. (No, that is not funny.) Now, our dog is a pureblood mutt, Beagle and Terrier mix, so I go to Google and I type in this query: 
Note the number of results... quite a few, and at first glance most of them aren't very relavent. Now I could stop right there and spend the rest of the afternoon going through these results myself, however, that would probably start to impose on my bike riding time so let's try something else instead. I'm going to get Google to sort through these for me.
With the first search I ran, Google read it like this: "beagle AND terrier AND chew AND alone". Well, I know that there aren't going to be any results that are thatspecific, so let's use the OR operator to tell Google what I really meant. This query is going to look much different from the first, but just follow along and I'll explain. So here's what our query looks like now:
Wow! What a difference a couple of words make. Now Google knows almost exactly what I was searching for. Notice that if you don't use any operators, the search engine assumes that you mean to put an AND between each word. But by writing our query this way, Google understands that I mean to search for "chew and alone and either beagle or terrier." (Wish you knew about that back in college, don't you?)
Ok, one last thing. What if you have a Great Dane and needed to find a kennel for him? If you just enter those words, then you'll be searching for "Great and Dane and kennel". But you could make that search even more specific by just adding quotes. Try this method whenever you are searching for something that has a proper name:
With these features that are built into almost every search engine, you'll find information faster and get back to whatever is more important.

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