Tools of the trade for information seekers
A guide to understanding and using search engines, directories, and the invisible web.
Search tools are not all created equal. How the sites are listed or categorized and where the search engine gathers information varies from one search tool to another. Chances are, you have a favorite search engine, but depending upon what information you need, you might find that you will need a variety of search tools to be an effective information seeker.
Search Engines with the "human touch"
Many search engines use a spider to locate words to index. A spider is the programmed "robot" that downloads and indexes pages for inclusion in the database of content used by the search engine. The search query is compared to the indexed materials and then returns hits.
Spiders have their place, but there’s nothing like a real live person to decide how to properly assign a subject to the resources on the Internet. Like librarians, these individuals carefully examine the available information, then assign a category. The advantages are many. Rather than finding something by word you can use categories and subcategories to navigate sites indexed by the search engine.
The Open Directory Project is the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web. It is constructed and maintained by a vast, global army of volunteer editors. Users can make their own choice of subject, rather than wading through the many search results a robot-indexed search would return.
Some search tools make even more use of human input. About.com, for example, is not just a directory. "Guides" also write excellent articles on their subject.
Specialized tools for a particular audience
Some search engines are designed to meet the needs of a particular audience. To design a search engine for a particular kind of user, the search is simply limited to sites considered to be of import to the audience. If you are interested in economics you’ll like Inomics Economy Directory by Inomics, and for other scholars and scholarly types, Infomine by the University of California at Riverside provides access to academically valuable resources in many areas including K-12 Education. Finally, there are search engines designed for kids like KidsClick!, which does a good job of returning relevant hits and features topics kids are interested in like jokes, sports and pets.
Specialized tools for specific media types
Searching for images on the Web can be a frustrating exercise. While there are search strategies to help locate pictures, the best approach by far is to go directly to a search tool designed to locate just images. Google Image Search, Wikimedia Commons, and Flikr are some good image resource location tools. You can limit your search results to only include Creative Commons-licensed content on Flikr by using the advanced search feature. Be sure to check out the wonderful Pics4learning.com a source of copyright-friendly images for education.
Searching the "Deep Web"
No search engine can search the entire Internet. The Deep Web, sometimes referred to as the Invisible Web, includes websites created using databases, and is much more extensive than the "Surface Web." The magnitude of information available if you search the whole Web is really daunting!
While many sites are basic HTML pages, there are also many sites built with a database behind the Web interface. Libraries, collections of museum objects or original documents, and other resources are displayed on pages built in databases. These sites are referred to as the Deep Web because many search engines only scratch the surface of the information available.
Search engines use different methods to search websites, but only search engines designed to search databases can provide access to the Deep Web. If you don’t search the Deep Web, there are some types of objects or information (like library or museum collections, statistics and data collections, and other information commonly "stored" in a database) you will have little success finding. It is a good idea to keep one of these powerful tools book marked in your favorite browser!
Try using one of the following Deep Search sites: