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Discovery January/February 1999

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On the Web


Snap! Google! Pop?


by Jan Zauha

Habits can be good. Combined with coffee,they enable us to function fairly well without thinking much. On the Web,however, habits can be counterproductive. If you only search for information using one tried and true directory such as Yahoo![www.yahoo.com], you may be cutting yourself off from the dynamic nature of the Web. Here, where change is the norm, the best habit you can get into is to try new search tools, even if they have improbable names like Google! or snap.

Why shouldn't you use Yahoo! for all your search needs? It is, after all, one of the highest profile success stories of the Web. Yahoo!s cataloging of Web sites according to a subject hierarchy, in addition to its buffet of "features," make it a very useful and attractive site. Some campus surveys have shown it to be the most popular starting point for students searching the Web. So what is the problem? The danger with Yahoo! is that its strength is also its weakness.What adds value to the Yahoo! directory is the human touch needed to review and categorize all the sites submitted for consideration. Given the growth of the Web, however, keeping up with new sites is humanly impossible. The result is that Yahoo! only indexes approximately 1 percent of the Web and is not likely to do better in the future.

To broaden your Web horizons, break out of whatever search habits you've developed. While no site can deliver comprehensive searching of the Web, many cover different areas, rank results uniquely, and offer peripheral services or display options that may just make your day. If you are a Yahoo! addict, try Snap [home.snap.com],another directory similar to Yahoo! but smaller and newer. If you want to find more directories, there are plenty: Snap lists 37 Web directories,Yahoo! lists 173. None approach Yahoo!s size or service breadth, but some specialized directories may perform better in the subject area of your interest. If your focus is womens topics, try the directory WWWomen [www.wwwomen.com].

Search engine options also abound. If AltaVista [www.altavista.com] is your habitual starting place, use a less-well known search engine like Google! [www.google.com] for a change.Like most search engines, Google!s results are not cataloged by humans as they would be in a directory. Instead, results are ranked by mathematical analysis, not of your search query as they are in other search engines, but by the number and importance of other links to them on the Web. Google!s "I'm feeling lucky" option lets confident searchers save time by going right into their query strained hit rather than a list of possible hits.

And what about Pop? To the best of my knowledge, it doesn't exist yet as a Web search tool. At least,not that I could find by searching Yahoo!, Snap or Google! My Google! search did yield an account of an important scientific experiment,"Strawberry Pop-Tart Blowtorches" [www.sci.tamucc.edu/~pmichaud/toast], which made me feel very lucky.

If you would like help finding information on the Web or elsewhere, call or stop in at the Renne Library reference desk. If you find Web sites that you think might be of interest to the MSU community, please send me an e-mail message atalijz@montana.edu.

JanZauha is a reference librarian and the Electronic Information Coordinator for the MSU libraries.

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