Finding Things on the Internet: Part II

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Finding Things on the Internet: Part II

By John Makulowich
Senior Writer

In my last column, I promised to describe the general approach I adopt as a trade journalist in doing research on the Internet for the articles I write. There is a point to these qualifications. Simply stated, you need to define the search context, addressing exactly what you are looking for and determining what counts as finding it.

As a trivial case, I may be searching for gold, but finding it on a crown in someone's mouth does not count as success. It's also worth remembering that the Internet is not always the best place to search.

Let's start with an example. Suppose my editor assigns me a story on outsourcing in the government (local, state, federal or international). She wants me to focus on its current status and trends and gather information from both the government and companies that serve the government. She hints that this may become a continuing assignment.

From my standpoint, this is a multifaceted issue, one that could cover such diverse areas as procurement, new product or service development, legislation, regulation, agency initiatives, trade association policies, etc.

Here are the steps I take:

To get a feel for talk on the street, I tune in to Deja News (http://www.dejanews.com) and search on the term "outsourcing." Not only do I read the comments from newsgroup participants, but I track the newsgroups where I find the most valuable comments. Tracking is done with a news reader, such as tin (Unix) or Free Agent (Windows 95). The term yielded 488 hits.

Since this is likely to be a continuing assignment, I explore whether there are any discussion groups or mailing lists by using Liszt (http://www.liszt.com). It now includes more than 85,700 different discussions. There were no hits on the term. Thus I try "procurement." That gave me five hits.

Rather than immediately focusing on the term "outsourcing" by using a search engine, I try to identify an institute, trade association or professional society that covers the subject. That search involves keying in the hypothetical URL, http://www.outsourcing.org or .com. If I am lucky, something might show up. Indeed, the Outsourcing Institute is at http://www.outsourcing.com. On a next level, I will search using the terms "outsourc*" and "trade association," depending on the instructions offered by the specific search engine. I can't stress enough reading the directions offered by the different search engines. I find most frustrated beginning search-ers routinely avoid reading the directions.

When I do use the search engines, I generally try the free product WebFerret (current version is 3.0001; http://www.ferretsoft.com/). It searches across 10 search engines, including Veronica, and allows you to manage the process. Lately, I have been using Northern Light (http://www.nlsearch.com), which I find valuable. I will always visit the World Wide Web Virtual Library (http://vlib.stanford.edu/Overview.html) to see if an industry expert has developed a collection of links.

If I want to save time, I also will consider using a fee service, such as Inquisit (http://www. inquisit. com), which gathers information from multiple sources, including overseas, and delivers it to your e-mail box.

This could go on and on and on. Hopefully, the steps I offered are a start to more productive searching. Happy hunting!

John Makulowich writes, talks and trains on the Internet. You can reach him at john@journalist.com.



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