Once Again, How Do You Find Things on the Internet?
By John Makulowich
A recent conversation with some colleagues found this time-worn question raised yet again: How do you go about finding things on the Internet?
Of course, while too many books and articles have been written on the subject, too few people have actually read them. Why? I would think it's like asking a 15-year-old who wants to learn how to drive a car to sit down and read a 350-page book on the subject. Besides, the teen-ager will simply ask: What has that got to do with driving?
The teen-ager has a point. Similarly, searching on the Internet, if not the World Wide Web, is supposed to be a simple exercise, one that any individual with a shred of common sense should be able to perform.
In any event, I thought it might be time to revisit this question since so much has happened since I last wrote about it a few years ago. Surprisingly, my advice is going to sound the same. I would certainly welcome comments from readers (sent to email@example.com) if they have productive thoughts to share.
Admittedly, my comments are on the simple side. Let's not start by presuming that individuals know what they are looking for such that once they find it they enjoy a "Eureka" experience. Also, let's not start by supposing they have thought out an approach or made a plan about how to proceed.
Anyone who has done any Internet training or teaching will confirm my observations about how prepared individuals are to wander onto the Internet and begin the search to end all searches.
So, let's begin at the true beginning. The first question to ask is: Why are you looking on the Internet for ___ (fill in the blank with statistic, fact, observation, technical paper, image, movie, peer-reviewed article, Microsoft PowerPoint presentation etc.)? By the way, I am talking about productive use of time here, that is, business use of the Internet. Thus, I ignore answers involving fun and entertainment.
I won't try to answer the question, but you sure should be able to. I can ask my 15-year-old to research Virtual Private Networks for me as an educational exercise, but reviewing 1,500 "hits" is not really how I can afford to spend my time. I'm better off pulling the "Encyclopedia of Networking, Electronic Edition" from the bookshelf and reading the excellent description there.
The second issue to address is the need for an approach to searching, a step-by-methodical-step pursuit of the end result. Part of developing that approach should be a clear understanding of what outcome would satisfy the searcher. I often think of Sherlock Holmes when doing Internet research and smile at the thought of what a master he would be on the Internet. Clearly, the outcome's the thing, of making sure that expectations mesh with reality, of knowing whether this is a one-time fling with Boolean logic or a subject with which I am likely to maintain an ongoing affair.
But enough of theory. The next column will offer the general approach I take in doing research for the features and articles I write as a trade journalist.
John Makulowich writes, talks and trains on the Internet. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org; his home page is http://www.cais.com/makulow.
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