REFLECTION: MY COCKER SPANIEL BRANDY

Recently we were working with a science teacher who was experiencing her first time on the Web. She wanted to find pages about cocker spaniels with the idea, perhaps, of adopting one or participating in a rescue organization. We encouraged her to be as specific as possible, but she just wanted to ask for everything on cocker spaniels. Her search resulted in over 5000 pages and the first one looked very good to her. However, when she looked at it she discovered it was created by the proud parent of a cocker spaniel named Brandy. It detailed Brandy's entire life, with pictures from puppyhood on. Our client was appalled and she asked us, "What is this doing on the Web?"

OVERVIEW

One of the strengths of the World Wide Web and the Internet, the vastness of the pools of information, is also a major weakness. We are used to indexes and card catalogs and other organized approaches to accessing answers to our questions. Such approaches are carefully designed to be consistent and reliable. For the most part, producers and vendors of commercial online databases, such as those in Dialog, spend a great deal of time and money indexing their data to insure retrievability.

This is not true of the Web. The Web is a mixed bag of resources, eccentrically indexed. Search engines and other Web retrieval tools, which allow the user to retrieve information based on the searcher's question, try to make the best of an otherwise anarchic situation but relevance often remains elusive. We will review some of the most helpful finding tools.

There are many of them. Some counts put the number of search engines alone at over 60. Each of the finding tools requires a different search structure and has different capabilities. The two most common approaches are: browsing through subject trees and hierarchies, and keyword searching using search engines.

SURF THE WEB

Until recently, surfing was a typical approach for finding information on the Web. Surfing is unstructured and serendipitous browsing. Starting with a particular Web page, one follows links from page to page, making educated guesses along the way, hoping sooner or later to arrive at the desired piece of information. Surfing is fun when you have the time to explore, but may not be the most productive approach when one needs to find a specific piece of information quickly. However, sometimes surfing is the only way to proceed when a topic is difficult to define. One of the best ways to do productive surfing is to start with virtual library pages.

IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR NEED HELP WITH ANY WEB SEARCH, EMAIL US AT studio@exploratorium.edu

PLEASE LET US KNOW WHICH SLN SCHOOL YOU ARE PART OF.

 

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© The Exploratorium 3601 Lyon Street San Francisco, CA 94123

8/13/98