IT IS ABOUT three years since I stumbled into cyberspace for the first time at an Internet café. I recall logging on and nudging the woman sitting next to me and asking her, “What now?” At the time it felt like walking into a library where the dust jackets were all blank and the card catalogues were hidden. I simply didn’t know where to start.
[ Leanne Larmondin ]
Since that oddly exciting moment, I’ve come to rely on the Internet for the plain drudgery of finding, well, stuff. All kinds of it.
There is a saying that in order to know where you are going, you need to know where you’ve been. Let’s say you visited a great Web site last week, but forgot to bookmark it. Here is a dead simple remedy: look in your history folder. Think of this as a travel journal of where you’ve been on the Web. Hit Control + H in either Explorer or Netscape. If nothing looks familiar at first glance, use the find/search function to look for a key word (for example, tennyson) that you think might appear in the address (for example, www.poetry.com/tennyson).
Set your options or preferences to keep items in your history folder for at least a month. That will give you a cushion to retrieve those silly things that slip by you when you first look at them, but can’t live without a couple of weeks later.
Sneaky hint: If you’re a parent wondering what your children are up to while online, this is where to go.
Still unable to find what you’re looking for? The name of that poem from which you can only recall a line or the text of that sermon you tripped over once? Try a meta-search. Whereas the average search engine might find fewer than 20 per cent of the matches to what you are seeking, a meta-search sends your query to multiple search engines simultaneously and returns all the results in one long itemized list.
With many meta-searchers, you can customize the engine to present the results in order of your preferred engines. For instance, if you find Alta Vista and Yahoo good engines, set up your meta-search to show you those results first. You can also exclude any engine. Many meta-search engines also crawl through Usenet and news wires, burying you under more results than you could imagine. Try highway61.com, dogpile.com, metadog.com, savvysearch.com or plug the word “meta-search” into any search engine.
Meta-searches are also a great way to indulge in an online phenomenon (and supreme time waster) known as “ego surfing.” Put simply, this is poking around to see where your name might pop up on the Internet. Many people are surprised to find their name in places they never knew about. You might be featured in a staff directory, a list of marathon results or contest winners, or, happily or not, you might have been mentioned in a Usenet group. Companies pay people to monitor the Internet and newsgroups to let them know how and where their names are used. You can do it for free!
Sneaky hint: this is a great way for, say, school teachers to check up on suspected plagiarism. Just plug in an obscure phrase within quotes and let the engine run. If you have a match, you have a problem.
Of course, the most common information you might seek on an average day is also at the end of your mouse. Bypass the telephone operator with Canada411
Sneaky hint: the reverse lookup feature is great for those annoying hangups you receive in the middle of the night, plus those telephone numbers you can’t identify on your long distance bill.
Leanne Larmondin is Web manager for the Anglican Church of Canada.