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Surfing Toolkit
Search Techniques and Tools
Part 3 - PC Based

Gopher Hole Index Page Introduction Bookmarks
Searching Meta-Search Search Aids Off-Line

Searching for information on the Internet can be done in many ways. I covered the major Search Engines and Meta-Searching on previous pages. In the next paragraphs I have set out a brief review of the options for doing this using software running on your own PC. I have then given more specific information on the major examples of each type. Finally I will cover Alexa which advises you of other pages similar in content to the one in you are viewing.

PC based Searching

Many of the major search engines provide a free interface to allow you to search their database from your own PC or browser. These can be downloaded from their web sites. A number of other commercial programs have been developed to run searches from your own computer. These are similar in principle to the meta search engines, but in general they allow more control over the choice of search engines to be used, the number of results to be returned, the removal of duplicate pages, and the presentation and saving of the results. A more complex search query can be used with the software adjusting the query to suit the different search engines. Results can be worked on and cleaned up off-line. Searches can be rerun to check for new information.

Similar programs are available which carry out the meta-search and then produce a written report based on the information contained in the results of the search. The resulting web pages can be automatically downloaded (without graphics, to save resources) for browsing off-line, and repeat searches can be run which look for new results. The quality of the automatically produced report is limited by the accuracy of the initial web page indexing by the search engines, and the complexity allowed in formulating the search query.

PC based Search Software

WebFerretPro is my long time favorite for finding suitable urls/information. It is fast, and is accessed via the Start/Find button, leaving your browser free for browsing. You can select from a large list of databases, and chooses how many responses as you want. A brief summary of each page is available, and you can click on any urls in the list, at any time, to download them into your browser. It handles phrases and Boolean queries, and I find it better to get lots of responses which can be quickly reviewed manually. WebFerret is part of NetFerret suite which can also search for software files, IRC servers, newsgroup items, and people, using a similar interface. There is a simpler freeware version.

Copernic98 also has a free and a shareware version. The Plus version comes with many more specialist databases, grouped into channels for targetted searching. It allows complex search queries to be sent to search engines which can handle them, and it removes duplicate results. Searches can be rerun easily, and new results identified.

WebFind is part of the Symantec suite of Internet software utilities, Internet Fastfind. It queries the major search engines and produces a prioritized list of results. It seems to have dissappeared from the US site, but is still on the European regional sites such as the UK one give above

WebCompass " queries a chosen group of search engines and prepares a summary of each page. You can choose which group of search engines to query according to the task at hand, and a scheduler can organize repeat searching. The thoroughness of the search and summarizing can make it slow. It more suited to broad queries.

Web Seeker can query different groups of search engines to produce a list of results with duplicates and unavailable sites removed, or with the graphics free web pages downloaded to your hard disk for evaluation off-line. Old searches can be updated and a scheduler is included. The search query can include AND, OR, NOT, Phrase, and Sub-string.

EchoSearch was a more ambitious program which has been closed down. It used natural language queries and is now being targetted at corporate markets.

WebSleuth is a similar program which I have just come across. Like EchoSearch it allows you to carry out a meta-search enquiry, which it then analyses. The output is very different. It produces groups of the major words and phrases which it found in the documents, with hypertext links to the documents where they appear. It looks useful for doing a retrospective search of web site, and also for finding new words to add to a search query.

Autonomy is more of an interesting alternative to the existing search engines, but it can be worthwhile when access time is not a problem. It searches sites sequentially, finding new leads to move onto. It may turn up new results, but it is slow. It can customize agents for different searches, enabling them to do repetitive searches and also to "learn" more about what you want. Definitely a site for dog lovers <g>.

Where else would you like to go today?

Alexa is new idea. It monitors where you are surfing and offers you alternative sites, similar to the one you are currently browsing, from its huge database on the Internet. You can give ratings to the pages it suggests. It floats over the bottom of your browser like an additional toolbar and also offers a link to the Encylopedia Britannica. It may also have a cached copy of web pages which you are looking for, but which have been removed from their old location on internet.

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Searching Meta-Search Search Aids Off-Line

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Roger Trobridge, The Internet Gopher,