Tools for using the web
I already have a number of the tools listed (or choose to browse with them disabled – such as the Flash plugin due to its ongoing vulnerabilities and impact on page download times), so decided to try some of the listed tools, and some alternatives I located, which I have not used previously.
The tools I assessed, along with comments, are:
Copernic Agent Basic (search manager)
Full functionality is not available in the free Basic edition (nor is the ability to turn off advertising). The install also requires electronic registration and, unless custom install is chosen, will take over Internet Explorer’s homepage and search functions, which may not be what is desired and can be seen as bad behaviour in software. When I first ran this program it updated its list of search engines. The screenshot below shows a search for “Net11”.
Glooton (search manager)
This program was the least impressive of all those I tried. It was a quick download (816KB), which is probably the best thing that can be said for it. It uses a nonstandard interface. It was the slowest of the search managers tested. While I didn’t time it (I wasn’t expecting it to take so long), it took far longer than the other programs. Even worse, after the long wait, this is the result obtained:
Yes, the program identified exactly zero matches, which rather defeats its purpose. The website has not been updated since 2000, which is reflected in the outdated list of search engine plugins (a number of which link to expired domains). I am also less than impressed by programs which refer to “dictionnary” and “spanich” – see screenshot. If something as simple as spelling is ignored, I am automatically wary about the quality of the programming itself.
I am uncertain about the usefulness of search managers. Metasearch engines are available online (for example, IXQuick), and search functions within browsers already perform a lot of these functions, such as targetting specific searches. Such software would be useful if it was necessary to save searches, or to further analyze them, however.
Bookmark Buddy (bookmark manager)
Only a 475KB download, this program does what it says on the box, allowing bookmarks to be organised into categories and subcategories (but not, if required, into subsubcategories). I’m not sure how useful this program would be though, since this sort of functionality is either built in to browsers these days, or available as a plugin (along with the ability to store metainformation, as shown in the Opera screenshot below, such as a nickname, description and dates created and visited).
NetVisualize Favorites Organizer (bookmark manager)
This program is a bookmarks organizer, with some additional functions (such as some network tools) and the ability to store thumbnails of pages. The program, however, reverts to a crippled mode after a trial, and a lot of the extra functionality is lost. The free version of the program provides a useful method of recording website links, and recording pertinent information about them, as well as organising these links into relevant groups. This program also functions with other browsers such as Firefox and Opera.
Yahoo Widgets (extensible plugins)
While this was the largest download (12 MB) installing further widgets was easy. I downloaded a stockmarket widget and quickly added a couple of Australian stocks to it. The screenshot shows this running, along with a clock, weather and “werewolf monitor” widgets. Note that the weather widget defaults to fahrenheit, but that this can be changed. Along with Google, Opera also offers browser widgets (while these only run while the browser is open, most of the other widgets shown require an internet connection for full functionality anyway). A weather widget for Opera is also shown below. Widgets may well be the most effective way to implement plugins and extensible functions due to the number available. Once the engine is installed, the user is free to select those widgets that are required for a particular purpose.
Weather XP (tray tool to monitor weather)
This is a minimalist system tray tool to display weather information. About half a megabyte installed, it can show two sets of weather information (such as here, current temperature and wind direction). It can also download weather forecasts, though these are only plaintext). It is interesting to note the different temperature reading these various programs give, presumably because they are using different internet sources to obtain this data. If the information was vital to you, you would want to make sure which program is the most accurate (Weather XP obtains its data from the Bureau of Meteorology, so it should be the most correct, and the Yahoo weather widget appears to do the same).
While I have found a number of the programs tested less than necessary, it is the nature of browser users to add functionality to browsers (such as, some years ago, the ability to target searches), but it is also the nature of browser programmers to incorporate that functionality in newer iterations of their browser, rendering the addons unnecessary.
Searching the web
I performed a Google search for better internet searching skills. The first hit was The Spire Project by David Novak – better ways to find information. Google reported 4,070,000 results found.
Performing the same search with Copernic Agent Basic, the first result was Best Broadband Internet. Only 48 results were reported, since Copernic was interrogating a range of search sources to find links that were, according to the program, “most relevant” to the search. Google, on the other hand, searches its own database to return results.
Regardless of the number of results returned (which is a moot point in any case, no one is going to view all 4,070,000 results), Google seemed to be the most effective at prioritising the more relevant results first.
Of the first five sites returned by both searches, Google found:
- The Spire Project – sociologist’s David Novak’s page about how to better use the internet to search for information. While heavily oriented towards selling his book, company and seminars, there are some articles available here, and the page overall certainly satisfies the search term used.
- Fact-Testing on the Britannica Blog – an education consultant’s blog post querying advice on searching posted to the Britannica Blog, this contains personal opinion, but also includes some interesting statistics about how users search the internet (including that most users only view the first page of results, and very few progress past the third page – so much for the 4,070,000 results!).
- 1A Windweaver Bookstore – Internet Search Skills and Search Resources – a page of links pointing to amazon.com books on internet searching. Not immediately relevant to the search terms, and the page has not been updated since 2000, so it is likely the books listed are also out of date.
- Search Engine Tutorials – Search Engine Watch – another series of links, this time from 2004 and to online resources.
- Searching FAQs – a highly relevant page to the search term, with a series of brief explanations of the differences between search engines and directories, the use of boolean operators and wildcards, and how to manage searches more effectively.
Copernic found these five results as most relevant:
- Best Broadband Internet – a site from Connectus Pty Ltd for comparing broadband plans in Australia. It is not relevant to the search terms.
- iinet: Naked DSL – another company site selling a specific broadband plan. Again, not relevant.
- Embrace the New Economy – the URL says it all really. This is a template based selling site promoting the author’s book described as an “educational tool” that will provide “Time Saving benefits, Financial Independence, and a Passive Income Stream from a successful Internet Marketing Program”. It is my experience that sites that Over Utilise Capitalisation are generally not to be trusted. It appears the information this author promises to provide would be readily located on the internet for free.
- The Spire Project – see above.
- Four Nets for Better Searching – a 2005 page educational institution page specifically referring to searching Google more effectively, but the tips are applicable to other search sites. This is the first link that fully satisfies the search terms.
Boolean searching task
The largest number of hits for “better internet searching skills” is done by searching for the words anywhere on a page, whether in proximity or not. This is done through a Boolean AND. In Google the AND is implied, and better internet searching skills results, as noted above, in 4,070,000 hits.
Producing more relevant results can be achieved by limiting searches to pages where the words appear together or in close proximity (where the NEAR Boolean search is supported). In Google, searching for “better internet searching skills” (with the quote marks so only exact matches are returned) reduces the previous search to 6 hits only.
These hits can be further reduced to those from university sources only by searching only within .edu domains. In Google, an advanced search for “better internet searching skills” site:edu further reduces the hits to 2 only.
Since the last two searches produced very few hits, I modified the search term in both cases to “advanced internet search” which produced 28,300 and 519 hits respectively.
Organising search information task
The three sources from the previous task that I found most helpful were recorded in NetVisualize Favorites Organizer, since this seemed the most intuitive of the software previously trialled, and also includes the ability to save thumbnails of the sites along with freeform comments (see screenshot below).
Evaluating the Web
Evaluating Web Sites (and subsequent pages) lists a number of points to consider when assessing the integrity and usefulness of a site: these include the purpose of the site (is it independent? is it pushing an agenda?), who is the publisher (where is the site hosted, who actually wrote the information), is the information biased or balanced, is the information complete, is it current, is it recognised by other sites (is it cited elsewhere, is it linked to elsewhere).
Assessing the page noted above, Searching the Web, indicates that it is a useful summary, and the following annotation was added to my bibliography:
Searching the Web. Retrieved 1 Jan 2008 from http://www.library.kent.edu/page/13613
This is a brief but comprehensive page detailing techniques for effective searching of the internet to better locate information and resources. The page is from Kent State University Library and Media Services, though it does indicate it had been reprinted from another library’s tipsheet. The original author is not specified, though a contact at Kent State is provided.
The page suggests various techniques for maximising the effectiveness of searches, including the use of Boolean logic, using less general search terms to narrow down searches, using a specific term, and being aware of specialty search engines and catalogues. It also provides a number of tips about understanding how the chosen search engine indexes sites, and how it interprets searches, in order to understand how best to use it as a tool (rather than always accepting the default, and using the most general search term).
While not being all-encompassing (and while not actually directing the user to any of the various search engines and catalogues) it provides enough information for the motivated user to investigate these tools themselves and learn how to use them better.
In terms of evaluating the page itself as an internet document, there seems no reason to distrust it. It is provided as part of the official pages of the university library and, while no author is provided, a contact is. The information is not controversial and, while other tips could be found by reading other sites, this is reasonable collection to fulfil the function of the page’s title. While no other sites link directly to this page, Google returns 332 links to the Library site itself.
In summary, this provides, as it says, a handy list of tips to follow until these steps become automatic. For any user struggling with Google and its defaults, this would be very useful.
In terms of the summary recorded in NetVisualize Favorites Organizer, and the annotation subsequently written, I feel the former would be most useful to me as an indicator of a site I found useful, and a brief mention of why and what it looks like. Certainly, in the short term this should be enough to jog my memory and, in the long term when I might have to return to the actual page to understand why I recorded it, it still provides a quick reference to locate specific information.
The annotation, however, is probably more useful to external users since they do not have the prior viewing of the site to assist them in their judgment. The annotation provides fuller details about the site and the information it contains, so that an external user is better able to form an opinion as to its usefulness in their circumstances.