Commentary: The world is under your fingertips - just search

September 21, 2011 

When it comes to surfing the web, do you ever wonder what the fuss is all about? How can the computer provide information that is vital to our everyday lives? The packaging of the World Wide Web might not be as impressive as the facade on a university library, but its volumes are virtually boundless.

There are several very good, very popular search engines that can make the information on the web accessible and manageable. Bing, Google, or Yahoo (among many) provide that little box in which you can enter two or three words that briefly describe what you are looking for. In a moment, you will see the top page of a list of sites that contain those words. The search engines attempt to put at the top of the list the most suitable, or yes, the highest bidder, in regard to your search terms. Usually you will find hundreds of thousands of sites.

Realize that your search results will include sponsored sites of those who pay to advertise with that search engine. Usually highlighted at the top of the list, or along the right side are sites that pay to appear when key words are searched. These might or might not be useful sites, click with care.

Advanced Internet searches can narrow down results by specifying what type of website is preferred (.org for nonprofit, .edu for education, .gov for government, .com for business/retail, etc.). Other criteria include when or where the site was created, words to avoid (for example, search for albums but not “photo albums”) and whether you want to filter for “unsafe” sites.

Who makes it to the top of the list has become a very large advertising industry. “Search engine optimization” can be contracted through advertising companies. Industrious business owners can find ways to achieve similar results, but it does take weekly attention and “insider” knowledge.

Directions and mapping are popular searches on the web. Innovative websites like Google Earth provides aerial shots of the entire globe, many times in surprising detail. Google Street View provides 360 degree photography from roads and streets across the country, and around the world. Google has endeavored since 2007 to take these photos using cars equipped with 11 roof-mounted cameras. Similar products are available through sites like Mapquest and Expedia.

Wikipedia is an excellent source of common knowledge. Users are allowed to submit information for Wikipedia web pages. Their editors decide what is fit to print, but the result is a vast collection of facts on topics as varied as the web itself.

Other practical sources of information: phone directories, which include reverse look-up capabilities (beware of paid services connected to these sites), map sites to obtain directions (maps.google.com or mapquest.com), movie theater info (4sarasota.com), movie reviews, listings of local events (bradenton.com), chamber of commerce, recipes, movie/TV personality database to settle friendly disputes (imdb.com), health.nih.gov for health information.

Get creative with your searches. You can find .org sites for museums, gardens, favorite non-profit groups, Google favorite topics or academic subjects. Include your home town and find local groups in your area of interest. Remember that the entire world is under your fingertips.

Michael Shaffer, of Computer Renaissance of Bradenton, can be reached at (941) 753-8277 or via email at info@cr-bradenton.com.

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