The web harbours countless sites. We need ways to cut it down, sort it out, and put a handle on it.
Having a library of information at hand is a great tool for settling bets, but reliable sources may not be easy to find. Some reference sites, such as Wikipedia, have been criticized for providing unreliable information. Wikipedia’s premise is to provide a place for anyone to post a reference page on a specific topic. Readers help to police the site, making it an ongoing work-in-progress. Many “dot coms” are more concerned with selling products than providing information. A Google or Bing search retrieves many thousands of sites, and it’s questionable that the best sites always appear at the top of the list.
Search engines can provide a great service when you use the search tools effectively. Google, Yahoo, Bing and others have functions to help you find exactly what you want and eliminate what you don’t. Within the search box, place quotations around a phrase to search for an exact phrase. Place a minus sign before a word or phrase to eliminate anything containing it. Use “site:www.website.com” to search within in a certain website. “Advanced Search” provides additional options. Also, you can use the search box to solve math equations, get measurement conversions, to spell and define words, and even find “the answer to life the universe and everything.”
Even though search engines make their money from advertised search results, that certainly does not mean that you won’t find what you’re looking for. When you type in a term, the engine looks at general information about you, such as your location, to select results that are related to your search. Some of the top results will be paid results, but may still be suitable sites. After all, they pay for certain search terms so their target audience finds them through searches.
StumbleUpon, Digg, and Delicious are “social bookmarking” sites that provide a public venue for sifting through the web. Readers select favorite categories and approve or dismiss the sites that the search engine suggests. Sites that are most popular are most likely to be suggested for later readers.
Be aware that some sites may be objectionable or not to your taste.
Reference websites that are worth a look include HowStuffWorks, eHow, Merriam Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus, WebMD, Epinions, Webopedia, and GoogleNews. For specific advice, check for websites created by preferred organizations, such as Mayo Clinic, New York Public Library, specific universities, or trusted non-profits or businesses.
As always, be sure you have an active anti-virus and use caution when downloading or making a purchase online.
Patty Harshbarger, co-owner of Computer Renaissance in Bradenton, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (941) 753-8277.