Researching the World Wide Web

From the experience of many visits to internet cafes I have noticed that many Tanzanians do not know how to search the web, or even how to go to sites that are not in the last ten visited list. If you cannot do this you are not benefiting any more from the web than from buying a magazine. The web is much more powerful than that.

What is out there?

There are web pages about pretty much everything you can think of – no subject or opinion is too obscure or too offensive.

It has been calculated that there are over 500 billion web pages on the internet. With more than 10 web pages for every person alive in the world, there is sure to be something of relevance to you. The first rule of successful web use is you should always assume that your subject is covered somewhere. However, since there are so many pages that are pretty pointless, the task of finding what you need can be daunting.

Luckily there are many resources out there that are specifically designed to help you find what you need.

Search Engines

Search engines automatically visit vast numbers of web pages and catalogue all the text on the page. When you type words into a search engine it looks for all the pages it knows contain those words, orders them somehow, and shows you
the results. Hopefully the first few results will be relevant, and you can go on your merry way.

Unfortunately, search engines are not very intelligent – if you are not very specific in the words you type into one you will find thousands of pages that are not very specific. For example “business opportunities” might seem like a great thing to search for, but you will find all kinds of nonsense if you actually try it. Typing in “business opportunities East Africa” or even “business opportunities Arusha” is likely to give results that are actually relevant to you. In general, the more details you give about what it is you want to find, the faster you will find it.

The mother of all search engines is Google (www.google.com). This is one web address you should know by heart.

Web Directories

Web directories such as Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) collect lists of web sites and categorise them by subject. You find sites by clicking on subjects that sound like what you are looking for. Each click brings you to a page with more specific subjects on until you find what you want. Directories are good for finding sites devoted to a subject, but can feel a lot slower to use than search engines when you are looking for something very specific. They are good choices for broad research as you can find related subjects more quickly.

Portals

Search engines and directories might direct you to a portal, which is a page listing web sites devoted to a specific subject, often with reviews or descriptions that help you judge the quality of pages at the other end of a link. Portals are pages you might come to time and time again. Good portals are updated regularly. A good example of a portal is AfricaOnline’s web site (www.africaonline.com)

Manual Entry

You won’t always go to a website via a search engine or portal. Often the best source of information about where to go online isn’t online – it is friends in the bar or newspapers. What you find out is the web site’s address or URL (Uniform Resource Locator).

URLs look like http://www.arushatimes.co.tz or news.google.com. They don’t have to start with www. Sometimes they are preceded by http:// – this isn’t mandatory these days, but when you see it you know a URL is coming next. Longer URLs including at least one / will take you to a specific page on the site. Without any / will take you to the site’s home page. You can remove parts of a long URL after the first / in order to get to the home page for a site e.g. http://www.howtomendit.com/answers/0000029.htm takes you to a page on refreshing web pages, while just http://www.howtomendit.com just takes you to the site’s home page.

Once you know a URL you can type it directly into the address bar near the top of the screen in Internet Explorer – right next to the arrow that brings up the last ten sites visited. Hit enter after typing the URL in and off you go!

Your web address book

As you move around the web you will find pages you want to visit again. Use the Favorites menu in Internet Explorer to keep a note of these so you can go back in future. You can press the Ctrl key and D at the same time to add the
current page to the Favorites menu. You can also use the History menu (under Explorer Bar in the View Menu) to see a list of all the sites you visited in the last month.

The web is as powerful as your search skills are. Used well you can find out almost anything.

Rather than give URLs this week, see if you can find pages about searching the web using a search engine!

Originally published in Arusha Times 297

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