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Using the web: understanding search

When the internet first started making its way into our homes, we tended to visit very specific websites with some very specific goals in mind.

We would carefully type in the address we wanted to visit and wait to be taken to it.

These days, we’re far more likely to log on and type our queries into a search engine and expect it to find what we need for us. When did this change and why? Find out more about the way search has influenced the web and how you can make the most of sites like Google and Bing.

The basics of searching online

It’s become more and more normal for people to start their time on the internet on the homepage of a big search engine like Google. These engines use complicated systems to match the words you type into their search boxes with the pages they think you want to see. For example, if you fill in a search box with ‘good restaurants for pizza’, the engine will give you a list of restaurants that it believes to have good pizza.

It will use a variety of different criteria to help it decide which pages to show you, including things like your location (provided you’ve not switched this option off), restaurant reviews by customers and the quality of the restaurant’s own website. While it will work hard to get you the information you need, it won’t always be perfect – there’s no guarantee that the pizza really will be good – so it’s down to you to make your own judgement about the information given. For a great, simple guide to the way search engines make sense of the internet, have a look at the BBC’s Webwise article.

Why use search engines?

Before the advent of search, most people found out the information they needed with the help of a directory, such as the Yellow Pages. While there was nothing wrong with this, it could be time consuming and sometimes it was difficult to find the right source for the information. You’ll still find directories containing lists of websites online – such as the Yahoo Directory – but they tend to be less frequently used that search engines. On Google, if you don’t find what you’re looking for first time, you can keep trying different combinations of words until the most useful result appears. On a directory, you may need to read the contents of several websites before you find exactly what you wanted.

However, not everyone uses search engines to find what they need online. There are a growing number of people who rely on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter as way to find out about the things they are looking for. So, rather than search for a pizza restaurant that is rated highly on engines like Yahoo, Google and Bing, they offer their query up to the friends they have on their social network. This can be a great way to get recommendations for things like pizza, but if you have an in depth query, you may find your circle of friends is outmatched by the sheer power of a search engine. Find out more about the power of social search in this interesting article on The Conversation.

 

 

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