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Internet Search FAQ 1/2

( Part1 - Part2 )
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Archive-name: internet/research-faq/part1
Posting-Frequency: last week-end of each month
Last-modified: 27 June 2003.
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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
                    Internet Search FAQ

Part 1 of 2


Part 1

1.       WHAT IS THIS FAQ?
4.       HOW CAN I FIND...?
       4.1      How Can I Find Specific files, text, multi-media or
       4.2      How Can I Find Specific information?
       4.3      How Can I Find More General Background Information?
	   8.1 		How reliable is the Net?
	   8.2		What can I do about it?
	   8.3		How should Internet sources be cited?

Part 2

10.      URLS FOR A RAINY DAY - useful links for research
11.      END CREDITS

This FAQ is available on the web at <> along
with an archive of changes.

It is updated and posted roughly the first weekend of each month,
circumstances permitting, to: misc.writing, alt.movies.independent,
alt.union.natl-writers, misc.writing.screenplays, alt.answers,
misc.answers and news.answers.

At the same time, any changes to the FAQ, including new resource
links, are posted to all except the *.news groups in a separate
message "Internet Search FAQ - What's New", to save users having to
download the entire FAQ each month just to find out what's been added.
This can also be found at

Keen searchers are urged to check this out regularly for new ideas and
links, and those with clever browsers (Navigator and Internet Explorer
4 and above) can set them to "subscribe" to the page on a regular
basis - if they can work out how.

All suggestions and comments are welcome.  Please send to



Although this posting was compiled originally for writers, it has
become increasingly clear that this FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
list is of use to anyone who wants to find their way around the Net. 

It grew out of a cry for help that I sent out, in desperation. As a
professional writer, I wanted information of a variety of types. One
day I might want specific dates, another day just background
information. I wanted to know if I could use the Internet to find
these different types of information quickly and reliably. And I
wanted to know which of the many different bits of the Internet would
be good for which different type of search. 

However, the vast majority of books, articles and Usenet postings do
not address the question from the point of view of the user, and tend
to be obsessed with either vague surfing or searching out free
software. The last thing I wanted was yet more software. 

I was pleased to receive a number of responses to that original cry
for assistance - useful and supportive answers, which gradually became
the foundation of this FAQ. 

The FAQ tries to look at the Net from the point of view of the user.
So it is divided into the kinds of questions that Net searchers might
have.  It also includes "worked examples" where possible, to clarify
the methods that can be used.  Finally there is a list of useful URLs
(Urls For A Rainy Day) which includes most of those mentioned in the
main text plus a load more, and is also available at

I haven't tried to explain what all the technical terms mean (eg: URL,
ARCHIE, FTP...) These are very adequately explained in a thousand
postings, books and magazines.  The problem is knowing which to use in
which circumstances.

The Internet is constantly changing, and so I welcome any suggestions,
criticisms and additions.   However, most Net users are snowed under
with URLs, etc, so please send personal recommendations, or that of
someone you know, and say why or how it is useful.  (For example,
state that a particular URL is good for geographical queries, or how
you used Gopher to research background for your romantic novel).



Information, advice, URLS, e-mail addresses, etc, are generally
included on the recommendation of satisfied users.  They are passed on
herewith without prejudice! I've not checked all of them out, and make
no guarantees that they are accurate, useful, or still appropriate, or
in fact ever were.  I take no responsibility for any loss, damage or
waste of time in using them.  Sorry.  But please do tell me if an URL
turns out to be useless, or non-existent, so that the information can
be kept up- to-date.



3.1   If you want to use the Net effectively, you need to be prepared
for what it can and can't do.

The Internet is not a substitute for a good library.  The Internet can
be very frustrating.  The Internet is very variable.  The Internet is
not well indexed.  And the Internet is not comprehensive.  So is it
worth using at all? Well...

3.2   The Internet is an additional source of information, which often
can't be found, or isn't as up-to-date, elsewhere.

"Searching for data on Internet can be frustrating but what you find
often can't be found in a library -- the same is true in reverse.   I
didn't stop using the library when I started using the Internet."
(writer Laurence A.Moore)

3.3  The Internet is convenient, and supplies information in usable

"One handy thing about Internet research is that when I'm done, the
results are on my computer.   With the library, the best I can do is
photocopy what I find, or bring the books home and type the data in.

"Looking out the window above my computer, I see birds and
autumn-colored trees and calm, quiet, gently-falling rain.   As soon
as I send this, I'm going to bring a mug of fresh coffee back from the
kitchen and take off on Internet.   Can't do that at my local
(Laurence A.Moore)

3.4  However, the Internet has to be worked at.  The "superhighway" is
still substantially under construction.  As one writer put it: "the
Internet is an enormous library in which someone has turned out the
lights and tipped the index cards all over the floor." (Or, variously,
"Like trying to work off the librarian's notes after discarding the
card catalogue," Allen Schaaf).  

3.5  Be realistic and focused about what you want to find.  Do you
want a precise fact, or more general background material?  How will
you know when you've found enough information - or when to stop
trying?  Faced with the enormous size of the Net, it's tempting to
believe that the ideal link is just around the next corner, but some
types of information simply aren't there, while other information may
exist on the Net, but be extremely difficult to locate.  Sometimes, to
be honest, there are easier ways: a phone call, the local bookshop, a
friend of a friend.

Nevertheless, the more you learn about the Internet, the more you
become aware of what it can and can't do.  The most difficult way to
approach the Internet is when you already have a large and urgent
piece of research to conduct.  Better to check out small areas of it
without stress, for a few minutes at a time, on a regular basis.  Give
yourself a chance to play about with the Net when the pressure is off,
so that when the pressure is on you can find what you need quickly and


4.   HOW CAN I FIND...?

What's the best and most efficient way to look for what I need? (Here
we look at some ways of finding the different kinds of information
that's on the Net.) 

4.1  How can I find Specific Files, Texts, Media (images, sounds, etc)
or People?

4.1.1   How can I find specific file by name?

The more precise you can be with your search, the better.  So if you
have a precise filename, you've got the best chance of finding what
you want.  

Many search engines and meta-search engines now have facilities for
searching for software files, etc).  Try Google, for example
<> or many of the others listed in URLs For A
Rainy Day (9.3.4).  

There are many books, articles, etc, on the Internet which show how to
search for specific filenames, using Archie, etc, so this is not dealt
with further in the FAQ.  However, researchers rarely have a precise,
or even imprecise, filename.  So....

4.1.2   How can I find a specific text?

There are an increasing number of web and FTP sites which hold public
domain copies of a wide range of classic texts, song lyrics, etc.
Some links are given in part two of this FAQ - URLs For A Rainy Day
(Section 9.7).

You can also link to some of these via:

There are history archives on the Internet and a number of libraries
on the Net.  For example, David Brager suggests the Library of
Congress' American Memory section - "Large collections of primary
source and archival material relating to American culture and


In addition, increasing numbers of search engines will allow you to
search across a number of search engines for specific items such as
lyrics.  One such is OnlineSpy <>.  See
Section 4.2.2 for discussion of other such "metasearch" engines and
9.3.4 for a list of metasearch engines to use.

4.1.3   How can I find a specific image, movie or sound?

Many metasearch engines, such as OnlineSpy (see above) will allow you
to search for images specifically - or even sounds or movie clips.
You may however need to be very precise with the terms you search with
(see 4.2.1 below for how to use search engines with precision).

One particularly useful site is Image Surfer <>
recently developed by Yahoo.  Image Surfer is a search engine which
you can search by category or using search terms, but instead of
giving its answers in text form it produces a series of small
thumbnail images.  Much the most useful image searcher I've yet seen,
Image Surfer's capacity is still small, but Yahoo promise it will grow
in size.  Well worth checking out. 

ImageFinder <> gives you a
number of different databases to search for a variety of types of
image - eg: the Smithsonian Photographic Collection or Colombia
University Image and Video Catalog. 

Useful for both pictures and sound is the search engine HotBot
<> which provides tick boxes to allow your search
to include still images, video or audio sound clips, or even shockwave
animations.  Said to be one of the best MP3 search engines at the

4.1.4	How can I find specific people?

There are many resources on the Net that can help you locate and even
make contact with specific people - famous or not, individuals or
companies.  Whether they'll be of any use to you will depend on a
number of factors, not least geographical.

As with so much on the Internet, the vast majority of resources are
devoted to the USA.  So there's little difficulty in finding
directories and databases with look-up or even reverse look-up
facilities covering just about every member of the US population,
alive or dead.  

(Particularly intriguing, in passing, is
<> which among its useful resources for
genealogical research allows you to find the social security number
and other details of any dead American.... and then offers a facility
to write a letter!  Do they know of some postal service that we

More wide-ranging are the directories of email addresses.  However
these are far from all-inclusive, even assuming your target has an
email address.  Some Internet Service Providers - such as CompuServe
and AOL used to provide a look-up service which included all
subscribers (and probably still do) but only for other subscribers, as
I understand.  

For the rest, directories such as BigFoot <>
rely on finding email addresses of those who have web-pages or post
regularly to newsgroups.  By no means does this include everybody.
Expect to have to try a number of sites before you find a lead.  

In Urls For A Rainy Day - Section 9 - there are numerous search
facilities.  9.3.4, 9.3.5 and 9.11.2 give a number of meta-search
engines, people searchers and reference sites which offer specific
people-finding databases.  Particularly useful are those such as
All-In-One <> or Langenberg
<> which have links to many different
"people" sites on one page.  

There are also databases devoted to certain types, eg: politicians

Organisations are generally easier to find through a search engine.
But even then it is not always easy - especially if the organisation
doesn't have a web page of its own.  However, David Brager writes to
inform us that if you know a domain name you can use it to find all
kinds of details, from contact e-mail and snail-mail addresses to
phone numbers at <>.  

Whether looking for people or organisations, in difficult cases you
may need to try the more refined methods for finding information by
using Search Engines, or posting questions on Newsgroups or Mailing
Lists, as described in the next section.

4.2    How can I find Specific Information?

(eg: dates and places.  Or questions like: "what is a...?" "who

4.2.1   SEARCH ENGINES are popular for this.  You type in a key word
or phrase (such as Spain, or Spanish Civil War) and wait to see what
they provide.

The popularity of search engines on the Net can be changeable. When I
started this FAQ there was no clear winner. Then Alta Vista  appeared
<>, and for some time beat all the others
hands down. For at least two years Google has taken over at the top

Google has many strong points, including simplicity, a lack of adverts
and the ability to check its own "cache" of pages if the page you're
looking for has temporarily disappeared. But no search angine is
perfect and different people have their different favourites. You can
find many other good search engines, each with its own paticular
strengths in our list of links - Urls for a Rainy Day.
The trick with using a search engine, is to know what each is good for
and to look carefully at the hints and tips that they offer.  For
example some engines will only search for a precise phrase if you put
it in quotes - such as: "Spanish Civil War."

Planning is necessary for any search.  Do some advance work with a
Thesaurus and list a fair number of relevent search terms.  Remember
that search engines aren't like "Find" facilities on word processors.
So you can afford a scattergun approach, trying a number of related
words at the same time in case one of them hits home.  For example: in
starting a search for items on dealing with tiredness you might type
the following related terms into the search box: fatigue overwork
tired exhausted exhaustion sleep.

Most search engines treat search words as potential parts of words.
So in the above example 'fatigue' could also find web sites containing
the word 'fatigued', and 'sleep' will find 'sleepy', 'sleepless' and
'sleeping pill'.  But while 'exhaust' might have found 'exhausted' and
'exhaustion' it has been avoided so as not to pull out articles on car
engines and pollution!

If you find you've got too many articles, you can often make the
search more specific by adding words you want to see (eg: 'overwork')
or conversely specifying terms that you *don't* want to see (eg:

Often you do this by using symbols (+ and -) or logical terms (AND and
NOT).  Check the rules for the search engine you're using. Some
require wild-cards such as * to stand for missing letters.  And many
of them allow increasingly sophisticated ways of refining your search,
by suggesting useful key words or popular web pages.

Note: you may not get access to the hint pages (or even be able to use
all the available refinements) if you're not accessing directly via
the search engine's home page. In addition to using the search
engines' own help pages, you can find a brisk and useful guide to the
top search engines and how they work from the Web Search Cheat Sheet

Some examples follow, but please be aware that things move fast on the
Net.  The link that was found today may not be there tomorrow - or may
not work in the same way!

Richard Broke described such a search for information on the Spanish
Civil War: "There are remarkable amounts of free information on the
Internet.   I looked up the 'Spanish Civil War' in Lycos
<> (in my view the best search engine on the Net).
It came up with (inter alia):


Laurence A.Moore started with Yahoo:

"First, I went to <> and ran a search for Spanish
Civil War

"Then I went down to the bottom of Yahoo's home page where there are
several other search-engine links, and ran a search with Lycos.

"Those two searches pulled several interesting items, and each had
links to other sites.   The most interesting site from this quick
search was

"If I'd really been doing research on the Spanish Civil War, I would
have followed the links, and also used the other search engines."

However, TJ had mixed feelings: "I find that using a keyword or Yahoo
gets me much more than I wanted.

"For some reason, I feel as if all I have to do is type in a subject
and I'll find everything referenced on that one subject.   Doesn't
happen that way, does it?"

As I said, each search site has its particular strengths.

Nick Tompkins writes to tell us about  Google <>.
"I am currently training employees at a major TV company, so I have
been showing them a few search engines - running searches for the same
subject matter to see how much relevant material is found.  Google
came out tops and a producer found his own name on a site selling
videos of a film he made a few years ago.  He went straight to the
legal dept to see if they owed him any money....."

Look in particular for the "search within results" link at the foot of
Google's results page, which gives you a chance to narrow down your
search, if your first search pulled out too many sites, or too many
that weren't relevant.

Pat Marcello adds, "I also like the fact that Google achives web
pages, so if a page is offline, I can still get to the information."

Mike Casswell writes: "The best feature of all, in Alta Vista, is the
Advanced Query Page, which is a different page (linked from the Simple
Query page).  This has a number of clever search tools.  I often use
'near' which is both simple and powerful.  There is also a help page
for the Advanced Query syntax."

If you want to find a lot of search facilities in one place, Ellie
Kuykendall says, "I very much like  There are
over 600 search engines on one page...everything from government to
email addresses.   Takes a bit of time to load, but I use it all the


Alvaro Ramirez recommends the Meta Crawler: "It may not be very
accurate, but fast...  it sure is!"  <>

Such "meta" search engines use various techniques to search across a
number of engines at once.  They can often be customised for different
types of search allowing you to select which search engines you want
to use, and many offer a number of specialist categories, including
many databases that are not covered by normal search engines.  One
excellent meta-search engine is Profusion <>.
Profusion combines search results in a single list (avoiding
duplication).  It's fast and easy to use, and can also check that the
links are still live.  

Often confused with meta-search engines are "multi-" search engines.
I bet you're confused already.  Essentially they do the same job,
sending your search terms to a number of search engines at once, but
they don't try to combine them.  Instead they display the results from
each search engine in separate windows.  Two excellent multi-search
engines are Search Spaniel <> and <>.

When you enter your search terms, they open a new window for each of
the search sites individually.  Beware, this can be a bit overwhelming
if you've selected all possible sites!  

They also make no attempt to combine search results, so you have to be
prepared for a fair bit of sifting, but that can be an advantage in
some cases, as different search engines rate sites in very different
ways.  So this approach is useful for those more difficult searches,
where your search terms may be less easy to narrow down. 

For example, I tried to use to find a site relating to the
feature film "Go".  Now being both a verb and a game the word "Go" is
likely to appear on a million pages, even capitalised, so I wasn't
surprised to find zilch on the first attempt.  I closed the myriad new
search windows that had opened (and selected a few less
sites!) and tried "Go AND cinema".  Some metasearch engines have
difficulties with search terms that use expressions such as AND, OR,
+, - etc.  In this case, some of the sites used by still
came up with nothing useful, but others put the film "Go" at the very

Note: If I'd looked carefully enough I'd also have noticed they have a
set of specialist search sites, including a category for "Movies".
There are ten specialist categories - good, but not as wide-ranging as
Search Spaniel which offers 23 as well as a "personalised" list (not
that I've ever managed to get that feature to work!). doesn't pretend to be the only search engine you'll ever
use.  Like any search source, you need to have the right kind of
query.  There is even a page on the site that explains when it's
useful to use as opposed to other sites, an excellent
feature I wish more search engines would adopt:

Most of us tend to be lazy and stick with just a couple of search
engines that we are used to.  One bonus that comes with using a
multi-search engine is that you get a chance to see new engines you
may never have seen before, and to catch up on the latest advances of
those you may not have touched for months (or even years!)  Thus it
can be a quick way to test the strengths and weaknesses of different
search engines against each other.

Thus both Multi- and Meta- search engines can be extremely useful, but
be aware that they don't always provide all the facilities of the
original search engines.  For example, searching recently on the title
of my own new project - "Paradise Grove" - I found our own film
website on Alta Vista but not on Profusion (which uses Alta Vista)
because Profusion treated the capital letters differently!  However,
these are minor drawbacks.  On the whole, the good meta/multi-search
engines are well worth using.  Find a list of them at 9.3.4.

But the Internet offers far more resources than just search engines...

4.2.3   USENET NEWSGROUPS can be extremely useful for asking specific

The World Wide Web is by no means all there is to the Internet. Indeed
there are other areas which can be just as useful for finding
information, and perhaps the most important of these is Usenet. There
are currently 24,000+ newsgroups, covering just about every subject
you can imagine, and a few you probably can't!

Beth Porter says: "Post messages in classy newsgroups and fora.  Can
be dodgy, but it's paid off for me quite a few times."

And Yvonne Hewett: "I use the Net for research by the simplest method
possible:  going into the list of Newsgroups and searching it for the
topic I'm interested in, and then posting to the group.

"I've found that the Net is like most places where there are people
with expertise:  if I approach them properly and ask intelligent
questions, the answers are usually forthcoming.  If answers aren't, I
often get pointers to people who are in the know.   And like any other
research, it takes time and patience to work through the masses of
non-indexed information."

You can subscribe to an appropriate newsgroup using specialised
software, or you can search one or more newsgroups using either
AltaVista (selecting "search Usenet") or Google: 



If you don't know which newsgroup(s) will be best for your subject,
then try putting an appropriate query into Google or AltaVista and
noting what newsgroups come up.

Almost all newsgroups have a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions list)
which can be a mine of useful information, or at least tell you if
you're in the right place.  FAQs can be searched for at Infinite Ink
<> or downloaded from ftp sites and

Writers Sal Towse and Marty Fouts used DejaNews and Alta Vista in
quite a sophisticated way to search a very specific question: what
style of calligraphy was used to write the journal entries in Myst and
Riven (they are computer games). [Note - since this was written
DejaNews has been taken over by Google]

Sal went to Deja News' interest finder and entered "fonts".  Result:
99% chance in the Newsgroup comp.fonts (talks about "fonts").  Sal's
comment: <duh!>  

She then conducted a Deja News quick search on "riven" restricting it
to comp.fonts.  Result: one hit, a posting with the subject: "Riven
Font" which read, "If you're looking for the unusual font used for the
handwritten-looking text in many of the documents in Riven as well as
in the in-store displays, you can find it online at
<>.  Look around for the
Fiorenza font -- there's even a shareware version."

Sal: <Yowzaaa! Is Deja News cool or what?>

Marty added the following rider, though:

Deja News is cool, and finding that the _font_ name is Fiorenza is
probably the answer to the intended question.

However, for those interested in calligraphy and typography, the
question was about "style of calligraphy," which requires a slightly
different answer.  "Fiorenza" is the name of a typeface designed to
give a calligraphic appearance.  Most typefaces are named by or after
their designer, so this one appears to be named by someone interested
in Florence, hinting that the calligraphic style _might_ be

As Sal has pointed out, quite a few sites have the Fiorenza font.  A
quick check with Alta Vista for "+Fiorenza +calligraphy" turns up

where we are told that

    ...the Renaissance calligraphy shown in Fiorenza,...

which, along with firing up my copy of Riven and comparing the first
book's calligraphy to a calligraphy sample book suggests to me that an
answer to the original question _might_ be:

    Riven uses a computer font called "Fiorenza" that is available
    from several sites, including one found by Sal Towse:


    from the comment mentioned above and a visual inspection of the
    font, I would _guess_ that Fiorenza is based on an Italian
    monastic calligraphic style that is full serif with a 40 degree
    nib angle(? - I didn't measure,) rounded uncils, and concave

    If you want to know in more detail, you should check a good art
    supply store, book store or your local library for books that will
    contain samples of calligraphy from the time of the
    Renaissance.  You might also look into typography books, one of
    which may give you the history of "Fiorenza," if it is based on an
    existing typeface, rather than being generated entirely for
    computer use.

    Other possibilities: do a more detailed inspection of the results
    of the Alta Vista search.  Post the question in comp.fonts. Check
    to see if there is a calligraphy related newsgroup, and if so,
    post there.  The site I found has quite a few links, including one
    to "The Society for Italic Handwriting" which may be a good source
    of info.

I've included this at length because it's an instructive illustration
of the many ways there are many ways of skinning a cyber-cat, and of
the importance of asking the right question in order to get the right
answer, and also that sometimes answers found on the Net will send you
to different parts of the Net or even resources outside the Net

IMPORTANT NOTE: some newsgroups don't take well to being "used" by
strangers. If you're thinking of posting a question, lurk for a little
while first, to check out the prevailing mood and make sure your
question hasn't already been answered in the group's own FAQ. Avoid
assuming that other users are only there to provide you with free
answers to your questions. And do make sure that your subject line is
a useful guide to what you're asking: "Information wanted" is not so
effective as "Who won the Battle of Bosworth Field?"

4.2.4   MAILING LISTS can be helpful in similar ways.

For those who haven't met mailing lists yet, they are the equivalent
to newsgroups, but you receive all the postings (or a digest of them)
by email. There are even more mailing lists than Usenet groups, and
some are very highly specialised indeed.

Excellent places to start searching for appropriate mailing lists are
Topica <> which also allows you to read the
lists, messages and discussions on-line, Liszt <>
and Windweaver Web Resources
<>.  For more
resources check 9.2 below.

Alternatively, you can obtain a list of mailing lists by sending an
email with the single word HELP in the body of the email, to or



As the searches become wider and less specific, the Internet becomes
more tricky to use.

4.3.1    NEWSGROUPS and MAILING LISTS remain useful nonetheless.
Either for posting specific queries, obtaining FAQs, or just lurking
and seeing what ideas crop up.

Jane Dorner: "Quite honestly the best thing is to join a newsgroup
dedicated to the research subject in hand and trawl that until you
find what you're looking for."

4.3.2   GOPHER, ETC.

Few writers mentioned Archie, Veronica, Gopher, WAIS or any other use
of FTP or Gopher- space. However, before I go much further I should
say that this could be for a good reason. As Steve Hunt writes, "For
all practical purposes they are dead.

"I think all the Veronica and Archie servers are down, and the only
gopher I know of that is still running is the one at University of
Minnesota, probably because they created the gopher protocol:

I suspect that this too has now gone the way of all other gophers, but
if do you find one that works, or are just interested in ancient
history, this is how it used to work in the early days:

Marnie Froberg researched police corruption using Archie (for ftp file
site searching) and Veronica (for searching worldwide gophers) and
WAIS based search engines (einet.galaxy and harvest both of which run
WAIS in the background).  

"AmyWriter" found great success with Gopher: "Through Gopher, I've
downloaded some great files that go beyond what the encylopedia has,
e.g.  for Haiti, I got info on all the political stuff that is
happening NOW from news articles, white papers, etc.  This is info
that would be dated in the encyclopedia.

"Basically, I go into Gopher and type in, "Jamaica," for example.
This brings up a list of reports on many topics of interest which I
scan and select and then print out.  For example, there might be a
college professor's report on current Jamaican politics."

Gopherspace could give very quick and informative answers to queries,
but gradually disappeared as more organisations have moved over to the
Web.  However, gophers covered a large number of databases that were
not on the Web and which contained a wealth of information and texts.
You access gopher space using dedicated gopher software or from a Web
browser by typing the gopher's address (it starts with gopher://
instead of http://) usually followed by a port number (typically 70)
as in <gopher://>.

Gopher search engines are called Veronica or Jughead.  Veronica was
the more recent.  

A typical Veronica search (on the single word "uranium") brought 146
items within seconds.  Some of these (again typically) were
out-of-date or the connections didn't work.  The rest gave me
everything I might have wanted to know about uranium, from its
elemental properties to the latest uranium mining figures from various
parts of the world.

Gophers were generally run by universities and government departments,
so seemed to be best for academic and governmental type searches,
although there was some quite non-academic stuff there as well.

4.3.3   WEB DIRECTORIES may be better for vaguer background research
than search engines because they allow you to follow through a line of
thought on a root and branch principle.  Try clicking on the
appropriate "branch" of Yahoo (for example) and then narrowing down:

However, Yahoo can look rather limited at times, with a relatively
small database. To an extent this is a problem with all directories,
which can't be compiled as automatically as search engines, and so
tend to be smaller and less up-to-date.

Galaxy <> is much more clearly laid
out than Yahoo - easier to see where the different sub-headings are,
and seems generally a better choice at the moment.

It should be noted, though, that the distinction between search
engines and directories is becoming increasingly blurred.  Many
directories now have a "web search" option, while a number of search
engines, offer directory-like services - check out Google
<> and Alta Vista <>)

4.3.4   VALUE-ADDED GUIDES are often more helpful than directories.
They offer fewer links, but pre-select them to filter out the dross.
In addition, their descriptions are generally more detailed than
ordinary directories and search engines.  Clearinghouse, for example,
<> provides topical guides to the
Internet.  They aren't as comprehensive but provide value-added
descriptive and evaluative information ideal for researchers." 

Those Encyclopaedia Britannica people also run an excellent
value-added combined search engine and directory
<>.  It's actually quite good. It offers to
give only good quality sites, but if it can't find any in its own
database it can be set to search Alta Vista, so you should always find

4.3.5   SEARCH ENGINES, however, appear to grow less useful as the
query becomes vaguer.  Much of the problem lies in knowing how to
phrase the key words.  On wider background searches these can become
confusingly all-encompassing.


WebRings are an interesting new development which could be useful for
general browsing.  

One of the most difficult things to duplicate on the Net is the
ability to browse around a subject, slowly but thoroughly building up
a solid base of knowledge.  Somehow it's a great deal easier in a
physical library where you can find lengthy books on specific topics.
Web pages have a tendency to be lighter in content than most books,
and following links can be a remarkably hit and miss affair.

With WebRings, groups of sites on a topic are linked together so that
you can move easily through the sites, forwards and backwards or even
at random.  In theory, a WebRing should also provide a certain
guarantee of quality. You can search for WebRings at
<>.  Worth checking out to see if there's
something on your chosen subject.


A new development coming over the Internet horizon is the weblog, or
Blog to its fans.  Blogs vary enormously, but essentially they are a
blend of on-line newsletter and discussion group - sites where
individuals and/or subscribers can post news stories, links,
discussion points or the detailed minutiae of their life.  Some are
riveting, some are less so, and the range of interests is
idiosyncratic.  The form is still in its infancy as far as providing
useful research material is concerned, but the infant shows promise.  

To poke around among the bloggers try looking at the Blogs listed at:


Look for the option to list by categories, or search on a particular
search term.  In addition, should you feel the urge to set up your own
Blog, the last two sites listed above will help you do it for free.


A more unusual tool for research comes from NameBase
<>.  In addition to a database of useful
articles in a number of fields, particularly social, political and
commercial, you can perform a "proximity search".  Search on a name,
and their database creates a "network diagram", linking a wide range
of related names, grouped according to how close or frequent the link
is found to be.

Easier to use than to describe, try it out.


When conducting a search on the Net, the main search engines can be
very good - but be aware that there is a great deal of the Web that
they are totally unable to search. This has been called the "invisible
web" or the "deep web". It exists for a number of reasons. Most
important is that many excellent databases cannot be searched by the
search engines' automatic software ("web spiders"), either because the
spiders cannot access the databases, because otherwise ordinary
webpages are constructed in ways that interfere with the workings of
the spiders or for other technical reasons. 

Frames and dynamic pages interfere with the way that the web spiders
access information and return useful addresses for the search engines
to use. And the text content of images or Adobe pdf files cannot be
examined. In addition, some databases simply won't work with spiders
or refuse access.

For example, you can't search on a phone number in Alta Vista and get
an answer from Financial databases, newspaper archives,
government information, almost every kind of resource or database is
affected by the "invisible web" problem. If you rely solely on search
engines, you are limiting your resources to a tiny fraction of what is
out there.

The best way to deal with this is to have a good supply of databases
which are specific to your subject. These will lead you faster and
more surely to the information you need than any search engine, which
will on current estimates only cover 1/500th of the 500 billion pages
now on the Web.

Many of the links in "URLS FOR A RAINY DAY" (FAQ part 2) will return
information that search engines cannot find. 

Other useful strategies include searching Usenet and other discussion
groups, posting queries on discussion groups, and using expert
resources (see sections 4.2.3 and 10.2.) 

There are a slowly increasing number of sites for researching the
invisible web. Two of the best include:

- INVISIBLEWEB.COM <> - developed by
- COMPLETE PLANET <> - 20,000 approx invisible
web databases

Further information on the invisible web (and links) can also be found
at these two sites:



Thanks to Steve Hunt for pointing out the invisible web issue.



5.1    First, there's the obvious: get a faster modem, or an
extra-fast connection like an ISDN line, ADSL or cable-modem
connection.  Or upgrade your processor, RAM and video RAM.  However,
these cost money, and you're still at the mercy of a slow connection
somewhere the other side of the world.

5.2   If you don't need pictures, then set your browser to load
web-pages without them.  Unfortunately, there are still some sites
which are virtually unusable when displaying text only.  Luckily, not

5.3   Less obvious is the question of efficiency.  The Net is so large
that it takes time to get to know any one subject area - to suss out
some databases you can trust, assess which sources are best for which
kinds of information.  You can make on-line life easier for yourself
if you focus on relatively small subject areas for relatively long
periods of time.  It's more difficult if your work or inclinations
lead you to research civil engineering one day, single parents the


Ultimately, you can't beat a good set of URLs in a well-maintained
(and backed-up(!)) bookmark list.  Some of the best URLS come from
experience.  Others can be culled from books, newspapers and

Beth Porter: "Get hold of Computer Life's Road Map to the http://www,
which is sweetly laid out in category globules [Sports, Media &
Entertainment, Politics]; there's also  the Internet White Pages,
published by IDG Books [Godin & McBride] ...  more URL's than you've
had hot dinners."

5.5  Some popular sites now have one or more "mirror sites" in other
parts of the world, carrying the identical information.  If accessing
one of these, choose the mirror site in a time zone which is likely to
be least in demand, eg: between 11pm and 7am local time.

5.6  Consider going on-line at more expensive times of day (if you
have to pay for phone calls) or using Internet providers with better
bandwidth and modem/user ratios.  The extra cost may well be
outweighed by the greater efficiency and faster access times.  Talking
of money....




Richard Broke:  "One of the problems of the Internet is that it is
free!   So, basically, you get what you (don't) pay for - much of the
time.  The Outernet is the name given to pure knowledge databases
which are SUBSCRIPTION ONLY.  Probably the biggest is called Dialog
(sometimes aka Knowledge Index).

"Because they are selling data, these outfits are reliable (by which I
mean accurate) and up- to-date."

However this probably is mainly of use to those whose work can justify
the expense.  Dialog begins with an annual sub of 30 UK pounds (or
equivalent).  However, to that you must add on-line charges which
depend on where you live and which database you access.  Some
databases charge $12 per hour, while others go as high as $225.  Then
there's charges for displaying documents (say 60c per document), extra
charges if you print stuff out, connection charges if you're outside
the US...

Web: <> or phone:

UK: 0171-930 5503
USA: 800-334-2564 or 415-254 7000

I have phone and fax numbers for other European countries if wanted.


There are other ways of paying too.  Alex: "As with traditional
research, you may find it pays to hire someone to find the information
for you."

Alex gave details of organisation that finds
information for people.  Costs start as low as $50/Quarter, but you
get more the more you pay.  At the moment Mindsource is probably not
as useful as it could be - but that may change.  For details of
Mindsource: send blank email to


There are subscription on-line services on the Internet itself, eg:
Microsoft Encarta. Concise definitions are free, the full encyclopedia
payable <>. 

For variety and topicality, check out the Electric Library
<>.  Electric Library allows you to use "plain
English" searches across a wide range of newspapers, magazines, TV and
radio transcripts, dictionaries, encyclopedias, maps, photographs, and
literary and artistic classic works.  When I've used it, it's been
fast and efficient at pulling out relevant information.  You can also
download special software (Windows and Mac) to search the library
without needing an Internet browser.

(Note: Electric Library goes offline each day from 04:30 to 6:30 EST
for uploading new material.  Depending on where you are in the world,
and what times you like to work, this down-time may or may not be an
inconvenience.  For example in Britain, this is 09:30-11:30).

Irritatingly the site doesn't display the current subscription rate
(it used to be $9.95 per month, unlimited use - $59.95 p.a.) but
there's a seven day free trial.


Finally, you can download whole databases to keep on your hard drive,
for a fee.  One example is NameBase - an index of individuals,
corporations and groups compiled from 600 investigative books
published since 1962, and thousands of pages from periodicals since
1973 - covering the international intelligence community, political
elites Right and Left, assassinations, scandals, Latin America, big
business, and organized crime. 

Download a 10-day free trial of NameBase's entire index from



7.1 ALCS has a dedicated writers' server, put together by Jane Dorner
and Chris Barlas. <> 

Chris writes: "One of the features is a writers' information
directory, a series of hyperlinks that writers have found useful for
research purposes." 

Society of Authors have also developed a site
<> put together by Storm Dunlop.  As
has the Writers Guild of America <>.  (Note: the
Society of Authors has temporary server problems, some users may find
problems for a few weeks).


There are a number of personal writers' pages on the Net, offering
useful links.  Some are listed below (9.8).


Marty Norden tells of the screenwriters list called SCRNWRIT: "There
are plenty of folks there who might be able to direct you to the right
sources.  If you'd like to join, just send the one-line message
"Subscribe SCRNWRIT" to  Be aware, however,
that SCRNWRIT is an unmoderated and *very* active list.  You'll easily
receive 50- 100 messages *per day* from it, sometimes more."


A growing number of free resources offer searching by soft,
warm-blooded sentient beings, rather than computers. 

ProfNet <> is a collaborative of 3900 public
information officers (PIOs) linked by Internet to give journalists and
authors convenient access to expert sources.  There are a number of
ways of submitting queries, not restricted to the Net itself:

		Phone (from US): 1-800-PROFNET (1-800-776-3638)
        Phone (from outside US): 01-516-941-3736
        Fax (from US and Canada): 1-516-689-1425
        Fax (from beyond US and Canada): 1-516-689-1425
        CompuServe: 73163,1362

Ask An Expert <> offers similar expert

KnowPost <> is run by people from all over the
world with the aim of helping "guide those who are lost on the
Information Superhighway". The service is free, but you have to answer
a question for each question you ask.

A clever new variation on human-based research resource, SourceNet is
a private research tool that lets journalists post anonymous queries
on any topic that will be distributed daily to nearly 10,000 corporate
and agency PR professionals.

Journalists worldwide use the service to round out stories, find
guests, test new story ideas, or find expert sources for stories in
progress. SourceNet say, "It's like having an army of research
assistants helping you, for just a minute or two of effort on your
part!  All queries are completely anonymous; personal contact
information is never available to PR people through SourceNet

Free to all working members of the media:


If you can't get at all these resources in the normal way, you can get
just about anything you need by email.  Loyd Colston writes:

By sending email to with text in the BODY of
send usenet/news.answers/internet-services/access-via-email one will
get a file on how to do archie, FTP, http://www, WAIS, etc.  by email
only.   In other words, you can FTP a file from an email only account.
This file is also useful in learning how to use internet in general.
The author also publishes the e-zine The Internet Tourbus which is a
free tourguide of the Internet.

Bob Appleton can also supply updated files which show in specific
detail how to get just about anything by email.  The files are free
and everything mentioned in them is also free.  To get these files
individually or together in zipped format as well as in text format,
send a message to: and in the body of the
message put:


Where XXX stands for one of the files listed below.  

email4u.txt   getit4u.txt   fun4u.txt  pix4u.txt

Repeat the line for each additional file requested. 

In addition the .txt (but not the .zip) files are available here:


Another way is to send a blank message to:  

When you get the email information, please give attention to Email by
news groups.   Vigilant and InReference both allow for keyword
searches of USENET being sent to your mail box.   This saves a LOT of
time having to read every article about items.   Both allow filtering
so you can specify exactly what you want.

7.6 Information Research FAQ

For those who want to go into more academic detail about research -
online and otherwise - I can recommend the massive, if slightly
sprawling, Information Research FAQ <> - not to be
confused with our own production. Articles on a wide range of topics
related to finding information fast.

7.7 Windweaver Web Resources

An excellent site well worth checking out for help in research is
Windweaver Web Resources <> with over 100
pages of useful Internet search guides and links. 

Created by an Internet trainer who specialises in research resources,
it offers useful comparisons of the strengths and weaknesses of the
different search engines, etc, along with guides, help pages, and
many, many links.  Highly recommended.

7.8 Articles

Sal Towse, contributor to the FAQ, has a good article on web searching
in "Computer Bits". Well worth a read:
<> as
is the computerbits site in general.

7.9 Language Problems?

If the material you find is not in your own language, don't despair.
There are even sites that will translate individual words, or better
whole chunks of text or web-pages between different languages.  Don't
expect perfection, or the most obscure dialects, though.  As a
starter, try Babelfish, from Alta Vista
<> which covers French, German,
Portuguese, Italian, Spanish or English. 




Things are clearly changing all the time.  The Internet is growing
bigger - and as many have discovered a web page or Usenet posting can
look the same whether created by an world authority or a student.

The key issues are

* ACCURACY - Most traditional media have standards of fact-checking,
which need not be followed by the creator of a web page.  The same
applies to discussion groups.  In misc.writing, for example, a writer
accused 90% of the advice posted about copyright law of being wrong.

However, we shouldn't overstate the case.  Mistakes also occur in
venerable legal textbooks.  The problem is that we grow up learning to
judge the validity of traditional media.  Often this comes from the
context in which it appears - we value information in a medical
journal, for example, over a teen magazine.  On the Net, that context
is often missing or severely limited.

* AUTHENTICITY - How authentic is a website or posting? Many health
sites, for example, are created by drugs companies, but don't reveal
that fact on the site itself.  There are important-sounding history
sites which are run by right-wing extremists.  

Even the domain name is no proof of authenticity, as constant legal
wrangles continue to prove.  Although the Net is subject to laws of
libel, misrepresentation and advertising standards codes (despite
suggestions to the contrary) these laws are not always easy to
enforce, and take time.

* AGEING AND FLUIDITY - Books and magazines have the grace to look
their age.  There's no dust on a website that hasn't been updated for
over two years.  Many sites don't even show a date.

Or you may find the reverse problem.  The web is so fluid that the
solid site you relied on for information on a regular basis may simply
disappear overnight.  And every search engine is filled with
out-of-date links to sites that no longer exist.

* ACCESSIBILITY - The information you want may exist, but may be
buried under a load of dross.  Top of my personal hate-list are sites
that offer to rig search engines so that your personal URL appears
"near the top of any lists." Using techniques which fool search
engines into thinking a page is more relevant than it is, they turn
the usefulness of the web on its head.



Journalists always double-check information unless it comes from a
totally secure source.  The same should apply for any information you
need to verify from the Net.  Either find another reliable Internet
source, or use traditional means - books, telephone, etc.  


"Branded" sites from organisations you know and trust are likely to be
among the more reliable - although even they should still be treated
with care, and you should not take the domain name as proof on its
own.  Many authentic-sounding domain names have been bought up by

Government sites generally provide reliable statistics, as reliable as
government statistics ever are! Electronic versions of publications
such as established broadcasters, newspapers and specialised journals
are likely to have been prepared as carefully as their traditional
counterparts.  Academic departments of universities can be good, too,
but check to see if you're reading the work of a professor or


Search engines use automatic web-crawling "spiders" to trawl for
pages, and generally make no attempt to judge the value of the sites
they find.  However, the better search engines have developed a range
of strategies for excluding sites that try unfairly to raise their
profile, with a variable degree of success.

By contrast, directories are selected by humans, giving a greater
reassurance that the sites will at least be relevant to your query.
Better still are value-added guides such as Britannica
<> and About <> and in
particular directories which give star ratings to valued sites such as
Clearinghouse <>.  

Most promising of all is the growth of specialised high-quality
subject-based services, if there's one that covers your area.  ELib
<> is dedicated to developing
such subject-based review lists, including a medical resource at OMNI
<>.  Another medical resource can be found at the
appropriately named Achoo <>.


In all cases, you should check websites for internal evidence of
quality: writing style, language, range of content, level of detail,
clarity of design - all can give important clues as to the expertise
of the provider.
Writers with depth of knowledge and experience tend to be precise,
rather than vague in their use of language, and will normally include
detailed material and evidence to back up what they say.  And while
slickness is no guarantee of quality, a badly organised site suggests
that the content may be sloppy in other ways too.

In addition, look for references and citations, clear identification
of who "owns" the site, the date of the last update, contact
information and e-mail links.  Lack of any or all of these should make
you increasingly suspicious of the validity of what you find.


Good content takes time and effort, and while some people are happy to
provide this for nothing, there's no incentive quite like hard cash to
ensure the website is kept accurate and up-to-date.

In some cases, it may be that the site relies on advertising, and
therefore has a built-in incentive to keep visitors happy and supplied
with good content.  However, in others the paymaster may be a drugs
company, a political organisation or an individual with an axe to

In the long run, if you can afford it, you may feel it's safer to pay
yourself, and use one of the subscription-based services.  However,
even if you do pay, all the above considerations still apply.


Standards for citing the Internet resources are not yet established.
However, you can find some useful suggestions at A Brief Citation
Guide for Internet Sources




Clearly, the Internet will change - commercially, technically,
philosophically.  There'll be a need for services to pay for
themselves, and that may mean more subscriptions, as discussed above.
On the other hand, there are other ways of skinning a cat.  

Many sites will pay for themselves by advertising, while sites set up
as corporate PR will find they need to offer more than pretty pictures
to attract the browsers. 

There are also publication spin-offs, which need not necessarily be
financially damaging to the provider, even if free.  Times Educational
Supplement found that their free Internet site actually led to
increased sales of the printed publication rather than the decreased
sales that might have been expected. 

When it comes to reliability of information, new techniques of
encoding "watermarks" and using encrypction programs and digital
signatures could be an important step towards ensuring that users
trust the information they find.

The energetic prosecution of legal safeguards will also be
increasingly necessary - whether over trademarks and domain names or
"passing off".  And search engines will need both legal and technical
ways to stop their search results from being rigged.

It's perhaps as difficult to predict commercial developments as
technical developments.  The Net has an anarchic way of confounding
predictions all the time.  It wasn't so long since everyone was hyping
"push" as the latest transformation.  So far, the push revolution has
been put on hold.  



There's new software developing all the time. Intelligent Agents (IAs)
are held to be the coming thing, according to some (the developers of
Intelligent Agents, perhaps). 

IAs are not writers agents with nous, but computer programs that help
with searching.  There are a number of different types of IA, but
basically they aim to make internet searching easier by 

(a) learning your preferences in an "intelligent" way and/or
(b) going onto the net and searching while you are offline, thus
saving time and money and/or
(c) (theoretically) returning with a more targetted, useful list of
hits - by avoiding duplication, eliminating dead links, and generally
being more efficient than your average bog-standard search engine.

When I posted a query about IAs, at first I received a grand total of
one reply (from a reviewer) and zero replies from researchers and
writers, from which I concluded that either IA's are not much use, or
that no-one who uses them saw my message or (most probable) that
researchers and writers are too busy researching and writing to take
valuable time wrestling with unknown bits of software.

Since then I've heard from Vic Justice who recommends "a search device
called Web Ferret, which is a free download.  He says:

"It calls up 500 responses to the subject query and does it faster
than, say Yahoo or others.  To my computer illiterate mind, it
searches the search engines.

"A major advantage of Web Ferret is the contents index that pops up as
the mouse cursor touches the item title, so that you only need call up
items specific to your search. This saves time."


Bruce Krulwich who is professionally employed in bringing agents to
market has also written a number of articles on the subject

Meanwhile, for Mac owners only, Mike Shields tells us about Sherlock,
'another method of research, for those of us using a Mac with OS 8.5.
Sherlock, performs the same feats as Metacrawler. Allows fuzzy
searches as well. 

'What makes this really powerful, is that you can create a Sherlock
plugin for your site, so that your site will be included in the

'You only search the plugins that you yourself load. So, for instance,
if Charles Deemer creates a plugin for his site, and you check it off,
then you search his site, if you've loaded his plugin before hand. You
can also choose which of the search engines to utilize. 

'It's a very fuzzy search. I can ask a question like, "Who is Charlie
Harris?" And set it off and running, and it should come back with a
few interesting things.'

More information from <>

To find out more on all kinds of IAs, you can also try:


<> Autonomy
<> SSSpider
<> AgentSoft
<> Alexa Internet
<> BotSpot - try "Best of the Bots"  

Reviews and Discusion:

<>UMBC Agent Web
<> IBM Intelligent Agents Home
<> Crawling
towards Eternity (Web Techniques, May
<> Stroud's
Internet Agent Reviews

(Most of these links courtesy of Jen - thanks.)

The jury is still most decidedly out.  Please tell me if you've tried
IAs and find them scintillatingly useful, totally useless, or
somewhere between the two.


To get the best out of your Internet searching, it's worth spending a
little time keep track of developments.  Directories and search
engines are constantly looking for ways to improve their service.  

For example:

Alta Vista <> has been offering a translation
service for some months, giving rough and ready translations into and
out of the more common languages and has now started suggesting key
words to help refine or clarify your search..

The Excite directory <> has added to its news
searching.  The NewsTracker option helps you search 300+ publications,
with the ability to save search terms for re-use. 

HotBot <> now offers the Direct Hit ranking
system.Perform a search, and Direct Hit will offer (if appropriate) a
list of the most popular pages relating to your subject. The
usefulness of course can depend on your chosen search topic. Read more
about it in Counting Clicks and Looking At Links
<> and at

One of the best ways of keeping track is the excellent "Webmaster's
Guide to Search Engines" <>.  This is
really aimed at website developers, but is no less useful for Internet
Researchers, as a way of learning about search engines and what makes
them tick.

In particular, it has a twice-monthly update news page "What's New".
If you subscribe (for free) you can join the mailing list and receive
regular news of updates by e-mail.

(Continued in part 2 - URLS for a Rainy Day - loads of useful links
for research)

(c) Charlie Harris 1996-2003

(This FAQ may be copied in whole or in part for non-profit making
purposes only, provided adequate credit is given to those who helped
towards it, and the home address is given <>.
In addition, if anyone wishes to post any part anywhere on the Net,
please inform us <> and commit to keeping the
posting up-to-date on a monthly basis - there's too much out-of-date
stuff on the Net already) 
Charles Harris - Internet Search FAQ -

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