Searching the Internet

Search engines are useful when trying to find information about specific subjects, but you don't know what URL to start with.  For example, if you were looking for information about the cotton gin, you could go to a search engine and type in key words for your search.  In our case "cotton gin" would be our key words.  By typing in the specific key words, it is possible to find the information you want.

Search engines search existing web pages all over the Internet for the word or words you typed in.  If it finds a match it will display a linked title of the web page, a brief description, and the web address on the screen.  Read each short description to help you determine if that site may be useful to what you are trying to find.

Some of the most commonly used search engines are,,, and  Google and Ask use programs called spiders that follow links on the pages they visit and catalog content automatically. This gives more results, because the spider can catalog sites faster than humans can. This also leads to possible abuse if someone figures out how the spider works. For example, Google used to return a link to George W. Bush's biography as the top result for the search "miserable failure" because many people linked to that page using those words, but they have since altered the algorithm.

Yahoo! and DMOZ are directories compiled by humans. Yahoo! actually looks through its own content first; if it does not find anything, it returns results from Google. Both types of search engines have their strengths and weaknesses.  You should be familiar with both so you can effectively use either, depending on what you are looking for.

Once you find a page that appears to be relevant to your search, you should always assess the reliability of that site.  Who are the authors of the content?  What is the overall purpose of the site?  Were you referred by someone you trust to that site?  It may be helpful to even use tools available on the internet, such as, to find who owns or controls a domain.  As technology has advanced, it has become easier for anyone to publish information for others to see.  Be careful as you click on links, as you may start on a site you know and trust and end up on another site with questionable content.

Google has the ability to limit a search to a certain site or group of sites. Enter the following terms in google, not including the quotes, and see the difference between the results you get: "ethics", "ethics site:edu", "ethics", and "ethics".

Two relatively new technologies that make it easy for anyone to publish information to the internet are Wikis and Blogs.  A Blog (short for Web Log) is a type of journal, usually run by one author that allows them to post their own content or link to other interesting sites and often contains a section that allows visitors to post their own comments.  A Wiki (Hawaiian for quick) is a community site (that may or may not require a username and password) that can be edited using a web browser.  It is up to the community to watch for abuses and misinformation, with the idea that the site will become better with more contributors.

One of the most well-known wikis is, which has been talked about quite a bit because of some high profile situations that have magnified the inherent weaknesses in this type of community effort.  Because anyone can edit the site, malicious information can be easily added with little fear of repercussion.  Truthful information that reveals shady details about a political candidate’s past may be removed by zealous volunteers around election time.  When looking at information on wikipedia or other sites that anyone can post to, always check that the authors have backed up any claims they have made with links or references to their sources.  If unsubstantiated claims are made, it is up to the reader to determine what to believe.  Don’t be the one that says, “I read it on the Internet, so it must be true.”


Cache and Refresh

The web is very dynamic and web pages can change on a daily basis.  When you look at a web page, the information on that page is stored on your computer in temporary Internet files called cache.  When you look at a web page, the computer first looks in its cache to see if you have been to that page before.  Since the cache is on your local machine, it is much faster to load the page from here than from the distant server. However, if the page has changed recently, you won't see the changes.  To load the page from the server so you can see the latest version, click the Refresh button.  Depending on your browser, you may need to hold down the Control key while you refresh to force it to load the page from the server instead of from cache.