Lost (and Found) in Cyberspace: Be it news, research or search engines, web highway data continue to expand

Larry D. Rosen

The National Psychologist

March/April 1997

Estimates are that every day 5,000 people acquire an e-mail address for the first time and nearly 1,000 new sites are erected on the World Wide Web. With this information explosion, how do you ever find anything in cyberspace?

In my experience, there are four kinds of information readily available with just a computer and a modem:

1. Daily news

2. Research information

3. Opinions

4. Personal contacts

Information on the World Wide Web is free (except for the $20 per month you pay to your online service or Internet service provider for the hookup) but it is sometimes very difficult to find. Here are some pointers. (Consult the table at the end of this page for addresses of the World Wide Web sites that are mentioned.)

Daily News

There are dozens of newspapers available online. No longer do you have to flip through the pages, struggle to fold on the crease and get newsprint all over your fingers to get your daily dose of the news. The New York Times, Chicago Sun Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and dozens more papers put articles (complete with pictures) in an easily readable format.

One special feature of these online newspapers is that you can search for articles in their archives on any topic. Some charge a small fee per article while others are totally free. One of the pioneers, and still the best, is the News and Observer which is called Nando for short. Nando gives up-to-the-minute coverage of the world news. Link up to their web site and read away. For true news junkies, try PointCast which broadcasts news directly to your screen and acts a screen saver. No more flying toasters, or starry night screen savers -- now you get a ticker tape of news on your screen!

Some newspapers even keep an eye open for news on particular topics of interest to you and e-mail short summaries with information on how to get the entire article without charge. The San Jose Mercury,for example, will send a daily summary of technology news called "Newspot" which can be sent once or twice a day.

Research Information

With the web growing at the rate of 20,000+ sites a month, it can be very frustrating to try to find useful research information online. Several strategies are useful in getting information quickly. My tenet is: If I can't find it in 30 minutes, I stop searching, step back and re-evaluate my search strategy.

Search Engines

Search engines are programs that catalog the material that is being posted on the web. Some catalog the titles and words on the first page (called the Home Page) of a web site, while others read every word. Both create a kind of super encyclopedia that includes a listing for every word they find.

Here's how they work. Say you want to search for information on "Adjustment Disorders." You point your browser (the program that allows you to surf the web -- most likely Netscape or Internet Explorer) to a search engine and enter the words "Adjustment Disorder." It doesn't matter whether you capitalize the letters or use lower case, but there are some tricks which I will tell you a bit later. In a few seconds, you will see a list of sites that contain the words "Adjustment Disorder." Move your mouse to any one of them, and click the mouse button and you will be whisked to that site. When you have finished reading the information at that site (and followed any links they provide), use the <--BACK button on your browser to get you back to the list and try another site.

Here are some tips to help you use search engines more productively:

Tip 1: All search engines rank the sites they list. However, they are usually ranked by how often your search words appear at the site or how close your search words are to the top of the Home Page. This means that some really valuable sites may not be ranked as high as other less valuable ones if your search words do not fit these rules. So, scan through the list of sites for good ones that might be further down in the list.


Tip 2: All search engines allow you to use "logic" to help hone in your search. Here are some common logical operators that you can use. Note: each search engine will have a button labeled "Help" that you can click to find out the exact logic it uses.


"And": This tells the search engine to find only sites that have all words that are connected by the word AND. Example: Adjustment AND Disorder will only find sites that have both words.


" ": Putting quotation marks around words or phrases will tell the search engine to find sites that have those exact words together. Example: "Adjustment Disorder" will only find sites that have the pair of words right next to each other.


NOT: This tells the search engine to ignore sites that have the word or phrase following the word NOT. Example: "Adjustment Disorder" NOT biofeedback will find all sites that have the phrase "Adjustment Disorder" and eliminate those that also have the word biofeedback.


+/-: Some sites use + before a word to indicate that the word must be in the site and a minus to indicate that the word cannot be found in the site. Example: +"Adjustment Disorder" +DSM-IV -biofeedback -"Neuro-Linguistic Programming" will find sites that have the phrase Adjustment Disorder and the word DSM-IV but do not have the word biofeedback or the phrase Neuro-Linguistic Programming.


If complicated at first, it gets easier to use with practice.


Tip 3: There are hundreds of search engines that catalog the World Wide Web in different ways. Some even catalog all comments made on Usenet discussion groups (see my article from the May-June 1995 issue of The National Psychologist for a summary of discussion groups). Telling two search engines to search for the same words and phrases will always yield different "hits." So, try a few and find the ones you like. Some of the more popular ones include Alta Vista, Infoseek, Yahoo, and Webcrawler.


Tip 4: There are also search engines that simultaneously search multiple search engines. For example, MetaCrawler will contact 8 different search engines at the same time and run your request through each. You get back an integrated list of the hits! And, like most search engines, this whole process usually takes under a minute!


Tip 5: Some search engines, like Yahoo, also create a hierarchical catalog of topics so if you are not quite sure what is available you can sort through topics. For example, in Yahoo, to find sites that might have information on Adjustment Disorder, you start with Social Science and then this gives another list which includes Psychology. Click on that sub-topic and you get more sub-sub-topics. Click on Mental Health and you get even more specific ones and so on. Eventually you get to a list of sites that will have relevant information.


Tip 6: There is a great site called "Beaucoup" which can hook you up to hundreds of search engines, libraries, newspapers, and more. Try starting out there.


Tip 7: There are facts and then there are opinions. Remember that anyone can put a document on the World Wide Web and make it look like a professional publication. If you plan to use information, check out the source of that information. Usually, web sites will list e-mail addresses for the author or contact person. Send a message and ask for further information, reprints, credentials, etc. Check your sources.

Additional Research Sources

In a future issue I will discuss more specialized information retrieval services like Medline, ERIC and CARL (the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries) and what they can do for you. In the previous two issues I talked about how to use the web to find personal information like e-mail addresses, telephone numbers or street addresses. Some of these locations are listed in the accompanying table.


Address (URL)

Search Engines:
Beaucoup (lots of search engines) www.beaucoup.com/engines.html
Alta Vista  www.altavista.digital.com
Infoseek www.infoseek.com
MetaCrawler www.metacrawler.com
WebCrawler www.webcrawler.com
Yahoo www.yahoo.com
Chicago Sun Times www.suntimes.com
Los Angeles Times www.latimes.com
Nando Times www.nando.net
New York Times www.nytimes.com
PointCast www.pointcast.com
San Jose Mercury www.sjmercury.com
San Francisco Chronicle www.sfgate.com
San Francisco Examiner www.sfgate.com
Toronto Star www.thestar.com
Washington Post www.washingtonpost.com
Finding Personal Information
Bigfoot www.bigfoot.com
Four11 www.Four11.com
okra okra.ucr.edu/okra/
Switchboard www.switchboard.com
WhoWhere? www.whowhere.com

Copyright, 1997, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.