Logos or trademarks of some of the search engines mentioned.
Computer Column #293
John P. Reid, email@example.com
There are many reasons an antiquer might need an Internet search. Often it is to find comparable prices for an object at hand. Authentication, identification, history, provenance, or conservation information are other reasons.
Often this column blithely suggests using an Internet search engine. That is successful most of the time. But the search engine sometimes draws a blank. Other times it produces pages of data not related to the desired topic because of word similarity. There are multiple levels of search tactics that may save the day. (Web sites cited in the column are identified by a number in parentheses and listed in the sidebar.)
Most everyone who has used a computer, tablet, or smartphone has used a search engine such as Google (1), Bing (2), Yahoo! (3), or one of the many lesser-known search engines like Blekko (4), which claims to be spam-free. A comprehensive list of general- and special-purpose search engines is found on Wikipedia (5). All are easy to use: enter one or several words in the search box and click “Search.” A long, clickable list of Web sites will appear that contain the search words.
These search engines repeatedly view every home page and subpage on the Web and build an index to the words found. This is called “crawling” the Web. When a search is requested, this index is consulted. It used to take months to crawl through the entire World Wide Web. Nowadays a Web site change can show up in a day in some search engines. In the past, only key words and the first few paragraphs of the home page were indexed. Now, the entire site is covered.
Search engine users get clever with choice of search words. Enter “crock” and sites related to modern cookware, electric slow cookers, urban slang, and antique stoneware will be found. The search engine may even second-guess the spelling and show the Crocs brand of plastic footwear. Using more search words restricts the scope. “Antique crock” may find sites of interest. “Antique salt glaze crock” will further restrict the finds, but using too many words may confuse the process. Order makes a difference too: “oil lamp” and “lamp oil” will find just what they say.
Leave out apostrophes, hyphens, and commas, and do not use plurals unless they are truly definitive. It is sometimes necessary to try a variety of search words to get just what is wanted. Learning to search effectively takes practice.
If “coin silver” is searched, a mixture of numismatic and antique silverware sites will be found. Use quotation marks within the search box to tell the search engine to treat the two words as a unit. This also helps searching for people’s full names.
A search for “blue ridge pottery” might list too many eBay items. They can be blocked by adding “-ebay” in Google or “NOT ebay” in Yahoo. Bing responds to either form. Of course, leaving out the hyphen or NOT will produce more eBay hits.
There are many more special symbols to narrow the search in each search engine. Instead of memorizing these symbols, locate the advanced search page. In Google, start a simple search, go to the bottom of the first results page, and click “Advanced search.” In Bing, start a search and then click in the search box as if to add another word. Below the short list of suggested search words, click on “Advanced search.” In Yahoo!, click on “options” to the right of the search word box, then click “Advanced search.”
With other search engines, consult the help files. Once you have found the advanced search on your favorite engine, assign a bookmark or favorite in the Web browser to make the next time easier.
Advanced search with most engines will provide for setting up a complex AND/OR/NOT word combination. The search can be restricted to a particular site or combination of sites, a range of page creation dates, the language used on the site, the file type, and other factors.
Metasearch engines do not crawl the Web. They search multiple conventional search engines such as Yahoo!, Bing, and Google and aggregate the results. That said, there are big differences among so-called meta-
search engines. This is a matter of evolution. As technology and competition have evolved over the last decade, these search sites have changed their approach. Still, they are worth trying when a search hits a brick wall.
Dogpile (6) is a popular site. It has a simple presentation and tells on which search engine a listing was found. Results are thorough, and there is a good phone book lookup and local business search. Metacrawler (7) is another good site with many of the same features.
Yippy (8) is not as thorough but strives for “conservative values” and to be “family friendly.” Ixquick (9) lives up to its name and produces lots of results. The list of these engines in the Wikipedia page mentioned will give more than a dozen others, though some are already out of business. One may suit your needs well.
Estimates vary widely, but a guess is that only 20% of the information on the Web can be indexed by search engines. A page viewed on the Web may not exist as a page. It may be created on the spot by a viewer’s request and disappear when the viewer is gone. The data continues to exist only in a hidden database.
For example, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art “Collections” page (10), go to the “Search the Collections” box and search for “picasso dance.” The page that appears shows Pablo Picasso’s works with those related to dance shown first. This page did not exist before the query. It was composed from the site’s databases and will disappear as soon as the searcher moves on.
These ad hoc Web pages are called the “Deep Web” or “Invisible Web.” The name “Dark Web” is sometimes heard, but this usually refers to Web resources for fraud, money laundering, child pornography, or drug trafficking.
Over the last decade, many attempts to develop Deep Web search engines have been made. Most have failed or run out of funds. Looking at any older article about the Deep Web will list many sites that no longer exist or have ceased updating. Web sites make great effort to prevent mass examination of their databases. For many sites the motive is protection of intellectual property. For others it is fraud prevention. Would you want your bank to share its customer accounts database with the world?
The best way for an individual to explore the Deep Web is to go to likely sites and use each site’s own search facility. The Deep Web Search site (11 and 12) has information and suggestions. Antiquers can build a list of sites in their specialties and save the links for such searches. In addition to specialty sites, add links to the Internet Archive (13) and USA.gov (14), which have information that crosses many boundaries.
There are Web sites that answer questions from anyone. The sites do searches and may route questions to their own experts. Topic sites that have some relevance to antiques include Ask (15), About (16), wikiHow (17), and eHow (18). They are worth a try for general questions. Do watch out for commercial pitches and experts with an agenda. Also, try to evaluate the expertise of the expert.
There are great differences in attacks on your personal privacy among search engines. A primer on the subject is found at the World Privacy Forum (19).
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest