Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 23:12:59 -0400
Sender: The Internet TourBus - A virtual tour of cyberspace
From: Bob Rankin
Subject: TOURBUS - 11 May 1999 - Search Tips #2: Going Backwards
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII
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TODAY'S TOURBUS TOPIC: Search Tips Part 2: Going Backwards
Howday All! Today we have the second installment of a three part
series on Internet search tools and techniques, with Guest Driver
Tara Calishain. I know these are a bit longer than our usual Tourbus
format - but I think every word is worth reading if you want to hone
your cybersearch skills. Please visit our wonderful sponsors, thank
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Two Steps Forward, Ten Steps Back: Going Backwards Can Work
Here's one of my favorite things: here we are on the Internet, one of
the most non-linear information structures ever created, and when we
go looking for information we do it in a very linear way. We type the
keywords into the search engines, and then we click on a likely
candidate, and then we click on another one, and so on and so on....
But it doesn't have to be that way. As a matter of fact, you can gain
just as much by going backwards as going forwards. Going backwards
can help you figure out a 404 "page not found" error, or help you find
very specialized Web sites.
Figuring out the 404
If you've done any amount of research online, you've run into the
dreaded 404 error. A 404 error means that the server can't find the
Web page you've requested. A lot of times you're tempted to give up,
return to the search engine, and look at another search result.
Don't give up that quickly! There's a lot that can be done with a
404, like going backwards into the 404 URL until you find a valid Web
site. You should try going backwards into a 404 URL when the search
results indicate that you've found part of a Web site that might be
valid for your research. For example, say you're researching old
vacuum cleaners. Your search engine query found a page on the Vacuum
Cleaner World Web Site, but when you try to access the page you get a
404 error. Since you're interested in vacuum cleaners in general, you
could try to go backwards into the 404, until you get to a page that
allows you to explore the rest of the site.
Let's examine how this works. Say the following URL gives you a 404
Work your way from the end and start removing parts of the URL. Click
on the URL box in your browser (it's that white box at the top of the
screen with the URL in it. If you're using Opera it's at the bottom
of your screen) then just backspace over the findit.html part, leaving
Bear in mind that you can't just arbitrarily remove three or four
letters of the URL and expect to get anywhere. Either remove an
entire HTML file name (like findit.html) or an entire layer of the URL
(the words between the forward slashes, like "whoops".
Now hit enter. Now, you may get another 404 error, in which case you
should just "peel off" another layer of the URL (in this case whoops/)
and hit enter again. But sometimes you'll get a Web page, which you
can examine for a link to the information in which you were
interested. Sometimes, using this method, you can "back into" Web
sites that you've never found via a search engine.
Now at this point, you might be thinking, "Shyeah. Like I WISH I
could find an URL relevant to what I'm researching. It's too
specialized, but the only keywords I can use are getting me way too
First, check your keywords. Make sure that you've gotten specific as
possible. If you're still not having any luck, try going backwards!
Some search engines give you the option to check backlinks; that is,
to check which pages are linking to a particular page. This comes in
really handy if you're doing research on a particular topic but can't
find many Web sites for the topic. I call this the "wedge method" --
if you can find just ONE web site relevant to the topic you're
searching, you can use that as a wedge into your research, to help you
find other sites.
Here's how it works when you're doing research:
1) Find one Web site that covers your particular topic of interest.
Make sure it's a very specific Web site; otherwise it won't work. For
the sake of this example, we'll use http://www.goldbug.com , which is
a supplier of historical maps.
2) Go to one of the Web sites that supports backlink checking. My two
favorites are Alta Vista and Hotbot.
3) Backlink search on the Web site you chose in step one. For Hotbot,
type the URL (complete withn http:// part) in the search box and then
choose "Links to this URL" in the search pulldown box. For AltaVista,
use link: like this -- link:http://www.goldbug.com .
If you do a backlink search in AltaVista, you may get several matches
that are from the goldbug.com site itself. To fix that, add
-host:goldbug.com to the query, so it looks like this:
That will remove any search results that were found on the goldbug.com
4) Explore the results. You'll discover that the results are mostly
in-line with the topic of the Web site. (Occasionally you'll get a
result for a page like "Fred's Favorite Links," but you'll get fewer
of those the more specific the URL you're using.)
5) Repeat! - Does this work with more complex URLs, including those
which have subdirectories, like http://www.researchbuzz.com/news/ ?
Absolutely. Give it a try and see what happens.
Hey, thanks for reading. I hope you found the article helpful. Next
week we'll talk about asking experts on the Web -- where to find 'em
and what you can ask.
If you've enjoyed this article, please feel free to check out
ResearchBuzz at http://www.researchbuzz.com . News about helpful
Internet research sites, articles, quick tips, a free weekly
newsletter, and the occasional rant.
TALK TO TARA
Visit Tara's website, or tell her thanks for driving:
Tara Calishain - mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Calumet? Isn't that some kind of artificial sweetener? Anyway...
That's all for now - see you next time! --Bob Rankin
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