Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2000 01:46:42 -0500
Sender: The Internet TourBus - A virtual tour of cyberspace
From: Bob Rankin
Subject: TOURBUS - 25 Jan 2000 - Advanced Searching
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TODAY'S TOURBUS TOPIC: Advanced Search Techniques
TODAY'S TOURBUS STOP: http://www.altavista.com
Alta Vista has for a long time been my favorite search engine.
That's because it has some nifty features to perform a variety of
specialized searches. In today's issue, you'll learn some advanced
search techniques that'll help you find what you seek.
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Alta Vista boasts a huge web database, with over 250 million pages,
and since they index millions of pages per day, it's likely the
freshest as well. But because they catalog every word on every web
page, the dreaded "25,679 documents match your query" problem is
likely to pop up if you don't specify your search carefully.
True enough, it can be a brute force tool - but if you know how to
tame it using the advanced features, you can avoid the "drink from
a firehose" syndrome that often results from a search engine query.
ADVANCED SEARCHING WITH ALTA VISTA
Here's a little tip for you: Don't bother clicking the "Advanced
Search" button at AltaVista. You can do some really amazing things
without leaving the AV home page. In fact, even the people who
develop AV use "simple search" almost exclusively! Here are some
tips for fine tuning your AV searches:
1) Use the "+" and "-" operators
Prefix your search words with "+" to indicate that they MUST
occur in a page to be considered a hit, and use "-" to exclude
pages. For example:
will find only pages that contain BOTH words, capitalized or not.
If you omit the "+" AV will return some pages about chocolate, some
about turtle, in addition to pages containing both words. In this
example, the difference is 896,060 vs. 10,211 matches. By adding
an exclusion term as shown below, the number of hits drops to 1869.
By adding an exclusion term as shown below, the search results can
be tuned more finely.
+chocolate +turtle -peanut
2) Use quotes for phrases
Well, 7329 matches is still a bit much to digest, so let's turn up
the heat at AV. If you really want to find Chocolate Turtles (and
not just pages with those two words) put it in quotes. The search
+"chocolate turtle" -peanut
yields only 336 hits! Now we're down to the level where you could
check out each matching document without spending hours.
3) Use capital letters when appropriate
If you're looking for a proper name, use capital letters and AV
will do an EXACT match. These two searches will return very
4) Use the "host" and "domain" keywords
Have you ever wanted to look for a specific word at just one
website? Try a search like this:
This tells AV to find articles about chocolate published only by
the American Medical Association, and it yields just 29 hits.
You can also exclude a website or an entire domain from a search:
+"tax reform" -host:whitehouse.gov
+"human rights" -domain:cn
The first example excludes documents published by one website, (the
US Whitehouse) and the second eliminates all documents from an
entire domain (the country of China).
5) Use the "title" keyword
If you're looking for pages on a specific topic, instead of pages
that just contain certain words, try limiting your search like so:
This often helps to weed out unwanted hits. The fact that someone
bothered to categorize their page with a keyword should
help you get better quality matching documents.
6) Use the "image", "audio" and "media" keywords
Looking for a special photo or icon? Try something like this:
The first should be obvious, the second uses a wildcard to find
any image whose name starts with "comet", whether GIF or JPEG,
but only on the NASA website.
The audio search will find only screeches and twitters, while the
broader media search and will find pages with images, audios
or videos of birds.
7) Use the "link" and "url" keyword
The "link" keyword finds pages that contain a link to another site
or page, and the "url" keyword finds pages with specific characters
in the address. Here are some examples:
link:tourbus.com - find pages linked to the TOURBUS site
url:elvis - find pages with "elvis" in the address
By combining any of these search terms, your Alta Vista search
efficiency can go way up. And I haven't even covered all the special
keywords you can use to hone in on the object of your desiring. If
you want to learn more about advanced Alta Vista searching, visit
That's all for now, see you next time! --Bob Rankin
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