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Internet Research Power Tools

by Martin Sauer

Definition: Query—a question to be answered; an inquiry to be solved.

Anyone who has ever searched the Internet for in-depth information knows that conducting research projects online can seem like an overwhelming task, even for the smallest of projects. The number of links produced from a simple search on a popular search engine like AltaVista can literally reach into the millions! As deadlines approach, despair sets in. How can you ever be expected to make sense of the huge volume of information available?

As a professional search consultant who makes his living conducting online research, I thought I'd share four of my favorite tools for finding, categorizing and editing online information. Using these tools can save countless hours—if not days—of precious research and editing time. I've listed these specific tools for two main reasons: they work great and they can be downloaded for free off the Internet. The products are as follows:

* Kryloff SSSpider (Subject Search Spider): Allows the user to query many different search engines and Web sites simultaneously. Compiles a report showing the search phrase as it actually appears in the linked document.

* Webforia Organizer: Categorize and edit Web content in its original form; build libraries by topic and subtopic.

* Yahoo! Alerts: Keep updated automatically of topics or news items you are following. Articles are sent directly to your email account.

  • Microsoft IE 5.0 (Internet Explorer 5.0): Ever try to find something you saw a while back but forgot where you found it? IE 5.0 has new search features that allow you to quickly search for familiar words and phrases from past sites you've visited.


SSSpider (Subject Search Spider)

Rather than querying each search engine one by one, it's often much quicker to use an approach that probes several search engines simultaneously. The term "Meta Search Engine" is often used to describe such a process. Meta search engines conduct parallel searches on several search engines and then compile the results into a single page of hits, usually deleting duplicates. For example, sites like Ask Jeeves will simultaneously check Infoseek, Excite, Lycos and others right from the Ask Jeeves home page. The search phrase need only be entered one time.

Although this method has its advantages in terms of speed, the problem of receiving too many irrelevant links from your search still exists. SSSpider does a pretty good job in solving this problem by using a number of different techniques.

SSSpider conducts a much deeper search of your search phrase. One way it does this is by querying more search engines and Web sites, and by waiting longer for search engines to respond (time-outs where the meta engine quits looking after a second or two because the target site doesn't respond fast enough is a common occurrence). By querying a greater number of Web sites the likelihood that your specific search phrase will appear increases dramatically. With the registered version of SSSpider the search query can be customized, thereby allowing you to tailor your search to a much wider range of topical search indexes, like art, business, computers, etc. This process ensures a more thorough search of the subject matter.

The program then compiles a report, sorted by relevancy, showing the search phrase as it actually appears in the linked document. The relevant text is extracted from the page for inclusion in the report, thereby saving you the time of clicking on the link to see if it contains the information you want. Any links that are not working are automatically eliminated, as are duplicate links, so the same reference is not reported more than once.

One of the drawbacks of this program is that a quality search takes much longer than a search on AltaVista, for example. Most features of this program can be customized, including the time it takes for a search to be completed. I usually allow 20 minutes for a typical search, and work on other tasks while the program runs in the background. This factor needs to be taken into consideration when deciding on the level and quality of feedback you desire. Personally, I use the program for all but the most basic searches because the quality of the items found is usually very high when compared to traditional methods.

Webforia Organizer

After a search has been completed there remains the task of collecting the relevant information and organizing it. Webforia Organizer allows you to save the contents of a Web page—or only the parts of the Web page you want—in its original format. The contents can then be categorized in Organizer similar to the way bookmarks are categorized. At this point you may be asking, "Then why not just save the contents as bookmarks?"

Rather than looking at a set of bookmarks, Organizer allows you to see your contents immediately. The contents are stored on your hard drive, which means there is no download time and only the parts you saved are visible. Categorizing your contents by moving them to different library folders is very fast. Also, if the original Web site changes, you still have the original saved content.

Along with your saved Web content, Organizer also automatically records a summary, and a summary of your data appears whenever the mouse cursor is moved over an indexed piece of information. Although the summary is recorded automatically according to the content on the Web page, it can easily be edited. This feature comes in handy when you want to organize or find contents quickly using the Library Search tool.

Yahoo! Alerts

When new users of the Internet ask me where to go to start learning about what the Internet has to offer, I always encourage them to spend time learning the ins and outs of Yahoo! because of its many useful features. Time spent investigating this site is one of the best ways to demonstrate what the Internet can do for you. In addition to directory-based searches, free email, driving directions, customized stock data, auctions, etc., Yahoo! offers a feature called Yahoo! Alerts.

Yahoo! Alerts will send you breaking news stories about your subject of interest via email. What makes Yahoo! Alerts so special is that searches are based on key words, not general categories, so the user can customize their alerts according to key words and phrases. Similarly, Yahoo! Alerts will filter out stories that contain words or phrases that you don't want to read about. For example, you may be interested in reading stories about "Internet Marketing" that do not contain the word "telemarketing" in the article.

IE 5.0 (Internet Explorer 5.0)

This newest version of Microsoft Internet Explorer contains a significantly upgraded history folder that allows the user to quickly search for familiar words contained in pages that were previously visited. This feature really comes in handy when you want to revisit a site you saw a long time ago but can only remember vague details about its contents. Want to find that article you saw last year about selling your special skills? Simply click on the search icon in the history folder and enter your key words. IE will produce links of all the pages you've visited in the past that contain those key words. In addition to key word searches, IE will sort your history by date, week, sites most visited, and order visited today.

Please note that it's important to make sure your history folder records far enough back in time. IE will record up to the past 999 days (almost three years) but you must specify the limit in the Internet Options folder. To do this, click on Tools, and then Internet Options. On the General tab you can specify how long you want IE to record your history. IE 5.0 can be downloaded for free online.


These tools were designed to help you conduct and organize your Internet research more effectively. Although they were designed to help the avid researcher, I believe casual searchers will also benefit from this structured approach to mining and aggregating information found on the Internet. To round out the equipment needed to conduct in-depth research I also recommend using later versions of Microsoft Word to put it all together. Word contains many helpful editing features that facilitate easy manipulation of large amounts of text and graphics.

Happy hunting!


Martin Sauer is an information retrieval specialist.


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