There’s a saying that “it’s not about how much information you know, but how well you can find it”. The ability to find necessary information is extremely valuable in today’s age. Naturally, you’ll have to know how to judge the information (is it complete nonsense or a manipulation?) and use it, but finding it is the beginning of all knowledge.
In its infancy, the internet didn’t have any search engines. Users created their own lists of their favorite webpages and, with the help of links, they could make their way to more and more websites. The first websites thus worked very similarly to the now archaic Phone Book or other information systems. As the internet began to grow, it became unsustainable for users to remember and administer everything on their own. Because of this, the first catalogues appeared, followed by search engines, which were able to read the titles and other parts of websites. Around the year 2000, we start to see search engines that function in the way that we’re used to today, and now they can do more than we might expect.
Today most people have no need to choose a search engine. All you have to do is open your favorite web browser – Chrome, Firefox, Opera or Safari – and type a search command into the address bar. The question of which search engine is used by which browser is the subject of heated business negotiations, even despite the fact that you can change your search engine at any time in settings. However, the situation on mobile phones is worse, as it’s not easy to be independent of what’s “forced” on you by Siri or Google Now (which also both work on smartwatches).
Source: Archie – the first search engine. Screenshot: KISK.
Voice search using Google Assistant. Source: YouTube channel Dotekománie.cz
The first step that most of us begin our search with is easy – using a web browser’s address bar. This is a quick solution, and even the browser creators themselves expect this to be the strategy that we most often use. On the other hand, the search engine doesn’t always have to meet our requirements or give us correct results, so it’s also good to be able to look elsewhere (if you’re primarily using Google, which is to be expected, we recommend playing around a bit with Bing or Seznam too).
By the way – did you know that the Czech Republic is one of the very few countries that still has a free search engine market where Google doesn’t hold a decisive share of it? In this regard, the Czech company Seznam has been extraordinarily successful from a business and technological standpoint. The company continues to hold roughly one quarter of the market, while Google has about 70%.
So how should we search for information? Even before we get into some practical instructions and methods, we’d like to point out two things. Firstly – in order to find something, we have to know what we’re looking for. Yogi Berra once said “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else”, which certainly applies to searching on the internet. The better we know what we’re looking for, the better we can find it. That’s why searching is an ongoing affair – we usually get exactly what we’re looking for on the first try only with very simple and clear queries. You should count on the fact that you’ll have to continually modify, expand or change your search query (i.e. what you’re looking for) according to results until you finally get to what you really need.
This is linked to what we’ve already written about knowledge – only by searching for something do we often learn exactly what it is and what details or parts of the problem we’re really interested in. For example, we can begin by searching for information on the Přemyslid Dynasty and end up studying everyday life in the court of Charles IV. Or we can look for information on penicillin and our search might lead us to organic chemistry and the shape of a certain molecule. This process is completely normal and is a part of searching. Most of us don’t work for a service like Ask a Librarian, where there’s a clear question and clear answer – we want to find some information, and we can learn something from each search result.