By Reid Goldsborough
Reid Goldsborough is the author of the syndicated column “Personal Computing” and the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He wrote the article, “Information Overload,” in the June/July 1999 issue of Athletic Management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or members.home.net/reidgold.
Athletic Management, 13.4, June/July 2001, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1304/directsurf.htm
In just over a decade, the World Wide Web has grown from a physicist’s research project to a gargantuan marketplace, contributing billions of dollars and millions of jobs to the nation’s economy. It has also become, for all professionals, a major source of information.
Whether you rarely search the Web or use it on a daily basis, you know that the wealth of information posted is staggering. In fact, according to the market research firm Cyveillance, more than three billion Web pages are out there for your perusal.
For an athletic administrator, as for anybody, some Web sites are certainly more surf-worthy than others. But how do you know which sites are worthwhile, and how do you find specific information for your needs?
Generally, there are two major ways of quickly and efficiently finding the information you need on the Web. If you are interested in a broad topic, like sports injuries, you’ll want to know which Web sites are tops for offering good, basic information. If you’re looking for something very specific, such as Title IX cases involving baseball and softball fields, you’ll want to use the best search engines. In this article, I’ll provide information on both these avenues.
Finding The Best
When looking for general information, most people start by visiting portals. Portals are very large Internet sites, such as AOL, Yahoo, or MSN, with many, many links to other sources of information.
While portals, and the sites they link to, offer a wide array of information, they are not always your best bet for finding what you need. Linked sites may have a prominent listing solely because of a business relationship, not because of the quality of the site. You may be better off, instead, surfing to sites that have been chosen as the best, regardless of business ties.
In recent years, a number of organizations, publications, and Web sites have made qualitative designations of the “best” Web sites. Such designations are necessarily subjective and sometimes idiosyncratic, but they are useful nonetheless.
Here’s a roundup of some of the top outfits that have selected “best” sites. Exploring these selections can be useful not only for their content, but also for generating ideas of what you would like to see on your own Web site.
The Webby Awards: Awarded by the 350-member International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, the Webbys are the Oscars of the Internet. See who won this year in 27 categories from commerce and science to activism and music. The Webbys also has a populist component, the People’s Voice Awards. This year, more than 100,000 surfers voted for their favorites.
Best of the Web: The editors of PC World magazine, the most widely circulated consumer-oriented computer magazine, identified what they considered the best 64 sites in 32 categories, including career information, Webmaster tools, health, and entertainment.
The Top 100 Web Sites: The editors of PC Magazine, a biweekly publication targeted at computer professionals, also published their choices of the best Web sites, in this case 100 in 20 categories, from small business services to lifestyle.
Readers Rate the Web: More than 3,000 technologically savvy readers of PC Magazine Online chose the 53 top Web sites in nine categories, including investments, banking, shopping, and travel.
101 Most Incredibly Useful Sites: Yahoo Internet Life, an Internet “lifestyle” magazine, identified what it considers the 101 best sites in nine categories, from home and shopping to shipping and automotive.
Gold Stars: Each month Yahoo Internet Life also publishes a list of “Gold Star Sites” in a particular category. Recent categories include e-business, health, finding expert advice, trip planning, and finding a job.
Beyond the Webbys and magazines’ listings, there is a special Web site that can help you find more “best of” sites. The Open Directory Project, an effort spearheaded by Netscape and now a part of America Online, lists 184 sites that select the best sites, including 93 spots that offer award designations and 32 sites that review other sites.
Though popularity and quality don’t always go hand in hand, you may also find it useful to check out the most popular sites, as a whole or within given categories. Nielsen/NetRatings provides lots of statistics about the Web, including the top 10 Web properties (multiple sites owned by the same company) in terms of usage.
Media Metrix offers a listing of the 50 most popular Web properties in the U.S. and globally as well as a listing of the 500 most popular sites.
Success by Search
While knowing the addresses of the most popular Web sites will help you with some of your general needs, when you’re looking for specific facts or ideas, you need to take a different path—that of the search engine. In fact, there’s nothing more central to the World Wide Web than “searching” for what you need.
You can use these sites to find information on nutrition for teenage athletes, for example, or to find a consultant to help in building a new athletic facility. They can also be useful in finding previously published articles on specific coaches and athletes, and for finding manufacturers of athletic-related products.
The only problem is that the Internet search industry is currently in a state of upheaval. Familiar names are losing their usefulness, in some cases with top management bailing out. Upstarts, meanwhile, are busy trying to buy your patronage. Fortunately, a few standouts are eminently click-worthy.
Web old-timers probably remember Yanoff’s List, the first widely used compilation of useful Internet destinations, created in 1991. It bit the dust in 1995 when overtaken by Yahoo, which made billionaires out of its creators, Stanford University Ph.D. students David Filo and Jerry Yang.
Yahoo has remained the dominant Web directory, but, as a search tool it has plenty of stiff competition. After diversifying into a dizzying array of other Net activities, Yahoo has even gone to an outside firm to drive its search engine.
Which brings us to the hottest search engine today, Google. Officially launched during the fall of 1999, it uses sophisticated technology that returns site results based on the number of other sites that link to specific information on a site. When key sites, such as CNN.com, link to a site, that’s counted more heavily. The end result: An uncanny ability to turn up what you’re looking for.
So confident is Google in its technology that it includes an “I’m Feeling Lucky” option. If you click on that after typing in your search terms, Google will take you directly to the site it feels is most relevant. This is mostly braggadocio, and you’re usually better off looking at its list of possible sites, with brief excerpts, before deciding yourself which to head off to. Still, the technology works so well that more than 100 other sites, including Yahoo, have licensed it.
AltaVista is another early big name in the Internet search game that is experiencing a loss of stature. It was the first popular pure search engine, relying upon technology instead of people in sending its automated “spiders” to crawl through the Web and index what they found. Despite its promising start, AltaVista suffered from a dearth of investment early on, and it has been superseded by newer search engines that return more relevant results.
Some other new search sites are trying to gain your surf-time by throwing money at you. The leader here is iWon.com. Backed by CBS, it has extensively advertised its “$1 million a month” sweepstakes giveaways. In aggregating news and other content to encourage users to stick around and read ads, it’s actually better as a portal than a search site.
Despite recent advances, searching through the Internet’s murky depths is still an inexact science, and it sometimes pays to use more than one search site. You can do this automatically with a “metasearch” site. After you type in your search terms, it sends them out to a number of search sites and compiles the results. The best metasearch sites include ProFusion, MetaCrawler, and Dog Pile.
For those worried about exposing themselves or school children to inappropriate material on the Web, be aware that using typical search engines does pose this problem. If you search for the “White House,” for instance, among the sites any given search site returns may be those displaying what you might see in a “cathouse.” Here are two kid-safe search sites that are designed to filter out porn and other no-no’s:
Help From Real People
Despite the Web’s technological wizardry, sometimes you can’t beat the human touch. One recent innovation in Internet searching is the proliferation of expert sites whose volunteer staffers try to dig up information for you.
At AllExperts.com, for example, you first click down to the category of information you’re interested in, such as insurance or photography. Then you select a volunteer, based upon his or her profile, to send your query to. More than 1,500 volunteers work for the site, providing answers free of charge. If you need more comprehensive service, volunteers offer themselves as consultants for a fee.
Similar new search sites that go against the grain of increasing mechanization include Askme.com and ExpertCentral.com.
Human help does have its drawbacks, however. At AllExperts.com it may take a day or two to receive your answer. Also, despite the site’s name, the volunteers aren’t necessarily experts. Allexperts.com says that many of its volunteers are professionals, but it doesn’t verify their credentials.
Paying Your Way
The above sites are all free, but sometimes it makes sense to use a pay site. This is true if you are doing research for critical purposes, can’t find what you’re looking for elsewhere, or are doing highly specialized research.
It makes sense, though, to start with the lower-cost services first. Electric Library provides unlimited searching through hundreds of newspapers and magazines as well as newswires, books, TV and radio transcripts, book and movie reviews, photos and maps, and an encyclopedia and other reference works for $60 a year. You can try it for one month free.
Northern Light is a Web search site that distinguishes itself by its “Special Collection.” You can search this collection for published articles from thousands of scholarly journals, magazines, newswires, and books. You pay only for what you read, from $1 to $4 per article.
At the high end are professional research databases. One of the best known is Lexis-Nexis. It provides access to thousands of newspapers, newswires, magazines, trade and professional journals, and TV and radio transcripts. In the past, Lexis-Nexis provided offerings priced strictly for large businesses, law firms, universities, and information professionals. But, its services now give people working out of smaller organizations lower-cost options.
Dialog is another well-regarded commercial database service that has begun to offer lower-cost options. It also provides access to thousands of journals, magazines, and newsletters.
Finally, if you’ve thrown your arms up in despair after reading about this plethora of options and want to hire a professional researcher to do the work for you, take a look at the Web site of the Association of Independent Information Professionals.
For a listing of all the links in this article, please visit our Web site, at www.athleticsearch.com. From there you’re just one click away from any of these sites.