Over the next three weeks, I’ll be examining a variety of search engines as part of this series, beginning with AltaVista, HotBot and Lycos. Today, we’ll zero in on AltaVista. When you’re looking for people and you want them now, AltaVista’s advanced search page offers a variety of ways to search. With search engines, variety usually means better research opportunities. You can search either the Web or news groups. Entering a query is easy. A simple query goes into the top thin box. Or enter as complex a Boolean query as you please in the large rectangle. Either way you can also refine the query and specify the dates you’re interested in. Choosing parameters like these lets you focus specifically on what you really want. For instance, news group postings from yesterday could be a good way to find recent ‘Net arrivals who might have the skills you need. Or, looking for resumes posted 6 months ago just might give you a candidate who no longer has 25 recruiters after him or her. The refine function forces your query results to include or exclude certain types of pages. For instance, a search for “cobol programmer” gives 2800+ results. By refining it, we can exclude pages that deal with jobs, benefits and anything else that would return pages of job postings and advertising. This brings it to a managable number of results which you could choose to refine even further. (A quick tip about date and refine: filling in both the date and refine boxes often brings back no results, so start your basic search by either refining it or dating it, but not both.) All of this saves time and produces more effective searches for sure. But there’s more. You can also specify which portions of a Web page or which portions of the Web itself you wish to search. AltaVista calls this using their “special functions.” Let’s say you’re interested in those C++ programmers about to graduate. You can limit your search to .edu domains. To do this, type domain:edu in the Boolean Expression box. You’ll get back pages that exist only on educational servers. Of course, you can also do this for other domains such as .mil, .org, .ca, and so forth. So, if you’re looking for someone overseas, try limiting the domains to the countries you’re interested in. And, if you come across a page in a language you don’t know, you can use AltaVista’s translate function. It’s not always as accurate as a multi-lingual speaker, but it does at least give a sense of what’s on the page. You can look for Web pages by title too, which is great if you think that someone you’re looking for would use a particular word in the title of the page. Type your search terms, along with title:whatever in the Boolean Expression box. The search for “cobol programmer” with title:resume brings up 69 results. AltaVista also has other helpful search functions. A glance through their help section explains many of them. Don’t neglect the information available on their site – or underestimate its usefulness. The most effective use of AltaVista comes when you understand Boolean queries and create ones that work for you, specific to your search requirements. AltaVista claims to have indexed 140 million Web pages, making it the largest index on the Web. And, its spider revisits Web sites about once a month, which means the results you get are relatively fresh, minimizing the number of “page not found” errors you’ll receive. Both of these factors, combined with its variety of search techniques, make AltaVista a top choice in search engines. Next week: We’ll visit another powerful search engine. Site Visit: HotBot
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