Thursday, July 8, 2010
Web search: 10 strategies for various occasions
We need to think globally when finding information. Admirals and generals always talk strategy before they get bogged down in the details of tactics. In the July/August 2001 issue of Online Karen M. Drabenstott discussed Web Search Strategy Development. She described six strategies; I have added four more.
Which strategy is best depends on whether the topic is complicated or simple. Complicated concepts have multiple facets. For example, the concept of dinner contains an appetizer, soup, salad, main dish, side dish, dessert, and beverage. The 10 strategies are:
1. Guess and Go. Men don’t stop and ask for directions! Who needs search engines? Just guess and type the address into the web browser. (Homer Simpson always uses this strategy).
2. A Shot in the Dark. Type one word into a search engine like Google, hit return, and hope. This occasionally works for loaded words like schadenfreude or Guadalcanal.
3. Bingo. Use a search engine. Describe a concept using the reporter’s menu of who, what, when, where, and how.
4. Everything But the Kitchen Sink. Use a search engine to describe the facets of a complicated concept with one giant phrase. This sounds great, but it usually doesn’t work the first time.
5. Take a Big Bite. This is how sharks eat. Use a search engine to describe some facets of a complicated concept with a phrase. Look at the results, then modify the phrase to narrow things further.
6. A Little Help From Our Friends. Use subject directories to get started on an unfamiliar topic. Take advantage of other people’s experience. Start with a few great sites rather than oodles of the mediocre ones you might find using a search engine.
7. Pearl Growing. Like Oliver Twist you can ask for more. If you look at the list of results from a Google search, you will see the word Similar in blue to the right of some web addresses. You also can flip the search over, and use Google Advanced Search to search for pages that link to a page you have found. If you found a book by an author, you can check to see if he also wrote any magazine articles (or vice versa).
8. Find Someone Who Cares. Look for an Expert on the topic, and then contact him or her by email, phone, or in person.
9. Let the Fish Swim to You. Use Google Alerts or Google Reader, and similar tools to keep updated on interesting topics.
10. No Stone Unturned. This is how we handle big questions, like a graduate school thesis, changing careers, or starting a business. First we do everything we can think of. Then we think some more, and do some more.