MRO & THE INTERNET: In search of the best web sites
By Richard G. Ensman, Jr.
Each time you point and click, your frustration mounts. All you want is a simple piece of information -- maybe some background information for a training presentation, or technical specs for a product...
Each time you point and click, your frustration mounts. All you want is a simple piece of information — maybe some background information for a training presentation, or technical specs for a product — but the World Wide Web just won’t yield it up.
How do you find the good stuff on the web? How do you locate the best reference sites? How do you identify the websites that can become models for your own site? While there’s no perfect answer to any of these questions, an increasing variety of web reference tools abound, just waiting for you to use them.
When you’re looking for something on the web, the first step is simple: start with what you know. If you have used popular websites with success in the past, try them again. If your industry or trade association recommends certain websites, by all means, visit them. (Editor’s Note: As an example, refer to the industrial distribution websites listed in the article, Online MRO Sourcing on the Rise, on page 14, and see the MRO Web Locator Directory, also in this issue.)
If you have a favourite search engine, such as Google.com or Canada.com’s SuperSearch, use it to search the web for that nugget of information you’re seeking. Be sure to enter a variety of search terms into your query. If you’re looking for information on “employee benefits,” for instance, you might search under a specific type of benefit, or any number of similar search terms, such as “compensation” or “fringe benefits.” If you’re still stuck at the end of the search, you might try a plain English question using the intriguing Ask Jeeves (www.ask.com), which might lead you to the resources you’re seeking.
But what happens when those conventional research techniques don’t work? Next it might be time to try either a meta search or a power search. A meta search attempts to identify target websites by pulling data from many search engines at once. Meta searches can minimize the duplication that occurs with multiple individual searches, and can help you cover a lot of ground in a short time.
The web hosts dozens of popular metasearch sites — search engines that conduct these comprehensive searches — today. A few include Dogpile (www.dogpile.com), Search.com (www.search.com), Surfwax (www.surfax.com), and MetaCrawler (www.metacrawler.com). Search the term “meta search” for the names of other current meta sites.
Meta searches may not always do the trick, either because they turn up too many target sites or the search simply doesn’t seem to focus on the right information. In this case, a power search might be the answer. Here, you’ll use simple programming commands to tailor your search toward your particular interests.
A key tip is to use quotes when searching for exact multi-word phrases, for example “ball bearings.” Without the quotes, the search engines will locate all references to each single word.
Many search engines, will allow you to insert the commands AND and OR into your search query to accommodate multiple search terms (such as linear AND motion and technical supervision OR technical management).
Most engines also will allow you to use the minus sign (-) to exclude certain terms (such as Argonauts -football, which should eliminate references to the sport). Alternatively, the plus sign (+) can often be used to narrow your search (for example, Argonauts +football, which should limit the search to this popular sport).
Wildcard symbols, usually the asterisk (*), allow you to conduct searches on various iterations of words (for example, the search term stock* might bring up information on products in stock, stockyards, the stock market, or botanical references to stock).
Some engines allow you to direct your search toward all pages sponsored by a particular organization with the “host” command (for example, host: anyorganization.com). Engines offer a variety of other power searching features: the ability to search for pages linked to a target site, title and tag searches, and even proximity searches, allowing you to specify the relationship of search terms to each other (an example might be the term management NEAR startup, which might yield information on management techniques in startup enterprises). Visit the “about” or “power search” sections of search sites for detailed search instructions.
Still another reference tool is the specialty search. Using any one of the hundreds of specialty search sites available today, you can narrow your search to a specific profession, academic discipline, or set of information resources.
The Virtual Web Reviews site (www.virtualfreesites.com/search.reviews.html) indexes over a thousand specialty search engines on a variety of subjects. Still another popular specialty site, Search Engine Watch (www.search enginewatch.com/links/Specialty_Search_Engines/) offers a variety of top search engines in a number of fields, including government, technology, science, shopping, and others. Search Engine Watch also includes a directory of worldwide search engines and community-oriented engines, as well as comprehensive information on the workings of search engines.
Somewhat akin to specialty search sites are web directory sites which offer collections of other sites, sometimes focused on a broad array of knowledge and other times focused on specific fields. Examples include About (www.about.com) and Excite’s Guide (www.excite.com). Check out The Web Directories Guide (www.crosswinds.net/ ~directories/home.htm) for a listing of many popular web directories, some of them covering well over 100,000 sites.
To many people, the web is most useful as a basic reference tool — a source of information about people, places, events and statistical data. And in fact, the web is full of many encyclopedic reference sources, helpful to people in almost any occupation or pursuit.
Ideally, you’ll gradually compile your own web reference library — a series of bookmarks linked to information-packed sites you find especially helpful. But for now, don’t hesitate to consult popular web reference directories. A few examples: Digital-Librarian (www.digital-librarian.com), Query Server (www.queryserver.com) the Librarian’s Index to the Internet (www.lii.org) and The World Wide Web Virtual Library (www.virtuallibrary.com).
When seeking background information on a subject, sites like The Free Internet Encyclopedia (www.clever.net/ cam/encyclopedia.html) provide indexed collections of resource material. For information on contemporary science, business and news, don’t hesitate to visit the Information Please Almanac (www.infoplease.com). Common reference tools abound, too, such as dictionaries (try www.onelook.com, which compiles information from several hundred dictionaries), basic business information (try www.Hoovers.com and Canada’s www.scottsinfo.com), Canadian government data (http://strategis.ic.gc.ca), and telephone directory lookups (www.canada411.com, or for U.S. numbers, www.yellow.com or www.switch board.com). There also is contact information for a vast list of Canadian manufacturers and suppliers on www.esource canada.com. Reference sites abound for financial data, quotations, geographical locations, and much, much more.
If you’re curious about the quality of websites — or if you want to focus your search on reviewed sites — you’ll also find an increasing number of independent sites that conduct web reviews, make awards, or cull top sites from the web based on their own criteria or web user preferences. These independent sites can offer clues to the best sites in a particular field. Some examples: Info Service (www.Info-s.com), The Britannica Internet Guide (www.nassaulibrary.org/ bryant/rating_system.html), and The Top 100 (www.100hot.com/index.html), all popular destinations.
Sites like Best of the Web (www.botw.org), Webby Awards (www.webby awards.com/), and ZDNet (www.zdnet.com/techlife/) are examples of sites that rank other websites, present web awards, or tabulate the results of web preference surveys. These sites provide information on a wide variety of other websites, but they often stress personal, not business, resources.
If you’re looking for online editions of trade journals and other periodicals, a wealth of web resources abound here, too. MediaFinder (www.mediafinder.com/) may help you locate newsletters and magazines of interest to you, and provide relevant web addresses. If you’re searching for popular U.S. periodicals, try Electronic Newsstand (www.enews.com), and if you’re searching for U.S. newspapers, you can find a “directory of directories” of many newspapers, from daily papers to ethnic papers, at http://usnewspapers.about. com/newsissues/usnewspapers/cs/papersall/index.htm. You can also find links to many Canadian newspapers and magazines at www.canada.com and www.canoe.ca. And our own website, www.mro-esource.com, offers archives of the articles from previous issues of Machinery & Equipment MRO, extensive detailed product sourcing information in a comprehensive Product Locator Guide, and several other features.
Ultimately the web is a vast collection of content, ranging from sterling quality information to pure trash. By cruising the web — with the aid of the many reference tools available to you today — you’ll better comprehend the web resources available to you. More importantly, you’ll understand how to find the resources you need, when you need them, in a minimum amount of time. Once you’re able to do this, the web will become the tightly focused information and productivity tool you need in your personal and work life.MRO
Richard G. Ensman, Jr., is a regular contributor to Machinery & Equipment MRO.
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