techTALK

Tired of coming across homepage after homepage of the same old advertising banners and those tacky, rotating "e-mail-me" icons? Sick of Internet smut? Want to know where the real goods are on the World Wide Web?

If you're tired of all the useless junk on the Web, what you need is a search engine.

Search engines, as their name implies, allow you to search for information on the Web. They help you wade through the vast expanse of Web junk that, after the first few months of fascination, now have you cursing the Internet itself.

As an example of their utility, consider this:

One day, I was looking for the phone number to University Health Services (don't ask why). So I picked up my phone and dialed Harvard information. At the same time, I decided to try to find it on the Web.

To my surprise, I got the number from the Web faster than the operator could tell me. I've been hooked ever since, and rarely do I spend hours aimlessly browsing the Web anymore.

If I can change, so can you.

Yet while all Internet search programs proudly bear the name "search engine," some search engines are more equal than others.

The major players are Lycos, Excite, Infoseek, Altavista, Webcrawler and Yahoo.

Most search systems work by periodically weeding their way through the Web and placing information about pages in a database, while others go so far as to provide news updates and sports scores.

Altavista is a search engine of the former ilk. There are no frills, just a blank field for you to enter your search query.

Altavista (at www.altavista.com) is powered by a computer that creates an index of over 31 million pages which is continuously updated, and I have found that it works best for specific information--song lyrics, for example.

But because it indexes every page, you still are likely to have to wade through a lot of irrelevant information.

Yahoo (www.yahoo.com), takes an opposite approach. It has a group of people manually categorize thousands of web pages and write a brief summary on each. This eliminates a lot of extraneous search returns that you would get from a search engine alone.

Another big plus of Yahoo is its browsing feature. If you do not need something very specific, you can surf through its hierarchical to see if you come across anything interesting.