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By Baratunde R. Thurston

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 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 (, 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.

I happen to be a Lycos man myself. For the past four years, I have pointed my Web browser to its site ( in search of everything from the Holy Grail to love. Partially out of loyalty and partially out of appreciation for their page's layout, I have continued to use Lycos.

Lycos and similar search sites Excite ( and Webcrawler ( are kind of a cross between Altavista and Yahoo.

They utilize search engines, but they have created a Yahoo-like category guide as well. With these search sites you can do tasks from booking flights to checking up on your United Parcel Service package.

Infoseek ( has recently undergone a major upgrade of its search engine and may have them all beat.

It combines four different engines into one and is arguably the most accurate and comprehensive search site that exists right now.

It can even search based on questions entered in natural language style.

Whichever one you use, whenever you're frustrated with the lack of meaningful content on the internet, just remember the biblical saying:

"Seek and ye shall find."

Baratunde R. Thurston '99 is the Claverly Hall User Assistant for HASCS, a member of the Harvard Computer Society and a Crimson editor.

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