Thursday, September 4, 2008

Find it fast(er)

All information retrieved by a search engine is archived. When you read a snippet (the title, abstract and url of a ranked Web page) you are viewing a copy of information gathered at an earlier date. A copy of the original page is usually available by clicking the cache link at the end of the snippet.

Knowing that information is archived can save time if you try to view the entire page. No doubt you've clicked on pages that looked promising only to find that the information you want is nowhere to be found. The reason is simple: the link goes to the current version of the page, not the archived version. The only way to see the archived version, where the information you want is located, is to click the cache link.

Cached pages are temporary. The next time a search engine crawler or spider visits the live page, the current version replaces the previous version. If the live page ceases to exist altogether (meaning the crawler can't find the page at all), the cached version is deleted. In order to find versions of pages older than the last crawl, you'll need to search a database that stores copies of pages, such as

One nice thing about a cached page is that the database often highlights the words you used in your query. You still have to scroll and scan the page, but the highlighting makes finding the critical terms much easier and faster.

So consider clicking the cache instead of the live link -- you'll save time searching, especially if the owner of the page has updated information since the last crawl.

Here's the challenge: to test this advice, divide students into two teams. Have both conduct the same search, but (secretly, if you want) instruct one group to go to the cached information instead of the live page. See who finds the information more quickly. After a few rounds, have the winning team explain how they were able to find the information more quickly.

Try these Google searches (Reading level is middle school and up):

1. Google won't recrawl my site. Answer this question: What are four things this developer can do to encourage Google to recrawl the overlooked site?
2. Myst Cheat Codes. Answer this question: After locating diagram 158 in the library book and going to the chimney, what should you do next?
3. Radioactive Granite--a myth? Answer this question: according to Tim Cordova's Rock Blog, do granite countertops pose a health threat?


Answers to the Previous Browsing Challenges

1. Plans for building a tree house: Home > Homeowners > Treehouses
2. Sites about Will Smith: Arts > People > S > Smith, Will
3. A fashion model agency in Minnesota: Business > Arts and Entertainment > Models > Agents and Agencies > North America > United States > Minnesota
4. Information about the World Game of Economics: Science > Social Sciences > Education > Software

Of course, all of these are EASIER if you use the Directory Search Box. What does that tell you about the difference between searching by querying and searching by browsing?

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