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Tuning up your Skills in the Web Search Garage

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Every now and then a book comes along that's a must-read for every serious searcher, and Tara Calishain's Web Search Garage falls squarely into that category.

I'm not given to hyperbole, but it's no exaggeration for me to call Tara Calishain one of the world's foremost experts on web search. She not only sports the technical chops, she also has an insatiable curiosity and proclivity for experimenting with search tools to push them to the limits. And in Web Search Garage, Tara gives us an inside look at her own search "workshop," providing an intimate glimpse of an artisan practicing her craft.

Most good books on web search have something for everyone. Typically the first part of the book covers the basics and the second part gets into the advanced nitty gritty stuff. In practice this means most readers only benefit from a portion of the book.

No so Web Search Garage. Even though the book truly works for beginners and experts alike, you'll want to read it from cover to cover, regardless of your knowledge or skill level.

Case in point: Part 1 is called "Introduction to Web Searching," and is an excellent starting point for those unfamiliar with the web. But it's also packed with useful tidbits of information for even the most experienced information sleuth. That's the hallmark of Tara's approach: While her writing style is easy and accessible to anyone, it's also infused with knowledge gleaned from years of experience, testing, thinking and noodling around.

My favorite part of Web Search Garage is Part 2, "Principles of Web Searching," and these 60-odd pages alone are worth the cost of the book. In this section, Tara distills strategies for finding information into practical tactics that can be applied over and over to vastly improve your search results.

For example, "the principle of the onion" says that when searching, it's better to start with very specific queries and then get more general. Tara illustrates this principle by putting results from search engines side-by-side with results from subject specific directories.

"The principle of the mass similar" says the more kinds of proper nouns describing item X you search for, the more your results will be slanted toward the topic of X. This doesn't mean loading up your query with synonyms; it means exploiting the power of the inherent relationships among many proper nouns that act almost like glue for binding together related web pages.

In all, there are ten principles expounded in the book, illustrated with examples that demonstrate the power of taking a thoughtful approach to search rather than simply punching in keywords and praying for satisfactory results.

The rest of the book is dedicated to finding specific types of information. There are chapters on finding images and audio, searching for people, locating quality health care information and so on. Most chapters feature both techniques for finding specific types of information using the major search services, as well as descriptions of specialized search engines and directories, many of which are invisible web resources.

Web Search Garage is the kind of book you'll want to read slowly, trying out the techniques and sites Tara writes about and fiddling with your own variations. The book is an excellent read, and belongs on every serious searcher's bookshelf.

Web Search Garage
by Tara Calishain
Prentice Hall- $19.99
ISBN: 0-13-147148-1

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