We baby boomers have been around long enough to have seen many new words come and go. Growing up, we couldn’t imagine saying words like Internet or World Wide Web. And who would have thought we could ever do something like Google or do a search on Bing. Yeah, strange words for strange times. And of course an engine was for a car, not for doing research. So what is a search engine anyway?
What is a Search Engine?
A search engine is an engine that powers your searches for information on the Internet. OK, I am sure that’s not too clear. In this case an engine is software. A program that sits on a computer somewhere. In this case, you do not install the software on your computer, it is installed on some fantastically powerful computer sitting somewhere else. This computer is called a server and it is connected to the World Wide Web. Today we call computers that sit on the Web cloud-based computers. Computers that sit in the cloud. I will write more about the cloud in another post.
Why is a Search Engine Not Google?
Many people today get confused and think that Google is a word for search engine. That’s because the word has entered our vocabulary as both a noun and a verb. We will google for information about something we want to know about. But what we are really doing is searching for information. There are many other search engines out there that will also get you information, among them are Yahoo and Bing. Each one will provide you with a little different information. And each one has its own look and feel.
So Why Do People Think Google Means Search Engine?
Well like I said, the word has entered our vocabulary. We Baby Boomers remember growing up that we may have called our refrigerator a Frigidare or we called candy-coated chocolate M&Ms (OK for you folks in the British Commonwealth, you called them Smarties) no matter what brand they actually where. And of course when our kids had a boo boo, we put on a Band Aid (at least we did in the US). All these are brand names, not really the product. The same has happened here with Google. But Google is only one search engine. It is a mechanism for going out on the web and finding results.
So How Does a Search Engine Work
Well that is a complicated question that has a complicated answer. We’ll try to keep it simple. Simply put, you enter a search item and click Send. Then the search engine starts to look at all of the pages out there on the Web in order to get information about the term you put in. What types of terms you should use is important but that’s for another post. Just know that the search engine uses a set of algorithms that take your location, your previous search history, the exact term you are looking for, and thousands of other factors and then returns a list of possible Web pages for you to look at. Because location and search history are part of the calculations, you will not necessarily get the same results as someone else. So all the search engine does is go out and “crawl” through the tens of millions of pages on the Internet, then returns the results to you. All of this in just a few seconds.
But Google or Yahoo or Bing Give Me Bad Results!
Well, you can’t really blame them. They do not find anything on purpose. So if you get results for a hate site or one with sexually explicit content, it’s not the search engine’s fault. They just found the information. One factor that Google and probably the others use is how many people browse to the site and how many links there are to it from other sites. So if the owners of the site manage to find a way to get people to look at them for even one second, they will move up in a search. If you ever see a problem site come up on your results, don’t complain to Google. Just ignore the site and eventually it will go away.
And Just a Quick Word About Niche Search Engines
Of course we all know about Google, Yahoo, and Bing. They will search the entire Web for you. But sometimes you just want to search for one area, like Blogs or children’s stuff. There are many search engines that will search only in specific areas. They may pinpoint your search better. See this page on About.com (a great site for general knowledge) http://websearch.about.com/od/enginesanddirectories/p/websearch101.htm for more information.
How Can This Help Me?
Finding information is now easier than ever. No longer do we need to get to the library and use the card catalog or even the library’s computer. It is all at our fingertips in our own home. What search engine do you use? What else do you want to know about using a search engine? Let us know here in the comments. Don’t forget to follow The Baby Boomer Web by email or RSS or on Twitter (all the buttons are on the right). And don’t forget to invite a friend to join us. Thanks for reading.