The Concept of a URL
When looking around the web many people simply do a search and end up at a website they may have or may not have ever seen before. So how do you even begin to take a look at the URL (web address) to see where your information is coming from?
An Internet address is made up of specific parts, this is due to the way the Internet works. Each name you see is turned from a number into a URL that is easier to remember.
The way a URL is formed is that the first part is the protocol that is being used. The most common is http, which translates the html language into the text that you see on a web page.
The second part of the URL is the domain information. This is the www.example.com that you commonly see in a web page. This is something that a company or person purchases so they can publish web pages. This is the main part of the web address. The common www at the beginning of the domain name is not required for most web addresses.
The information that follows each slash (/), or "forward slash", on any web page refers to the Path of the documents or folders within the web pages structure. Each web site is simply a computer that has the correct software to display web pages. Each page is a document within a folder structure on these computers. The page is the way the computer knows what document to show you.
The following image is how a web site may be organized.
Each of the items listed in the directory is available on the web site with the name of the document or folder after the forward slash.
So now you are asking how does this help me learn about a URL? It is actually very helpful. Most people when searching will find themselves in one of these directories with no way of knowing what the site is about when you get there. A simple way to learn more about a web site is to dissect its URL. By removing all of the information after the trailing / after the domain name you will be able to see the top page of the web site.
In some cases this is not necessarily the top level of the domain. The www of a web page is simply an additional naming feature within the http protocol. What this means is that if someone wanted to they could create a domain name such as http://wiki.civicrm.org/. This is not however the top level of the domain. Knowing that a domain name is really only http://domainname.com means that by someone adding something other than www to the domain that they have not given you all of the information regarding that site.
So now if you were to take the example of http://wiki.civicrm.org/ and simply put http://civicrm.org/ into our web browser we would see the top most page of this domain. This can be helpful to see more information regarding the web site and perhaps even find information that will be more helpful.
By knowing the structure of a URL you are on your way to being able to dissect all of the information on the web, at least until something new comes along.
How Searches Work
Most search engines use a mathematical formula in order to generate a list of web pages related to the phrase or words entered in the search field. The top sites listed are there based on the sites reputation... meaning they have a lot of links connected to them from other web sites. While this may be fruitful with several decent web sites surfacing to the top, there are often very reliable and credible web resources buried much lower in the results list. Most users typically only visit the first or second page in the results of a search. If you don't have a lot of time or desire to peruse the many pages of results you may want to consider using an advanced search.
Opposed to a searches using keywords with no addition parameters, advanced searches can help filter and drill down to the specific content you wish to turn up. Most search engines will provide an advanced search feature that allows more specific search terms. For an example of this visit http://www.google.com/advanced_search. Scrolling down this page will display a variety of search forms.
The good news is once you have learned the search terms for the advanced search, you can simply use the prefixes (i.e. - link:) in the main page of your desired search engine. No matter what search engine you use, with a little digging you can find the operators that the search engine uses to allow you to do some advanced searches. Similar help options are also available for Yahoo, AltaVista, and most other search engines. At the end of this article are a few helpful links to get you started.
For example here is Google's advance search operators, in a handy cheat sheet format http://www.google.com/intl/en/help/cheatsheet.html.
Another type of search that exists out there is known as a meta search. As Meta Crawler states "Meta searching is searching the other search engines. So by using one of the following you can successfully search more than just Google or Yahoo.
Checking the Source
One common thing that we teach students about when using articles and books is to cite the author and know that depending on who the author is that there is probably some bias. However when we are searching the web this is something that few of us do, and if we do we don't do it often.
However this is something that is very simple and works much like a telephone book. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is the guiding body for the purchase of domain names. They basically control the names assigned to the numbers on the Internet. When someone signs up to buy a name they actually have to fill out information about who is the owner of the site. All of this information is available for public consumption and you can easily find the information which is available from the whois database.
For example if you look up the owner of monroe.edu you will find out that John Poland owns this site, his address and contact information.
So why is this important? Often times the site that you are looking at is actually owned by another site. For example martinlutherking.org isn't owned by anyone that is affiliated with Dr. King. By looking at who owns the site you can find out the truth about martinlutherking.org.
There are multiple ways of doing this lookup, most of which point to, or use the website http://www.internic.net/whois.html. By going to the whois site you will simply enter the domain name, which is the first part of the web address without the www, once it completes its search you simply have to scroll down the page, and information will be listed with regard to who owns the site. With further searching, or looking for obvious disparities between information listed in the whois record and the website itself. For example the contacts email is different from the domain you are looking up.
The actual information that will help you from the whois database are the following fields:
- This is the information about the organization that owns the site.
- Administrative Contact
- This is the person that is generally in charge of the overall web site.
- Technical Contact
- This is generally the person who is in charge of the computer that the web site is saved on.
The information after this isn't necessarily helpful for looking up information about the owner of the site.
Diversity in Searching
Finding information and perspectives from other countries
Just searching an engine like Google.com or Yahoo.com will primarily turn up results within the United States or other English speaking countries. However, if you wanted to find information from sources outside of your country. For instance, if students were studying the war in Iraq you might have them read a variety of sources from the Western countries as well as search for information on the war from countries in the Middle East. This is done by using the operator domain: with a country code (i.e. - FR for France). If you were to search for perspectives from France on Lance Armstrong you might type the following in the search box... domain:FR +Lance Armstrong.
The following links are helpful reference pages for you to use when searching or sharing with students: