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Sometimes it is difficult to discern when a seemingly everyday activity requires an element of skill to get the best results. Yesterday, Jon Udell talked about indexing and searching his Outlook mail. He writes:

_The Web has trained us, rightly, to expect that we just type in a word or two and get the "right" answer._ > >

I’m not so sure that this is the case. Many times I’ve seen people searching using Google and getting fed up because their search comes back with 1-10 of about 65,500,000 results. For example, you do a search for “windows” but you won’t find many results talking about those glass things we look out of.

Using a web search engine is a skill that can be learned. You need to understand that common words won’t necessarily point you in the right direction and that the common usage of a particular word on the web is sometimes not the meaning that you’re looking for. Over time you get a feel for how much specificity you need to include to bring the results you want to the top of the list and still avoid the “No pages were found containing…” message.

Back in 1995, I remember it being rare for me to turn to the web when I wanted some information. It cames as a sort of “oh yeah, I could look for that on the web” moment. These days, it’s almost a given that if I want to find something, it’s off to Google I go. In fact, with the Google Toolbar installed, it’s right there when I open my browser. However sometimes it still takes me a while to realise the power that’s available.

Yesterday, I was battling with XSLT and input documents containing multiple namespaces that I wished to manipulate in a particularly way. After trying various different approaches for an hour or so, it struck me that I couldn’t be the first to run into this problem. Sure enough, a quick search of Google Groups brought me the solution complete with sample source :o). If I’d thought to look an hour earlier it would have saved me much head scratching. The key thing, though, is that it was the careful choice of keywords that meant I found my answer in the top 5 results and didn’t end up with 5000 vaguely related threads that would be no help.