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Surfing the Net

By David Mendosa

Last Update: January 16, 2001

What sort of a library has millions of books but no card catalogue? The World Wide Web has more information online than almost any library, but no card catalogue.

Actually, that's something we can do without. No card catalogue could index the wealth of online information. Unlike card catalogues with generally no more than one card per book, what we need is a way to find all the concepts buried in millions of Web pages.

Follow the links.

This uncatalogued information on the Web is growing at a staggering rate. Two years ago Steve Lawrence and C. Lee Giles of the NEC Research Institute estimated in Science that the Web contained at least 320 million pages. The most recent NEC Research survey, released in January, says there are now more than 1 billion pages. Of these, 87 percent were in English. French was second with 2 percent.

The easiest way to start searching the Web is to follow the links on just about every website. You might start with the site containing the most pages of information about diabetes. That's the American Diabetes Association's site, The "Internet Resources" page there,, is a directory that I wrote for the ADA of about 50 of the most important diabetes sites. One of them is the International Diabetes Federation,

If 50 links to top diabetes sites aren't enough, how about 800? That's about how many sites I describe and link on the 15 Web pages of "On-line Diabetes Resources,"

Sooner or later, however, you probably will want to find specific information about diabetes that you can't easily find by following these links. This is where directories and search engines come in.

What the Web has instead of a card catalogue is a large choice of search engines and directories. About 85 percent of Web users use them. These tools let you search a large amount of information much more efficiently than has ever been possible in a library.

The most popular tool to search the Web isn't a search engine at all. It's the Yahoo! directory, which itself is a website,, and the nearest thing we do have to a card catalogue of the Web. At Yahoo! about 150 editors have categorized more than 1 million websites.

Search engines, on the other hand, use computers to build their indexes based on whatever pages are linked together. The major search engines are usually better for hard-to-find information than Yahoo!. Yet, their coverage varies significantly. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to use two or more search engines.

Formerly called All The Web, FAST Search, based in Norway, aims to index the entire Web. It was the first search engine to break the 200 million web page index milestone. Its address is Other major search engines include,, and

With the wealth of information on the Web, you will probably find what you are looking for. These tools and a little persistence are all that it takes. 

This article appeared in Diabetes Voice, Bulletin of the International Diabetes Federation, March 2000, page 38.

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