How to Browse the Internet with Directories

By John R. Levine, Margaret Levine Young

Sometimes an internet search just doesn’t find what you’re looking for. Coming up with the right search terms can be tricky if no specific word or phrase sums up what you want to know. This is the moment to try a web directory. If you know in general but not in detail what you’re looking for, clicking up and down through directory pages is a good way to narrow your search and find pages of interest.

Yahoo! for directories

Yahoo! is one of the oldest directories — and still a good one. You can search for entries or click from category to category until you find something you like. Start at dir.yahoo.com. As with all web pages, the exact design may have changed before you can finish cleaning your kitchen.

A whole bunch of categories and subcategories are listed on the left; click any of them to see another page that has even more subcategories and links to actual web pages. You can click a link to a page if you see one you like, or click a sub-subcategory, and so on.

Yahoo Directories.

Early on, you could easily submit a web page to Yahoo! by simply entering a page description and web address of the page into the Submissions page and waiting a week or so for the editors to look at the new page. Submitting pages is now so popular that normal submissions take a long time (months) before anyone on staff looks at them, unless you pay them $299 per year for the “express” service. You can draw your own conclusions about how the fee affects what information gets into Yahoo!.

Yahoo! also has a search engine, but it’s actually Bing underneath.

For facts, try Wikipedia first

Wikipedia, is an encyclopedia you can use for free over the Internet. Wiki means fast in Hawaiian (actually, wikiwiki does, best known before the Internet as the name of the interterminal bus at the Honolulu airport), and Wikipedia has earned its name. The Wikipedia project, which started in 2001, has grown to more than 3 million articles in English, covering almost every conceivable topic, from the Battle of Dunkirk to For Dummies books.

Yes, it even has a Key lime pie article, where you read this: “Key lime pie is made with canned sweetened condensed milk, since fresh milk was not a common commodity in the Florida Keys before modern refrigerated distribution methods.” Also, since 2006, it has been the Florida state pie.

The Wikipedia home page.

If you’re looking for the scoop on most topics, Wikipedia is a helpful place to start. You can search for article titles or article text. Words in the article body that are highlighted in blue link to other articles in Wikipedia. Many articles also have links to external websites that have more information on the topic. Articles are created and edited by a volunteer team of more than 300,000 active contributors. Wikipedias exist in dozens of other languages as well.

Anyone can edit most Wikipedia articles whenever they want. This concept might seem to be a prescription for chaos, but most articles are watched over by interested volunteers, and inappropriate edits are quickly reversed, so the overall quality remains remarkably high. If you add information, you are expected to include a link to your source; like all encyclopedias, Wikipedia is not the place for original research or personal anecdotes.

If the idea of editing encyclopedia articles on your favorite subjects sounds appealing, talk to your family first. Wikipedia can be extremely addictive.

Articles are supposed to reflect a neutral point of view (NPOV, in Wikispeak), but a few topics — such as abortion, creationism, and Middle East politics — are continually debated. Wikipedia isn’t as authoritative as conventional works, like Encyclopædia Britannica, but its articles are usually up to date and to the point, with side issues dealt with by links to other articles.

One particularly cool Wikipedia feature is its collection of comprehensive lists on all sorts of arcane subjects. One favorite is the list of countries with electric mains power plugs, voltages, and frequencies; type mains power systems in Wikipedia’s Search box to find it.

If you do a Google search on a topic, a Wikipedia article is likely to show up as one of the links Google returns. That link might be a good place to start reading.