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Wonderful 'Bookmarklets' and two new search engines
technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
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Wonderful 'Bookmarklets' and two new search engines


Bit Player for Jan. 31, 1999

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers

Wow!

I don't say that often enough. A lot of things I try out are dull. But this week I have two reasons to shout.

The first reason? I've just discovered Bookmarklets. They're a great new idea with a terrible name.

They're not little bookmarks and they're not even related to bookmarks, so the name inventor Steve Kangas gave them is unfortunate. But the name doesn't matter. Just call them wowsers if you want. They're cute, they're free and they're fun.

What are Bookmarklets? They're tiny programs -- and I mean TINY, as in 25 to 100 bytes long -- that you stick in your Favorites folder or into your bookmarks. When you click on them, your computer runs the tiny programs. One of them changes the colors on a page, instantly. Another whacks your browser window into shape to make it a standard size. A third looks up the meaning of any word that's selected. There are about 150 others.

You don't need anything fancy to run Bookmarklets. They work with Internet Explorer (the Web browser that comes with new PCs) and with Netscape's browser on both a PC and a Mac. Bookmarklets won't work with the old AOL browser. (If you access the Internet through AOL, ditch AOL and get a standard Internet provider. The Web version of this article has a link that will help you understand why AOL is not adequate.)

Bookmarklets are written in the JavaScript programming language. JavaScript is a relatively simple way to write programs. It's not just for Web browsers -- JavaScript can do all kinds of things -- but most JavaScript programs are built into Web pages to show menus (and to make those annoying little pop-up windows) and things like that. JavaScript is not the same as Java.

You can get Bookmarklets at http://www.bookmarklets.com/.

The other reason I'm bubbling this week: Two outstanding search engines have come online. One's been around a few months and the other is the newest kid on the block.

The one I've been using for a while is Inference Find (http://www.infind.com/), which competes with AltaVista for the title of Fastest Search Engine in the Universe. You can even choose how long you'd like Inference Find to keep looking before it stops and shows you its results.

Inference Find does "parallel" searching -- sending out requests for information to six major search sites at the same time -- and then merges the results. It organizes the results in a sophisticated way. You have to try it to see how Inference Find handles this. It's wonderful.

A strong competitor for Inference Find is Google (http://www.google.com/), the newest search engine. Google is designed spare you the dread of seeing the typical AltaVista note -- the kind that says something like "763,832 pages match your query" -- by filtering out the dreck.

Google also tries to figure out which sites are more important than others. It does this by ranking pages higher on its own list if a lot of other sites have links to them. (This would make sites that are popular the same as sites that are important, so I'm not convinced Google is doing the right thing.) Google also adds a few other touches that most other search engines haven't thought of. Try it and see what you think.

And don't forget AltaVista. It's still the fastest way of searching, and the fact that it returns so much information can be a lifesaver. AltaVista was once so much of an Internet outsider that it couldn't even get a site that matched its name (www.altavista.com brought you to a tiny spare-parts store on the Web), but is now very big. Its current owner is planning to create a separate company for AltaVista, worth $2 billion.


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