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Science Experiments - Are Computers Stupid?

Aug 17, 2007
Science experiments don't get much more interesting then this. Do you spend a lot of time on the internet? Most kids spend an average of 5 hours a week surfing the web. Some of that time is spent searching for a page about a specific topic. Often this is wasted time, sifting through page after page of search engine results. Are you spending forever looking for pages you want? Whether your search is for school, for information, or just for fun; do you have trouble finding what you're looking for? Why is this happening? Aren't computer search engine's smart?

It may surprise you to know that search engines are stupid. Yahoo, MSN, Google, all of them are stupid. They can only do what you tell them to do. They don't have a mind of their own. They all have their own formulas, or algorithms to find web pages. These formulas are written in a coded format that tell the computer what to do. The code instructs the search engine to scan through billions of web sites to find pages that include the search terms you enter.

One way to get better search results is by entering better search terms. Very specific search terms will produce better search results. If you still aren't finding the web sites you hopped for try changing the order of your words, combined terms or try quotations around the term.
Here are some frequently asked questions about search engines.

Q. Why do I need a search engine?

A. For the same reason you need a card catalog in a library. It's impossible to examine all the books, just as it is impossible to examine all of the sites. There are billions of sites on the internet and the search engine helps you to find the ones you are looking for.

Q. How do the search engines examine the billions of sites?

A. They use software programs known as robots, spiders or crawlers. A robot is a piece of software code that automatically follows hyper-links from one document to the next around the Web. When a robot discovers a new site, it sends information back to its main site to be indexed.

Q. How often to search engine "robots" crawl the internet's web pages?

A. Search engine robots crawl the internet continuously 24 hours a day seven days a week. They "read" every word on every site including the web page's code. In addition to crawling existing sites they constantly look for new sites.

Q. Which search engine is the biggest?

A. Google currently claims to index over 3.3 billion pages, while alltheweb(one of Yahoo's many search properties) claims to index over 3.1 billion.
Q. What's the difference between a Web directory like Yahoo and a Web search engine like Google?

A. There is less difference now than there used to be, because many search engines, including Google, have built large subject catalogues to help you search. But think of a Web directory as a subject catalogue--something like the subject catalogue in your local library. Yahoo started out as a directory but is now de-emphasizing that aspect of their broadly-based business.

Now, let's setup a fun science experiment to learn more about search engines! In this experiment we'll compare three search engines to see which on is the smartest by returning the best results.

To start you'll need a computer with an internet connection and some paper and pencils. Then follow these steps:

1. Come up with an interesting subject to search, something that you're interested in like sports, music, or fashion. Any subject will do but remember to make your search term as specific as possible. For instance if your topic is sports your search term might be football or quarter backs, or the Seahawks.
2. Go to MSN,
3. Type in your term
4. Visit each page listed on the 1st page of the results. Look to see if the page fits your search word.
5. Count the number of pages that fit you're specific term. Write this number on your paper under the heading "MSN"
6. Repeat steps 1 through 5 using google and yahoo in place of the MSN search engine.
7.When you've completed each step for all three search engines, tally the results. Which search engine has the biggest number? This is the "smartest" search engine for your search term!

It's important to note that different search topics may produce different results. One search engine will not produce the best results for every topic. In other words, Google's search engine may produce the best results for "science experiments" but MSN may produce the best results for "baseball greats." To make your science experiment even more valid you could try a variety of different search terms and see which search engine produces the best results more often. You could try anywhere from 5 to 10 different search terms or more in a variety of topics.

Though search engines are useless without us to feed them search terms, they perform a very important function. They find us needed information very quickly. Without search engines we would have to sort through billions of web pages to find the info we're searching for. So the next time you search for a web site through a search engine, just think of those "robots" frantically crawling through the entire web, it's enough to make your head spin.
About the Author
Mort Barish is co-founder of Terimore Institute, Inc. Terimore provides hundreds of science experiments with step-by-step guides for children in grades K-12 to help them learn more about science. Find fun, easy and award-winning science experiments at www.terimore.com!
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