How to make the Web work for you

Oct. 1, 1997
During the last few years, the World Wide Web has become a vast cornucopia of information--an electronic library at your fingertips. And just as people browse in a traditional print library so do Internet users "surf" the Web. The surfing analogy suggests a victorious, exciting ride that energizes the surfboard`s rider. Yet, just as many surfing rides end by the rider being swamped by the wave, Web surfers are easily deluged by too much information, often of entirely the wrong kind. Here are a f

During the last few years, the World Wide Web has become a vast cornucopia of information--an electronic library at your fingertips. And just as people browse in a traditional print library so do Internet users "surf" the Web. The surfing analogy suggests a victorious, exciting ride that energizes the surfboard`s rider. Yet, just as many surfing rides end by the rider being swamped by the wave, Web surfers are easily deluged by too much information, often of entirely the wrong kind. Here are a few ways I`ve found that can help you enjoy the ride and put the Web to work for you.

The first thing to do is to set your browser`s home page--the page that opens first when you launch the browser--to a Web site that interests you and, preferably, one that is updated on a daily basis. I happen to like Microsoft`s home page (home.microsoft.com), but Netscape (home.netscape.com) also has a valuable home page. Both of these pages are best when read with the corresponding company`s own browser. I use Microsoft`s Internet Explorer but that`s largely a matter of personal preference.

Select a search engine

On each of these starting pages, you can pursue many links directly but you can also set a search engine to help you find specific information. There are many excellent search engines, but I prefer Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) because it is organized as a series of directories with multiple categories and subcategories. This means I can quickly search down through the tree of categories to find needed information without wasting time on a generalized search that turns up a host of useless pages. Of course, even Yahoo may not turn up the information I need, so I also bookmark a second search engine, AltaVista (altavista.digital.com), which is one of several powerful indexing search engines.

Speaking of bookmarks, my list also contains two sites that are particularly useful in the field of lasers and electro-optics: the Optical Society of America (OSA at www.osa.org) and the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE at www.spie.org). Both of these sites have a huge store of archival information and are updated frequently. I recommend you bookmark them both, if you haven`t already done so.

As an editor, I`m also a newspaper junkie but there aren`t enough hours in the day to fully consume more than one newspaper. So I restrict myself to the paper version of The Wall Street Journal and content myself with scanning a couple of newspaper sites and a television channel site. My favorites are The New York Times (www.nytimes.com) for international news and The San Jose Mercury News (www.sjmercury.com) for the latest business and technology news from Silicon Valley. I also like the CNN Web site (www.cnn.com) for text versions of CNN`s television news. The CNN stories often lack detail but have greater immediacy than those on the newspaper sites.

I also travel a great deal and the Web has now become a more valuable adjunct to me than a travel agent. That`s because the travel-oriented Web sites allow me to explore travel options more rapidly than calling a travel agent and getting stuck with voice mail. My favorite travel site is Microsoft`s Expedia (www.gifxpedia.com).

On Expedia you can check airline schedules, hotel availabilities, and car rental options. Provided you are happy about committing your credit card information to the Web (I`m not--yet), you can actually make airline, hotel, and car rental reservations at this and similar Web sites. I also like to know where to eat and what to see in cities I visit so I also check out City.Net (www.city.net) and Sidewalk (www.sidewalk.com). Sidewalk covers only a few cities but each of the Sidewalk sites has more depth than the corresponding listings on City.Net.

I`d be remiss if I didn`t mention the Laser Focus World Web site (www.lfw.com), which we started three years ago--we feel it has proved worthwhile for our readers and our advertisers who support it. Our parent company, PennWell Publishing, has recently started a new Web publishing subsidiary, PennWell Media Online (PMO). The PMO site is still a work in progress but it is worth checking out (www.broadband-guide.com).

Of course, in this column I can only give a few ideas about useful Web sites. If you have favorite sites that are valuable to you in your work, I`d like to hear about them. Send me an e-mail and I`ll publish the most interesting responses. I look forward to hearing from you.

About the Author

Jeffrey Bairstow | Contributing Editor

Jeffrey Bairstow is a Contributing Editor for Laser Focus World; he previously served as Group Editorial Director.

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