Once a user is able to connect to the Internet, it is easy to access
the World Wide Web: what is required is a web browser. The three
most popular browsers are Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Mozilla's
Firefox and Google's Chrome (all free for download). The World Wide
Web is based upon a client-server model: the client (browser) retrieves
documents (webpages) from computers (servers) connected to the Internet.
Retrieving Web Content
The World Wide Web is a hypertext document system, each document
hosted by a web server (http server) has a unique address. The unique
address of a web document is termed a URL (Uniform Resource Locator).
If a user knows the URL of a web document then the content of this
document can be retrieved by a browser in a variety of ways: for
example, it can be downloaded as feeds/rss
(from publishers) and read offline.
However, the most popular way in which web content is retrieved:
is by typing the address (URL) of the resource into the address
bar (shown above) of a browser and navigating
to the webpage. The drawback to finding web content in this way:
is that it requires the user to know the address of the resource.
Without the address (URL), the user cannot access the resource.
Therefore, a problem arises, if a user does not know the address
of a resource, how does the user access web content?
Finding Web Content: Search Engines
As has already been stated, if a web user is looking for web content,
but does not know the address (URL) of the content, then the user
is left with a dilemma: how do I find the address of the content?
web content (websites) is connected together through hyperlinks:
hyperlinks are a hypertext element with a URL embedded within it.
Therefore, users can click upon hyperlinks to be redirected to web
content; the problem is finding hyperlinks that send users to relevant
web content (they are interested in).
What is needed is a start point, or "jump off" location.
Search engine's are currently (2014) the best "jump off"
location. Search engines "crawl" the World Wide Web (by
following hyperlinks) and indexing the documents they find (document
address, title, description) in a database. Users (of the search
engine) can then query this database with a 'search term' to find
documents which match the search term. The most successful search
engines (Google) provide accurate results. The anchor
text of hyperlinks is used by search engines to provide accurate
Therefore, all a user requires is the address (URL) of a search
engine and they should beable to find web content which interests
them. Most ISPs (Internet Service Providers) will set their homepage
as the default website that loads up when a web browser is opened.
ISP homepage's tend to provide a search engine facility; but the
search engine results are usually provided by another company: most
likely Google, Bing or Yahoo!
Websites which combine a search engine with other services - most
notable a directory (explained below) - are often described as a
web portal. Yahoo! is a prime example
of a web portal: it began life as a directory, but expanded it's
range of services to include a search engine.
Alternatives to a Search Engine: Directories and Social Networking
While most users use and 'rate' search engines as the best way
to find content online, there is another option: which is a directory.
Directories tend to be human edited - in comparison to search engines
which use 'robots' to index content - and create webpages full of
hyperlinks on a specific subject. While directories can be accurate
in the short-term - when recently edited - they do suffer from 'link-rot'
(dead link) over time: which means
the hyperlinks listed in their subject pages are directed at documents
that no longer exist. A historical record of directories/websites
can be found at the Internet Archive.
When it comes to how directory websites are structured: a site
map is commonly employed, alongside a site
search. Most directory websites are free to use, but they may
charge websites - on a subscription
payment model - to be listed within the directory.
Social Networking Websites
Since 2006, social networking
websites - like Myspace - have become increasing popular. Social
networking websites are categorised as a Web 2.0 service: which
does not refer to a specific technical infrastructure, but to websites
which can interact with their users. Web 2.0 websites - like blogs
and the blogoshere - usually allow
users to provide a comment about the content of the page, provide
a rating, and submit a vote to a poll etc. Social media takes blogs
a step further by linking "friends" together to share
opinions and web content. Social networking websites, like Facebook,
have become so popular that they are often the first website that
a user will open, and as such, are an alternative "entry point"
to search engines for finding web content. Social media websites
tend to be more compatible with mobile devices than search engines.
While a search engine may be compatible with a mobile device, the
content it lists may not be. Many websites are now listing their
content on social media websites like Facebook; therefore, users
can browse a wide breadth of content on Facebook, which is compatible
with most devices.
Alternatives to Search Engines
Social Media: Bebo, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Myspace,
Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter
Web Portals: About, Excite,