Totem Tools

survival skills for a digital world

#3 - Understanding Search Engines

What is a search engine?

A search engine is a tool that is used to search a database on the world wide web. We sometimes assume we are searching everything on the internet, but we have to understand that a search engine is searching a database.


You can think about databases as a place where information is stored. Some databases are larger much larger than others because they've collected a lot more information for you to access.

3 Sample Databases by Size...

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With any database you might use at the library, the search box of your favorite social media site, or your favorite search engine, you can only get results that are in that database. If it doesn't exist in that database, it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. It just hasn't been collected in that database. It might be found somewhere else.
Check out the Google story of how search works! It's specific to Google, but it still gives you an idea of how a search engine works.

Other search engines

Google or Bing might be really large search engines (databases) that give you thousands and thousands of results, but sometimes you might want a more focused, limited search.


Advantages of searching other databases might include:

1. Some other search engines have already done a lot of the filtering for you. Less work for you in evaluating sites.

2. Fewer results to sort through - again - less work for you.


Think about using different search engines based on what you're trying to find.

Which search engine will be just right for you?