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Part: II PRINCIPLES OF WEB SEARCHING > THE PRINCIPLE OF ONIONS

Chapter 6. THE PRINCIPLE OF ONIONS

The Principle of Onions: When searching, it's better to start with very specific search queries and then get more and more general. If you start with more general queries you will tend to get overwhelmed with results.

Google indexes over four billion Web pages but admits that they don't index the entire Internet. The Internet Archive, a collection of older copies of Web site pages, is by itself well over ten billion pages. And the Internet is getting larger, not smaller.

It's crucial that you start your Internet search right by structuring a query such that you get a limited number of results—otherwise you're going to get overwhelmed with information. If the very narrow query doesn't work, you should slowly get more and more general, until you achieve a good balance of useful—but not overwhelming—information. That's what the Principle of Onions is all about.

Of course, different types of search engines have different levels of information. What is just narrow enough on a full-text engine is impossibly narrow on a searchable subject index. That's because a full-text engine indexes an entire Web page, making searches on obscure keywords possible. Searchable subject indexes include only the title, URL, and description of a site, leaving little room for narrow search results.

How does this apply to the Principle of Onions? Let's take a look at four search scenarios and see how “narrow” means different things to the two different search engines. For these scenarios we'll use Google as our full-text engine and Yahoo as our searchable subject index.

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