The World Wide Web is the simplest way to read information stored on the Internet.
Finding what you're looking for is a different story.
Unless you have an address in hand, rummaging around the Web for a document is as exasperating as visiting a library that doesn't catalogue its books.
Thankfully, the Web has a healthy supply of searching tools to get you where you want to go. It also has a generous helping of lists chronicling what's hot, hip, outrageous and fun.
Before you start to use the Web, you need a SLIP or PPP account from an Internet access provider and browser software such as Mosaic, Netscape Navigator, Netcruiser or Air Mosaic. Prodigy has built Web access and browser software into the company's commercial on-line service.
It's easy to get around the Web if you know where you're going. Web pages have addresses called URLs that begin with the code "http://..." followed by the name given to the computer and files storing the information. Type the address into the browser, and voila , you're there.
But, what if you don't know the address? Or you're researching a topic to see what's available?
That's where searching tools such as Yahoo, the World Wide Web Worm and The Whole Internet Catalog come in.
Some of these work like giant Yellow Pages, organizing select Web home pages by subject matter. Others use computer robots to troll the Web, then create massive, searchable databases from what they find. In either case, individuals log on and let their fingers do the walking electronically.
Understanding rudimentary database searching techniques is a must. Most Web search tools look for keywords in URLs or document titles, so you need to distill what you're looking for into a couple words or abbreviations. For example, to find out about the recent California storms, you'd use the terms "California," "weather," and "storm." Some databases let you use "and" and "or" between words to refine a search.
A few words of caution. Because the Web is growing so fast, even the best search engines won't find every home page.
With so many people surfing the 'Net, some popular directories are tied up all the time. Finally, heavy use has forced some organizations to limit the number of hits per search their computer servers will display.
For best results, try searching in the early morning or late evening and at other non-peak hours. Check a search service's FAQ (frequently asked questions) file for other pointers.
Here are some popular search tools and where to find them:
Yahoo, http://akebono.stanford.edu/yahoo/. Started last year by two Stanford University electrical engineering grad students, this popular service now handles 200,000 modem calls a day. Yahoo maintains a list of about 32,000 Web sites and adds information on new pages every day. Added bonus: a fun "What's New" section.
Lycos, http://lycos.cs.cmu.edu/. Lycos is a catalogue of 2.1 million URLs maintained by Carnegie Mellon University. The directory's five computers handle 106,000 users a week. A bit trickier to use than Yahoo, but the site has plenty of FAQs for beginners.
World Wide Web Worm, http://www.cs.colorado.edu/home/mcbryan/WWWW.html. Maintained by Oliver McBryan at the University of Colorado, the Worm was named one of the Web's best navigating aids last year. It includes extensive directions on how to conduct searches.
Web Crawler, http://webcrawler.cs.washington.edu/WebCrawler. Maintained at the University of Washington.
The Whole Internet Catalog, http://gnn.com/gnn/wic/index.html. A collection of links to 1,000 of the best resources on the Internet, divided by subject. This O'Reilly & Associates creation includes lists for what's hot, what's new, top 25 sites and an Internet help desk, and is part of the company's Global Network Navigator service.
For direct links to several dozen other Web navigating tools, try http://www.cuiwww.unige.ch/meta-index.
The Web is filled with lists of what's hot--and what's not. Some compilations are more subjective, and irreverent, than others. Some standouts:
NCSA Mosaic What's New, http://nearnet.gnn.com/wic/newrescat.toc.html/. Created by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, this service is now being produced by O'Reilly & Associates. Daily lists of new Web sites, plus archives of past lists.
Cool Site of the Day, http://www.infi.net/cool.html. Best Web site of the day, plus archives of previous picks.
What Hot and Cool on the Web, http://kzsu.stanford.edu/uwi/reviews.html. A random collection of offbeat sites. Choose between short, medium or long explanations.
Justin's Notes from the Underground, http://raptor.swarthmore.edu/jahall/. A guide to the Internet's red light district, plus links to the author's other favorite Web sites. Includes links to some sexually explicit material.
Minsky's Worst of the Web, http://turnpike.net/metro/minsky/Worst.html. The unofficial Web hall of shame, Minsky's pokes fun at pretentious, bland and otherwise cheesy Web sites.