The Hidden Web

Suppose you have to write a paper for school and you’re ready to start doing your research. The obvious place to start is Google, right? But here’s a question for you: When you use a search engine like Google, Yahoo, or Bing, are you searching the entire web? If not, then, are you at least searching most of the web?

Many people are surprised when they learn that the answer to both of those questions is actually no: you are not searching the entire web–you’re only searching a small part of it. Smart researchers know that much of the web can’t be searched with search engines. That part of the web “beyond search engines” has lots of different names: the hidden web, the secret web, the invisible web. Sounds spooky, doesn’t it? Last year CNN did a story about the deep web and how most people don’t even know it exists. In the Wikipedia article on the deep web, they use an image of an iceberg, where most of the ice is under the water, unseen, saying the web is the same way. Most of the web we can’t see, but it is down there, under the water, hidden from search engines.

Why are search engines unable to search the hidden web? There are many technical reasons, but the central one is this: many of these sites require passwords. Those passwords block search engines from getting into them. The hidden web is not freely available to everyone.

When you have to write a paper for school, or do any kind of research, how can you move beyond the standard search engines and start accessing the hidden web? Many libraries subscribe to databases in the hidden web. At USF, we subscribe to hundreds of databases that you can use. Your MyUSF username and password gives you access to all of them. What kinds of databases do we have? We have databases that have thousands of streaming videos, databases filled with statistics from reliable sources, and news sources from around the world. We have lots of subject databases for topics like Nursing and History and Communication. We’ve merged many of our databases into one big database called Fusion. And lots of these databases are created specifically for people doing research, so they can really help you with your assignments.

So, when you start doing research, sure, begin with Google, or Bing, or Yahoo, if that’s what you are comfortable with. But then be sure to explore beyond those search engines, delving into the hidden web, with some of these library databases.

Image: HIDE by Brooke Novak

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