Navigating the Web

One of the most significant consequences of the widespread diffusion of digital technology is the vast amount of data generated as a result of ordinary things we do each day.

One study has sought to quantify just how much data and came to a rough estimate of about 5 exabytes of new information produced annually and stored (mostly) on hard drives. Just how much data is that?

If the seventeen million books in the Library of Congress were digitized it would yield about 136 terabytes of data. Using this as a benchmark, the annual information produced globally would be equivalent in size to the information contained in 37,000 new libraries the size of the U.S.

Library of Congress book collections. Looked at another way, there is about 800 megabytes of recorded data produced per person annually. This is equivalent to a shelf of books 30 feet long. The amount of data produced each year is estimated to grow at a rate of about 30 percent.

Not long ago information was relatively scarce; the task of collecting, transmitting and storing data was costly and time-consuming. What data we did have at our disposal was cumbersome to evaluate.

Although the value of carefully analyzed data was great, the opportunity to make good use of it in decision-making did not always avail itself. In contrast, today we exist in an environment that is data rich.

The speed and declining cost of data collection, storage and transmission provide amble opportunities for managers to make decisions based on empirical data and analysis.

But soon we will be flooded with information–a digital tsunami. Individuals with access to the web already have millions of destinations, or domain names — with more than 300 million host computers by January 2005 — totaling more than eight billion publicly accessible web pages.

In little more than a half-decade we have gone from information scarcity to an overabundance, and that fact alone has changed the way many of us go about our lives. Learning how to navigate this sea of information is paramount.

As individuals, we need to understand how to find the information we seek with reasonable ease, speed, and accuracy. And businesses on the web must be confident that they can and will be found by potential customers who seek their goods and services.

The challenge of finding information has led to the early development of web directories and search engines. These tools have quickly become an indispensable feature of the Internet.

The popularity of sites like Google and Yahoo! has given them a unique status because they serve users as a point of entry to the web. Knowing how they work is key to understanding how to search and how to be found on the web.

Finding a business on the web may entail no more than adding “.com” to its name. But this is not necessarily always the case. The problem of finding what we want (and being found) becomes trickier when searching for a product or service instead of a particular company.

A simple search of a major web directory can yield hundreds of resultant links. That is usually more than we have the time or energy to investigate. Typically, search accuracy, in terms of the actual number of useful sites, can be very low. This is unsatisfactory for both consumers and businesses, alike.

The key to being found on the web is knowing some basic elements about how to code your web site. These include, but are not limited to: picking the right “keywords” and positioning them correctly on your web pages, using meta-tags, including html links along with graphics, and submitting only key pages to search engines.

Top Six Search Sites

SiteUnique Visitors
(October 2005)
Share of Search*(July 2005)
Ask Jeeves43,705,0006.1%
AOL/Time Warner36,092,0009.9%
Source: comScore Media Metrix. *The total volume of online searches conducted in the U.S. in July 2005 reached more than 4.8 billion. The top six search engines accounted for 99.4 percent of all searches.