The real miracle of the Internet's World Wide Web is that - with so much information squirreled away in so many different Web sites - we find anything at all.
That is, of course, the mission of the search engine. It's the cyber-equivalent of a research librarian that takes your request to find - for instance - some information on kidney transplants for cats and then bustles around the Web and comes back with recommended sites.Search engines generally work fine when you are looking for the obvious. No matter how you search, or which engine you use, you won't have much problem finding Web sites that contain information about cats or medicine or even transplants. The real trouble starts when you're looking for something very specific or a topic that is a bit obscure.
There are two ways to approach a search like the one we're using as an example. You can take the shotgun approach and use one of the excellent services that combine a multitude of search engines. That way you can simply type in your search and - in seconds - see the results of the search from a variety of search engines. You'll wade through a lot of Web sites that way, and chances are many of them will be way off the mark, but some will be helpful sites.
My two favorites, when it comes to this type of search engine, are Dogpile at (http://www.dogpile/index.html) and the All-in-One Search Page at (http://www.albany.net/allinone/all1www.html). Let's take a quick look at each service.
Dogpile can be set to search the Web, Usenet newsgroups, FTP (file transfer protocol) sites that often contain software you can download, business news sites and news wires. That covers a staggering amount of cyber-territory. A complete listing of the sites searched would fill this column with no room for commas, but it includes Yahoo!, Lycos, Excite, AltaVista, Web-Crawler, and UPI.
Since the search is so broad, you're likely to wade through a lot of material that has nothing obvious to do with your search topic. However, that can be interesting, too, since you're likely to find some nifty new Web sites in the process.
The All-in-One Search Page works a little differently. Instead of using all the search engines simultaneously, it simply puts most of the common ones (and several that aren't so common) all on one page. This site is an excellent one to bookmark, since almost any search you can imagine can be done from here.
The best thing about the page is that there are some special-purpose search engines here you may never have encountered. Again, there are way too many to list, but here's a partial listing: Lowest Price Search, an engine that browses the Web for the best prices on everything from toys to hardware; 411 Locate, which helps you find e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and Web sites; eBlast, the Encyclopaedia Britannica's Internet guide; EuroSeek, which searches European Web sites; and Gov-Bot, a database of government and military Web sites.
Finally, don't forget the many specialized search engines devoted to a single topic. Since there seem to be as many of these search engines as there are hobbies and interests, they can't be listed here. Finding them is fairly easy, however. Just use one of the general-purpose search engines and include the name of the topic along with search words such as "search" and "engine" and "online," and you're likely to hit pay dirt.