The Internet has grown to be a vast place, much vaster than its original creators probably ever envisioned. Millions upon millions of computers are now connected in this world wide network that also connects many different aspects of modern life. As society enters more fully into this Information Age, the Internet is becoming more and more prominent as a major tool and institution in its own right.
As this network grew more and more complicated with more and more member computers and websites, it became necessary to implement certain navigation methods. When the Internet was still relatively small, it was possible to just use directories that were run entirely by humans. These so-called web directories basically just collected related links together, often with comments or reviews by people who have already visited those websites. This development allowed the Internet user to find relevant information more quickly, by browsing through those directories that covered his topics of interest. Web directories are still around today, and are available for a wide variety of topics and interests, from Japanese animation to health and medicine articles to celebrity news.
Even with the efforts of these web directories, the growth of the Internet inevitably reached the point where they just could not keep up with the huge influx of new and changing content. Because of this, scientists and computer engineers were driven to develop computerized ways to manage the huge amounts of information available on the World Wide Web. Thus, search engines were born.
The very first search engine was actually called Archie, short for its intended role as archives of the Internet. It was created by a student in back in 1990, and perhaps compared to the search engines of today it did not really do much. But it did allow one to wander the web, if one knew the title of the file one was looking for. And it still represents one of the very first steps towards modern search engine technology. Nowadays, search engines are hugely popular on the Internet – Google and Yahoo! are almost synonymous with the term Internet.
The main difference between a web directory and search engine should be obvious. Web directories rely more on human contributors to review and post links, while search engine processes are automated using computers. This means that search engines are usually much more efficient at what they do, cranking out millions of results in just under a few seconds. However, for niche and specialized topics, web directories may still yield better results.
An analogy may be made here to the comparison between a machine gun and a sniper rifle. Yes, it is quite obvious that a machine gun would be able to spit out a much greater number of bullets in a shorter period of time than the sniper rifle would be able to. But the machine gun cannot hope to match the accuracy and precision of targeting that a properly trained marksman using a good sniper rifle would be able to bring to bear.
In much the same way, the main advantage of web directories lies in the same source as their disadvantage comes from – the human factor. It is true that humans cannot hope to match the pure speed that search engines offer, but it is also true that computers cannot match the human intellect. That is, a discriminating human user would be able to sift through links to find the best ones, and write good descriptions as well.
Web directories and search engines are both excellent ways to try and navigate through the Internet, and both will be useful in their own ways to most Internet users. Search engines are good all-purpose tools, while more specialized queries may get better results with good web directories.
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