[ Issue 40 ]

Emily Bronto clearly approves of Toolbars

Let Bikwil introduce you to Toolbars


In the Web Line column for Issue 40 Tony Rogers looks at the recent phenomenon of Internet toolbars.

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Web Line — Tony Rogers


A recent phenomenon on the Internet is the appearance of search toolbars. These are usually made available by the major search engine companies. In essence, a toolbar lets you to use the search engine in question without visiting their website.

Well-known toolbars include those from Alexa, Alta Vista, Google, Lycos, Teoma and Yahoo, though not all of these are called “toolbars” (Yahoo’s is called the Yahoo Companion, for example, while Lycos call theirs the Lycos SideSearch).

As search toolbars have many features in common, today I need devote myself just to the most popular one — which happens to be that from Google.

The way it works is as follows.

First you go to a special Google site and download the Toolbar software (for free), and then install it. It then attaches itself to your browser as an extra bar, usually at the top of the page (under the Address bar), and you're ready to go. Bear in mind that it works only with Microsoft Internet Explorer version 5.0 or greater, and only in Windows (Win95 or later).

As I mentioned, the main purpose of the Toolbar is to give you access to Google, no matter which Web page you happen to be on right now. The software can even remember the last twenty searches you have done from the Toolbar.

In addition to allowing you to search Google at any time from anywhere, the Toolbar also provides a means of searching the text of the site you are currently at. This latter feature is very useful for those sites that do not offer a search function themselves. An even more helpful aspect of this site search facility is the option to highlight each occurrence of your search terms in the results.

If you want information about the page you’re on, you can look at the following:

Cached Snapshot of Page (the snapshot that Google took of the page when they last crawled the Web.);
Similar Pages (pages that are related in some way to the current page);
Backward Links (pages linking to the current page);
Translate into English (obviously of use only for foreign language sites).

Detailed information on these and other features is available from Google.

Another useful, though often misunderstood, option is the display of the current page's PageRank. Here is Google’s description of this feature:

PageRank performs an objective measurement of the importance of web pages and is calculated by solving an equation of 500 million variables and more than 3 billion terms. Google does not count links; instead PageRank uses the vast link structure of the web as an organizational tool. In essence, Google interprets a link from Page A to Page B as a “vote" by Page A for Page B. Google assesses a page's importance by the votes it receives.

Google also analyzes the pages that cast the votes. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages important. Important, high-quality pages receive a higher PageRank and are ordered or ranked higher in the results. Google's technology uses the collective intelligence of the web to determine a page's importance. Google does not use editors or its own employees to judge a page's importance.

You may be interested to know that most of Bikwil's pages are ranked in the 4 to 6 range (out of 10). In the universal scheme of Internet things, this ain’t bad at all.

O.K., so most of the above features are optional, and can be turned on or off by clicking on the Options button. Altogether, there are around thirty options for changing the Toolbar’s behaviour and layout options, many of which you will find it useful to try out. But even if you were to turn off most of them, the essential search functions would still be a bonus for your Internet browsing.

I recommend the Google Toolbar.

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