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10/96 Analysis: Windows at Work

Fight Info-Illiteracy

To survive in today's info-laden world, you need to learn how to absorb it all without overdosing.

By Cheryl Currid

COMPUTER LITERACY is no longer enough. Now you need to be info-literate as well. Any business executive worth his or her salt has to have almost instant access to information of all types-or risk getting left behind. It's no small task.

And it's not one that should be left to specialists or subordinates. You can't count on your IS staff or specially trained librarians to spoon-feed you specific facts on demand. Soon, the ability to dive into the Internet and emerge with meaningful information will be part of everyone's job.

Yet lengthy Web surfing sessions leave many weary workers exhausted and sometimes empty-handed. Here are a few tips I've collected to help you navigate the oceans of information in today's business world.

Look in the right places. Start by focusing your searches where they're likely to pay off. There are plenty of sites that will serve up pretty graphics and a smattering of useful information. That's fine if you're a casual surfer, but it won't do for serious fact-gathering. Identify quality sites you can count on for the timely, hard-core information you need.

Work smarter, not harder. The Web is immense, unruly and easy to get lost in. If you were to view one page a minute for 10 hours a day, it would take you more than four years to view a million Web pages, and a lifetime just to see the indexed pages on AltaVista. Life's too short for that.

Get help in locating what you need. Intelligent search agents such as Quarterdeck's WebCompass can do a lot of the legwork for you. Just enter your topic and tell WebCompass to explore all resources or narrow your focus to say, technology or media. The product can run in the background or overnight, and create summaries on the fly. You can scan these summaries and if you want to see a whole document, you just click on an icon.

You can also turn to information retrieval and delivery services such as Individual ( Individual uses a software engine called SMART (System for Manipulation and Retrieval of Text), developed at Cornell University. SMART enables Individual's computers to read through more than 20,000 articles each day, and then send those of interest to a particular subscriber based on his or her profile.

Another service that provides current news and information is PointCast ( PointCast automatically begins running up-to-the minute headlines tailored to your individual needs when your computer is idle.

Learn Boolean search techniques. Master the fine art of filtering by using advanced search methods. Although many search engines use slightly different conventions, most support logical words such as and, or, not and near. Some engines require you to group phrases between single or double quote marks.

Some search tools may treat Internet search strategy as a phrase where all three words must appear together, one right after another. Others will pull any articles containing any one of those three words.

Start a bookmark collection. Because many Internet searches yield more data than you have hard disk space, download only critical information and use your Internet browser to bookmark the rest. Your bookmark file is your express lane back to the Web sites you may want to revisit.

Stay focused. Most commercial search engines are replete with fascinating distractions. Practice restraint and look later. Indulge your curiosity too often, and you run the risk of being sidetracked from your main goal.

Create an electronic clippings folder. If you print out hard copies, you could wind up burying key details beneath reams of paper. Instead, save your data as HTML pages so you can search them by computer, rather than shuffling through piles of paper clippings.

Don't believe everything you read. Most Web pages make no claims about their accuracy. Almost anyone with a computer and a modem can portray himself or herself as an expert. Always double-check facts before you take them as gospel or act on them.

It's all in your hands. Remember: The fight against info-illiteracy starts with you.

WinMag Analyst Cheryl Currid is president of Houston-based Currid & Company, a research and consulting firm. Contact Cheryl in the "Windows at Work" topic of WINDOWS Magazine's areas on America Online and CompuServe. Cheryl Currid's e-mail ID is:

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