The Landscape Guide

Landscape COMPUTINGCAD, GISDigitalism, Tutorials Web Advice for Landscape Architects, UsabilityWeb Searching

Searching the web

There are two reasons for wanting to understand web search facilities:

  • to help find information
  • to help publish information, by making it easy for others to find

The information content of the web has been described as 'a few jewels in an ocean of rubbish'. The more you know about web searching, or panning for gold, the better your chances of finding the nuggets. But of course the same could be said about libraries and the more time one spends on the web the more one discovers that while  everything is different, everything is also the same.

In libraries, the two basic ways of finding information are using a catalogue and gazing at shelves. The web parallels are:

  • Search engines: these are like catalogues but not nearly so well organised. You can search for authors, titles or keywords. As the name 'engine' implies, keyword databases are created by machines, not humans,
  • Directories : these are like library shelves. When you find the right shelf (eg for garden history) you can expect to find a set of references on the subject. Directories are produced by humans and you have to rely on their judgement as to what goes on the shelf.

Google is the world's favourite search engine. It is fast, efficient and advert-free. But it is like a keyword search in a library. Say you want to find out about sustainable landscape design. Many of the best books (eg Spirn's The granite garden and Hough's City form and natural process) will not be found by a keyword search. Your best hope of finding them is a friendly librarian who has written a subject bibliography or shelved them beside a book which has the keywords in the title.

The internet equivalent of looking on the shelf is a web directory but they are not organized for specialists. Yahoo, the biggest, oldest and most famous directory is also one of the best for landscape architects. It has a reasonable section on education but is otherwise far from good. And no wonder - getting your site listed is like catching a bus in Africa. You might strike lucky but you are sure to have long waits and many frustrations.

Useful search terms: landscape, design, planning, architecture, green, sustainable, garden, ecology, history

Four Tips for Effective Searching

  1. You don’t need to be clever but you do need to be specific. Start by telling the search engine exactly what you want it might give exactly the answer you want. If this does not  work, try using increasingly general terms (eg if ‘July air temperature Costa Brava’ does not produce a result you could try ‘Spain temperature’).
  2. Use the + symbol to specify that the result must contain both words (eg landscape +architecture).
  3. Use the – symbol to specify that the result must not contain certain words (eg landscape +architecture -history). This will subtract (exclude) sites dealing with the history of landscape architecture.
  4. Quotation marks make the search even more specific. For example a search for "landscape architecture" requires the two words to appear together and will exclude "landscape with architecture". This is known as doing a phrase search.