practitioner of the scribbled arts (skaye) Sun 4 Oct 98 13:58
Inkwell.vue is delighted to welcome our first interview subject, the charming and talented Reva Basch. Reva is a WELL veteran, a widely recognized authority on net-based research, and the author of four books on the subject, including her new book _Researching Online For Dummies_. Welcome, Reva!
petals and whatnot (plum) Tue 6 Oct 98 09:23
Yo Reva! Reva, how do Lee's Cheesesteaks in Philadelphia figure into your oeuvre?
Steve Kaye (skaye) Tue 6 Oct 98 11:54
And what about aubergines?
Reva Basch (reva) Tue 6 Oct 98 13:26
Yo Plum! (Aside to the reader, in that echo-y Don Pardo-like voice: Few people know that Cynthia Heimel and I grew up in the =same town=. Now, I ask you, is that a spooky literary coincidence, or what?) Aubergines, Steve. So glad you asked. No, really. Aubergine Information Services is the name of my research business. "Aubergine" is French for "eggplant." Years ago, I had a very small, very part-time catering business, which I called Aubergine because eggplants are, like, my totem vegetable. They're the chicken of the vegetable kingdom. When I started doing research, I was too lazy to file another DBA, so I used the same one. I figured that if Apple could name itself after a fruit, I could name myself after a vegetable. Plus, there's the alphabetical advantage. In retrospect, it was an okay decision. People can't spell it, but they do remember it, especially in a field where everything else is Info-this or Data-that.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 6 Oct 98 13:29
We recently came into possession of an eggplant that had an appendage. Too long to be a nose, not quite penile - maybe like the semi-tumescent trunk of a purple elephant. It didn't last long enough for us to give it to you personally, Reva. I'm so very sorry.
Reva Basch (reva) Tue 6 Oct 98 13:44
Imagine how I feel. I wish you hadn't told me. It's been quite a year for R-rated tomatoes, too. Can we blame El Nino? Or Ken Starr?
Steve Kaye (skaye) Tue 6 Oct 98 14:40
So, Reva, tell us a little about your book.
Cynthia Heimel (plum) Tue 6 Oct 98 14:45
Omit no detail, however slight.
Reva Basch (reva) Tue 6 Oct 98 17:09
Starting me off with an easy one, I see; thanks, guys. Okay, what I'd really like to do is tell you something about why I wrote this particular book. I'd gotten to the proposal stage before on a couple of other books about online research, but what really appealed to me about doing a Dummies book is that they encourage you to use your own voice. I've written my share of tech manuals, and I'm not denigrating the skill it takes to write good documentation, but I didn't want to go there again. More than anything else, I hope the book gets across three main ideas: One, there's more to online research than search engines. Two, there's more to online =information= than what you'll find on the Web alone (or on what, in the book, I call the "open" Web, to distinguish it from closed, or gated, sites that require registration and passwords and sometimes even - horrors - money). And three, it really pays to learn to think like a researcher -- to ask yourself what you're really looking for, where it makes sense to start looking, how to pick up on cues and clues in what you're finding in order to widen your search, how to refine your approach, how to recognize when you've got your answer, or as close to your answer as you're going to get. So, that's a start. I cover not only the Web in all its infinite variety, but commercial databases like Dow Jones Interactive, Dialog and Lexis-Nexis, and "people-based" resources like newsgroups and conferencing services like, my my, this very WELL.
David Gans (tnf) Tue 6 Oct 98 17:22
Do you desribe specific tools that are available to, uh, Dummies like me?
Cynthia Heimel (plum) Tue 6 Oct 98 18:01
but search engines can be useful too, no? Here's the one I hate. Alta Vista, which gives you everything you don't need hundred of times. yours truly, really beyond a dummy
Erik Van Thienen (levant) Wed 7 Oct 98 05:15
>they encourage you to use your own voice And what a magnificent voice it is! I couldn't help chuckling from time to time while reading the book (I just got it from Amazon.com, couldn't order it in the usual bookstores). Personally, I like the Hotbot Supersearch (hidden behind the button "MORE SEARCH OPTIONS"). Very handy to filter out unneeded info and/or media. In fact, I just used it to help my eldest sister prepare for a radio documentary about Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman. I got her about 100 interesting URL's. Including the homepages of Dutch expats in Muscat she can interview in Dutch.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 7 Oct 98 09:35
Reva, in <3> you mentioned that you had a small catering business before you started doing research. Would you tell us a little about your career path? Looks like you may have taken the scenic route.
Eggplant is the Chicken of The Vegitable Kingdom (goodston) Wed 7 Oct 98 12:10
(a short digression -- I just wanted to demonstrate to outside readers the "WELL psued dynamic". Also, it was too good a psued not to grab!) I'm off to buy a copy of the book now, because I've been hoping she'd do something like this for years!
Cynthia Heimel (plum) Wed 7 Oct 98 13:03
A good example of pseudishness.
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 7 Oct 98 13:58
Okay, the "career path" question first, since this topic does have my name on it, and then I'll hit #s 9 and 10. And, btw, it's great to see Libbi, Erik and Sarah here. Hi guys! I'm experiencing the telnet lag from hell, though (one of the joys of country life, I guess), so I'm gonna go compose something offline. Back in a little while.
Ozro W. Childs (oz) Wed 7 Oct 98 14:21
It's a splendid book. I'm hoping, once the discussion gets rolling on this topic, that Reva will favor us with any updates to her lists of searching tools and sites.
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 7 Oct 98 14:38
Oz, thanks. If we don't get into that soon, remind me, okay? David asked about my career path, and it occurred to me that I should say something about my credentials for writing Researching Online For Dummies. Career-wise, it actually hasn't been =that= circuitous a path. I studied English Lit (love of language and a good vocabulary helps when you're doing research) as an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, and got my Master's in Library Science at UC Berkeley. I worked as a librarian, mostly in engineering firms, for several years, and burned out on one job right around the time Philadelphia - I lived in the Pennsylvania Dutch country at the time - was undergoing a so-called restaurant renaissance. I'd always had this fantasy of running a restaurant, and when a place called The Restaurant School opened in Philly, well, I just had to do it. That was a great year. It was a one-year, hands-on program where we learned how to run a dining room and a commercial kitchen, how to plan a menu, work out costs, deal with suppliers, promote the place - every aspect of running a small, fine, cook-from-scratch restaurant. We ran a restaurant that was open to the public, and very popular, in a novelty kind of way. Like "Hey, we're being served by actual students. Maybe one of them will trip with a tray of glasses!" It was an incredibly intense experience. I made friends in the trenches there it really was like what I imagine being in the Army would be like - buddies for life. Anyway, among other things, that year taught me that I didn't want to run a restaurant for a living. But I could do catering, easy. Piece o' cake, I'm tempted to say. So I did some catering, very low-key, very part-time, after I moved back to California. And hence the name Aubergine. Around 1981 I left the library world for good; I took a job with a company in Berkeley called Information on Demand, that was run by an amazing woman named Sue Rugge. I started out as a substitute, temporary, researcher, working for an equally amazing woman named Barbara Bernstein, and I ended up, 5-1/2 years later, after Barbara had left, as VP and Director of Research. IOD would tackle basically any research project that came along, from the outlook for water-pumping windmills to treatments for canine hip dysplasia. We'd use the library; we'd call people on the phone; we'd use computer databases like the ones on Dialog. Whatever it took, whatever combinations of telephone, library and online research, we'd use. Clients would pay by the hour, plus whatever direct costs we incurred, up to an agreed-on amount. When I left IOD and started my own research business, that was the model I used, too. Oh, yeah -- I spent a couple of years in there, after leaving IOD and before taking the plunge into my own business full-time, designing user interfaces for online search software for a company called Mead Data Central that's now known as Lexis-Nexis. That was a really useful period, more so in retrospect than it seemed at the time. I learned how to work with software engineers (insofar as that's possible, heh), and I gained some insight into the supply side of the online information industry. I'm probably more willing to cut slack to the online services as a result of that experience -- the same way I'm more willing to cut slack to restaurant staff, y'know, because I have a better understanding than the average customer of how complex and sophisticated the system is, how delicately it's engineered, and all the things that can possibly go wrong. Anyway, I started Aubergine Information Services in 1986, and went full-time with it in 1988 - Hey, it's my tenth annniversary! - right around the same time I joined The WELL. That's it for my circuitous career path. The last few years have been pretty much of a continuum. I've actually moved away from doing research for clients, to the point where I mostly write, consult, and give presentations about online research and other Net-related subjects. Whoa; this is getting as long as you-know-who. I'll break it up and be back in a little while.
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 7 Oct 98 16:19
David asked about research tools for dummies like himself (yeah, right), and Cynthia was bitching (am I allowed to say that here?) about search engines like Alta Vista that overload you with garbage. Just to give you a dee-scriptive overview of the book, the early chapters pretty much map to the main, broad varieties of search tools as I see 'em. You've got the so-called Web-wide search engines that we all know and loathe (or not) - Alta Vista, HotBot, Infoseek, Excite, and so on. Then you've got subject catalogs, in which information is arranged hierarchically, from broad, general topic down through a series of progressively more specific sub-topics. Search engines and subject catalogs used to be two distinctly different things; now you'll often find both of them at a single site. Then you've got specialized search engines, set up to search specific kinds of information, like health and medical, business, or news and current events. Check out beaucoup.com for an idea of the range of specialized search engines that're out there. What else? Meta-search engines that run your search through several different search engines at once. Library catalogs online. Virtual reference collections with electronic dictionaries, almanacs, and atlases. What I call "guru sites," where someone with an obsessive interest in a subject has put together a collection of pointers. Gateways to certain kinds of information, like FedWorld for government publications. Consumer online services like AOL, and the professional research systems like Dialog, Dow Jones and Lexis- Nexis, that were around way before the web, and that still offer a lot that you won't find anyplace else. Oh yeah - and people. I've got an entire chapter about newsgroups, mailing lists, and conferencing systems like this one where you can tap into unpublished knowledge. Ah, the power of human expertise Experts On The WELL, just that one topic, is a prime example of how you can short-cut your research dramatically just by connecting with =someone who knows=. I'll deal with the search engine question in a minute...
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 7 Oct 98 16:51
She's baaaack! Cynthia asked up there about search engines. Yeah, they do have their place. I guess I come across as harder on search engines than I really am because people tend to think that's all there is to online research. And there's SO much more, and search engines are sometimes such a BAD idea, or at least a bad starting point. Search engines can't be beat when it comes to looking for that proverbial needle in a haystack - when you've got a very clear idea of what it is you want, and you can describe it in clear, unique, unambiguous terms. An example I use in the Dummies book is scuba diving in Fiji. Right there, you've got two pretty definite concepts that would probably serve you well if you threw 'em into a search engine together. But suppose you're not really sure where you want to go on vacation, but you think maybe you'd like to go someplace warm where you can get in the water and do =something= well, you're not gonna get very far with a search engine. "vacation" and "warm" and "ocean" or whatever are just not going to do it for you, search-engine-wise. In that case, you'd be much better off going to a travel site to begin with, or starting with the "travel" category in a subject catalog like Yahoo! and drilling down, browsing through various possibilities, til you come to something you like. As for getting 80 trillion hits every time you use a search engine. First of all, you don't have to =look= at all 80 trillion hits. Most search engines default to something called "relevance ranking," which means they put the items that they "think" are the most useful at the top, or near the top, of their list of results. If you don't find what you want in the first 50 or 100 hits, you're better off trying a different search engine, or rephrasing your question. And that brings up an important point: There are lots of ways to narrow down a search so you get a more manageable set of results. Phrase searching - looking for a concept like, say, "computer graphics" as opposed to the word "computer" (heaven forfend) and the word "graphics" - will help a lot. So will switching into Boolean mode, which most search engines let you do one way or another. That lets you specify that you want this word AND that word, not either/or, that both words =must= appear in any item the search engine retrieves. It also helps to be as specific as possible. Like, don't search on "computer games" if what you're really looking for is information on, say, Riven, or Quake. Some search sites also let you limit by date, or country, or type of media, like text or jpegs or executable files, if that's what you happen to be looking for. And some - Infoseek is one example I can think of, offhand - let you run a second search on a set of results you've already gotten. Say you've searched on "dogs" (which you'd never do in real life, right?) and gotten those 80 trillion hits. Then you can run a second search, on papillons (hi Plum!), within those mere 80 trillion pages, instead of the entire Web. It's a way of narrowing down, and also of making sure that what you're getting has to do with papillons-the-dog-breed, not papillons-the- French-for-butterfly. Okay, more questions.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Wed 7 Oct 98 16:52
Tell us about how wonderful it is that you get to live in such a faboo place and work from home all the time.
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 7 Oct 98 16:57
Ooh, the kind of question I LOVE! Well, it is. I'm on the coast about 2.5 hours north of San Francisco (and Berkeley, my own geo-spiritual marker), with 4 local ISPs and absolutely no reason to put on pantyhose, ever again. I consider myself very lucky to have, somehow, finessed this.
Cynthia (peoples) Wed 7 Oct 98 17:16
What kinds of tips do you have for users who would like to search for information but lack Web browsing capabilities and use a shell account?
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Wed 7 Oct 98 17:25
And do you have suggestions for two kinds of problems I've been running into: Getting six jillion responses to a search Getting porno pages because they put commonly searched-for words in them so they pop up during the search
Libbi Lepow (paris) Wed 7 Oct 98 17:30
You really must buy this book, btw. Besides being a world-class expert in her field, this woman has a *wicked*, dry sense of humor!
Cynthia Heimel (plum) Wed 7 Oct 98 17:36
reva, thank you! This is almost as good as reading the book.
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