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QuickStudy: Deep Web

By , Russell Kay
December 19, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Definition: The deep Web, also called the invisible Web, refers to the mass of information that can be accessed via the World Wide Web but can't be indexed by traditional search engines -- often because it's locked up in databases and served up as dynamic pages in response to specific queries or searches.

Most writers these days do a significant part of their research using the World Wide Web, with the help of powerful search engines such as Google and Yahoo. There is so much information available that one could be forgiven for thinking that "everything" is accessible this way, but nothing could ber further from the truth. For example, as of August 2005, Google claimed to have indexed 8.2 billion Web pages and 2.1 billion images. That sounds impressive, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. Behold the deep Web.

According to Mike Bergman, chief technology officer at BrightPlanet Corp. in Sioux Falls, S.D., more than 500 times as much information as traditional search engines "know about" is available in the deep Web. This massive store of information is locked up inside databases from which Web pages are generated in response to specific queries. Although these dynamic pages have a unique URL address with which they can be retrieved again, they are not persistent or stored as static pages, nor are there links to them from other pages.

The deep Web also includes sites that require registration or otherwise restrict access to their pages, prohibiting search engines from browsing them and creating cached copies.

Let's recap how conventional search engines create their databases. Programs called spiders or Web crawlers start by reading pages from a starting list of Web sites. These spiders first read each page on a site, index all their content and add the words they find to the search engine's growing database. When a spider finds a hyperlink to another page, it adds that new link to the list of pages to be indexed. In time, the program reaches all linked pages, presuming that the search engine doesn't run out of time or storage space. These linked pages, reachable from other Web pages or sites, constitute what most of us use and refer to as the Internet or the Web. In fact, we have only scratched the surface, which is why this realm of information is often called the surface Web.

Why don't our search engines find the deeper information? For starters, let's consider a typical data store that an individual or enterprise has collected, containing books, texts, articles, images, laboratory results and various other kinds of data in diverse formats. Typically we access such databased information by means of a query or search -- we type in the subject or keyword we're looking for, the database retrieves the appropriate content, and we are shown a page of results to our query.

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