by December 19, 2005 0 comments

It is said that ‘seek and thou shall find’. How true! When was the last time
you thought you could have been at an advantage had you known some piece of
information, but did not know where and how to look for it, at which source,
when, whom to ask and what to search? Every netizen must have heard about
‘search engine optimization’, but here we will discuss ‘search results
optimization.’ Consider a community phenomenon that has sprawled up over the
Web, slowly but surely. We are here talking of the PHP bulletin boards, like
PCQuest forums.

Direct Hit!
Applies to:
End users
Get the information you need in the way you want, as and when you want it
Primary Link:
Google keywords:
how to search

Understanding behavior
When searching through a PHP bulletin board, usually you get a page which
displays the options for an advanced search. The first field should contain the
search keywords, which should necessarily be very carefully selected, else
searching for ‘I.T.’ as in information technology will lead you to some page
describing income tax instead. For instance, try searching for the word K.D.E.
out there in one such forum. The results which you will most probably get will
be those in which either of the letters K,D or E can be found as
single-character words. So either you should have selected the keywords as K.
AND D. AND E. while searching (it accepts the OR and NOT filters as well) or you
should have searched straightaway for KDE, without anything between any two of
the letters. This is one such behavior exhibited by the PHP bulletin boards’
search engine.

The ANY filter at work on when you search for the keywords ‘mp3 plugin’

Try the same on, say, a full-fledged Web search engine and
you will actually get results containing the characters K.D.E. as you typed them
and not just any one of the three letters. Let us take a few open-source
directories as well. Go to and enter the search keywords there
as, say, ‘mp3 plugin.’ The result which you get will, by default, include
MP3 software which are too heavy to be called as a plugin, as well as plugins
which do not deal with MP3 files, in addition to actual MP3 plugins. The
following screenshot depicts this. So this search uses the ‘ANY’ filter.

Now consider, a sister website of the
previous one. On entering the same search keywords, you will discover that the
‘AND’ filter has been used by default which will give only the results
containing both the two words you entered.

And both of these websites are said to use Yahoo search

The default behavior of search engines can be that
different. Another degree of complexity can be added if you use Web search
engines. Their advanced search options will usually help you cut the coat
according to the cloth, though.

Searching for source code
Usually source code is typed online by leaving a space between two consecutive lines of code. In this situation, the ‘exact phrase’ field should be made use of. Put a few consecutive lines of code there, including the space between any two lines, which would be characteristic to the program as a whole and you get the complete thing in the search result. 

More precision
If the forum you are searching on is one in which you regularly participate,
it saves a lot of time if you remember who posted the information. You need not
remember the complete username. You can use the * wild card as well. For
instance, try to search the for the solution to the printing
problem faced in PCQLinux 2005 when you do not precisely remember where the post
lies and what keywords you should use. Also you do not know how old the post is.
But all you remember is that a poster with the username beginning with the word
‘satej’ posted it. What do you do? Enter satej* in the ‘Search for
Author’ field.

Searching beyond the search

Those pressed for time may be using search engines. But not using them may turn out to be more useful in some cases, especially if relevance matters more than speed. There are several Web directories which you can consider to be a database of 100% relevant search results defined under a specific hierarchy of inter-related topics. Browsing through them does take time, but is bound to give you precisely what you are looking for in lesser time. Of course, you can search most of such directories as well, but it is not recommended. Then there are the news sections which you can browse through fairly quickly on your own to get more information on any event. If you use a news search engine though, chances are the index may not have been updated to include the latest and you will fail to get the complete story.

If you used a search engine instead of a Web directory, you won’t easily get these links

In the screenshot on the next page, the same symbol * was
used in the ‘Search for Keywords’ field so as to get the results as all the
posts ever made in the ‘All about PCQLinux 2004’ thread.

You can further narrow down the results by specifying which
section and/or which category should be searched. Of course, this assumes that
the information contained in those sections/categories actually deals with what
the name of the section/category is. Else you may miss some precious
information, which was accidentally put in the wrong place. As an example, in
forums.pcquest. com, you may logically think that discussions regarding PCQLinux
2006 must lie in the PCQLinux 2006 channel only. But it is not always the
case…plenty of discussions have happened in two threads in the PCQLinux 2005
channel as well.

If you are looking for a specific post, you should select
the result display to be in the form of posts. If you are only browsing for
threads discussing a topic of interest/opinion, it is wiser to set the result
display to be in the form of topics.

Suppose that you are searching for the
opinion/feedback/comments of the readers regarding a specific month’s issue at
the PCQuest forums. Here it makes sense to set the search result to be displayed
in the form of posts and not just topics, else you will most probably get only
one result-a thread which is created specifically for that issue.

It also helps to remember when that information was
released which, in most cases, is not the same time as you read it. So you can
further zero in on the relevant results by specifying the time interval during
which the information might have been posted, as well as whether the search
keywords should be present only in the actual body of the post, or even in the
message subjects/titles.

As examples, let us consider the announcement of the
‘Living Digital’ gaming contest on If you search for
that, you should see that you search for posts made during atleast the previous
six months and not for any shorter time interval. Several posts regarding
various problems faced in PCQLinux 2005 have the subject as  ‘(Technical)
Support request’ or ‘Bug


So searching with these keywords not just in the body but
also in the message subject/title as well may be able to get you to the solution
you need faster than going to results where that software is only being
discussed about, with no technical questions at all.

Here you see the entire PCQLinux 2004 channel of the PCQuest forums in the chronological order

The extra edge
Sorting search results helps save you lots of time. You can sort the results
given by the PHP bulletin board’s search engine by various useful parameters,
such as the time the post was made, the subject of the post, the title of the
thread in which that post lies, the author as well as the forum in which the
post lies. Each parameter can be being sorted in the ascending/descending order.
So, as an example, if you want to locate a very old post,it helps to sort the
results by the post time, in the ascending order. The screenshot given is the
result of searching the ‘All about PCQLinux 2004’ channel of the PCQuest
bulletin boards so that only the subjects of all the posts ever made in that
channel are displayed, sorted by post time, in the ascending order.

Something which can be irritating to many a user would be
the amount of scrolling you need to do in the page, which again, wastes time. If
all you want to do is to quickly get to a post hidden deep inside whose
subject/author are known to you, you can set the number of characters displayed
per post to be zero. For most searches, though, the default introduction-like
style of 200 characters per post will suffice. If you do not want to waste much
time following links as well as if you have enough bandwidth, set the option to
‘All available’.

Your own capacity
If you want to search for something in the bulletin boards, you must be
reasonably sure that you had actually read it at some time. Memory is the key.It
is not worth it to try search with the keywords ‘


victory’ if you cannot precisely

remember whether


did really win.

A sense of belonging to the group also matters. As
long as you regularly take part in discussions, you will get a fair idea of the
personal characteristics and traits of someone’s posts. Using precisely the
keywords that one frequently uses in his/her posts, you can virtually eliminate
the need to filter the search results by username. As an example, when you
commute by train or bus to and from work and home, within a week you get to know
what are the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ of those who are competing for that
extra inch of space.

An eye for detail is an enormous advantage. Imagine
this-you go to a shop and ask the shopkeeper for, say, a camera that you once
saw in the shop’s showcase. And now you want to buy it. The shopkeeper claims to
stock atleast a hundred different models, which he will obviously not show to
you one-by-one. You then feel that you should have looked at the camera more
carefully when you saw it first. Atleast whether it was a Web camera or a
digital one. The same situation applies to searching online. If you want to make
your way through irrelevant results, include as descriptive keywords as

To conclude, while the Internet is a titanic resource of
information, you need to know how to get that information. After heaving read
all this, aren’t you thinking of searching for that long lost post!

Hiren Mehta

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