The Internet (also called the World Wide Web) has a decentralized structure. Consequently, search services and engines are needed to help people search for specific documents, content and specified keywords. At the beginning of the general use of the Internet, search engines were still to be found as a form of catalogs, in which lists arranged by people according to thematic or alphabetical criteria could be found. With the development of computer and information technology, search engines also evolved. Today’s search engines work automatically: By means of a database in which hyperlinks (cross-references in a hypertext) are categorized according to the respective search criteria, individual search queries can be found via an automated search robot. The sorting as well as cataloging of the address information can be done manually by an editor or electronically.
The interpretation of the search query
Every search query to a search engine is analyzed and interpreted before the actual search. For this purpose, it is converted into a form that can be understood by the search algorithm used internally. Another feature of many search engines is also the inference of existing information from the original context of the search query itself. This makes it possible to avoid possible ambiguities of individual search queries. In many cases, this feature leads not only to a quantitative but also to a qualitative improvement of the results. In addition, search engines also make use of information that has been entered invisibly (e.g., location information in the case of cell phone use) or “preference areas” that have been developed through previous search queries.
Challenges for search engines and their operators
Due to the everyday complexity of countless search queries, search engines also come into contact with problems and special requirements. For example, search queries are often imprecise. For example, the search engine cannot easily interpret terms on its own (e.g., the ambiguous interpretation of vice, pear). Furthermore, faulty grammar, punctuation, amount of data, spams and the topicality of the respective search query are another criterion for how well a search engine works. A special position is taken by the law. Search engines are usually operated internationally and thus provide their users with information on servers that may be located in other countries. Due to the often differing views of individual governments on what is legally permitted in terms of information flow and type of information, search engine operators often come under pressure to exclude certain information from their search results.
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