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Lesson #31




We will now turn our discussion to the art and science of information retrieval. This lesson will provide an overview of the importance of information retrieval science to your Internet business. The next lesson will cover the fundamentals of databases. The third lesson on this subject will introduce you to the art and science of searching textual information. With this foundation, we will be prepared for advanced discussion later in the course of many important areas of Internet marketing, such as search engine optimization.


While it is extremely rare, sometimes a child is born without the ability to feel pain. A defect in the child's nervous system prevents pain signals from reaching the brain. At first blush, this might seem like a wonderful thing—a life without any pain. The unfortunate reality, however, is that it is always tragic. These children become severely injured and die very young. Pain serves a purpose of providing information. Pain tells you what is harmful and should be avoided. If a child does not feel pain when he sticks his hand in the fire, he will leave it there. If a child does not feel pain when he jumps from a high perch, he will keep doing it, even though bones get broken. If a child does not feel pain when he slams his head into a hard surface, he will never watch where he is going. If a child does not feel pain when he backs into a sharp object, he will not retract from it quickly enough to prevent injury. Without the information that pain provides, the body cannot be protected and is soon destroyed.

I have started this lesson with this bizarre and disturbing example to drive home a crucial point. The very experience of being alive is the experience of observing, processing, and responding to information. In the tragic case of these children being denied the information that pain provides, they cannot survive. We all need a constant flow of information to survive. The more accurately we observe and the more efficiently we process and respond to information, the more successfully we live.

Our bodies, when they work properly, are designed to process information. The human mind is the most powerful information processing device known to date. However, just as we have developed tools to assist us with physical work, we have also developed tools to assist our minds. We developed pen and paper, the printing press, and then computers to assist in information processing and communication. While no computer yet invented can do all that the human mind can do, computers can do some things faster and better and do assist our minds in very useful ways. Understanding and efficient use of tools has always been the hallmark of the successful. This is certainly no less true with computers and networks than with any other tools.

For those of us who run our own businesses, efficient information processing is even more important to our successful living than for the average person. For those of us whose businesses are founded on the Internet, the largest information network in history, understanding the importance of information processing science and its tools cannot be overstated.

In Lesson 28 ( of this Internet Income Course, we discussed the importance of running an efficient online marketing system. We observed that a large part of being efficient was simply a matter of paying attention. Paying attention involves accurately observing and recording information about the results of your various efforts. After observing and recording, you must retrieve and process that information accurately and in a way that has meaning to you—a way that will help you decide your next step to a more efficient system.

In Lesson 29 (, we discussed how we learn from our mistakes and failures.

However, if we are not accurately observing, recording, retrieving, and processing information, we cannot efficiently learn from our mistakes. Unless we track our results, efficiently using the computers and networks available to us, we are doomed to repeat many mistakes. The success of any business is dependent on how well that business manages and processes information.


As a reader of the Internet Income Course (, we assume you have undertaken your own Internet marketing business. The Internet is the primary environment within which your business exists. Your computer, an information processing device, is the primary tool that you use to run your business. Furthermore, information is the primary vehicle that will attract people to your business. Your customers and future teammates will find you on the Internet using information retrieval techniques. You will find ways to attract your prospects on the Internet using information retrieval techniques.

Thus, automated information retrieval, while it may seem like an overly technical, dry, and academic subject, is doubly important to any Internet business.

As with any business, online or off, information processing and retrieval skills are important to measuring the success of your various strategies and thus improving the efficiency of your business. Unlike traditional business, however, understanding information retrieval skills is crucial to promotion of an Internet-based business. Information retrieval is what the search engines do. Information retrieval skills are what people use to find things on the Internet. Information retrieval is the very essence of the Internet. To excel in this environment, you must give some thought to how it works.


The day-to-day information about the results of our business activities is important, but we must also draw upon the body of knowledge that others have accumulated as well. We use computers and the Internet for both of these purposes—to record and process our own information and to do research on information accumulated by others.

Whether you are aware of it in these specific terms, you use the art and science of information retrieval on a daily bases. Every time you use the Internet, you are using information retrieval tools. As the Internet becomes more sophisticated, your understanding of these tools and strategies becomes even more important to your efficient use of the Internet.

Long before the Internet, the science of information retrieval has existed, in one form or another, for quite some time. The ancient Greeks amassed the first known world library, containing copies of all known books of that time (later unfortunately destroyed). It soon became apparent, however, that vast collections had little use without some efficient way to find what you wanted. Libraries began to catalog books by author, title, and subject. Each book printed today is provided an internationally accepted ISBN number. Every book in a library is given a card catalog number. You can search the card catalogs by author, title, or subject. Once you locate the books you need, the books themselves have tables of contents, and often indices or other means to find the specific content you need within the books.

Periodicals (newspapers and magazines) are also sorted and categorized in the libraries and various other places. Separate reference works have evolved just to help find information that appears in books and periodicals. For example, there is a publication that provides an index to periodicals, which is used to find information that has appeared in magazine articles and other periodical publications. Many devices and strategies were developed, before the advent of computers, to help people find the specific information they sought.

Many younger readers born into the Internet age may have a hard time conceiving of the process of having to frequently and physically travel to a library to do important research. At the library, we had to search the card catalog, as well as various other reference indices to find the information we sought. While most young people are still taught these offline research skills, they are no longer as necessary as they were before the days of personal computers and the Internet.

The skills that are necessary today, however, require an understanding of automated information retrieval, especially as it is employed on the Internet. As we will discuss in Lesson 33, the Lexus/Nexus service was one of the first commercial online information retrieval systems. This company built a huge database of legal case opinions and statutes from many jurisdictions as well as newspaper and magazine articles from many publishers, which could be searched by the words contained within the cases or articles. When first offered, this service was accessed via a modem over an ordinary phone line connection to their mainframe computer. While very expensive at first (upwards of $40 per minute for connect time plus over $100 per search request), for those that knew how to use it, this service could find information much faster and much more efficiently than traditional offline research techniques.

As the Internet became more popular, many different search and retrieval techniques were developed to help one find the computer files, wherever they may be located geographically, needed for one's research. Before the World Wide Web and its predecessor, Gopher, finding information on the Internet required logging on to each computer on the Internet, one at a time in turn, and searching its published menu for the information you sought. Gopher streamlined this process somewhat by providing menus of menus. WAIS, or wide area information search, was an Internet resource developed to search several computers at once. The information explosion occurred, however, with the development of the World Wide Web and the search engines that quickly and efficiently searched the published pages of the World Wide Web.

There are millions of computers throughout the world, publishing countless pages of information on the Web today. The Search Engines find and then retrieve the information you need from these computers quickly and relatively efficiently. The companies that run the search engines employ information retrieval scientists to help develop their systems. Thus, the more you know about automated information retrieval science and the skills that follow from it, the more efficiently you can find the information you need and the more efficiently you can make your own information available to others.


Our brief and simplified study of iInformational retrieval in the next two lessons, believe it or not, will be directly relevant to the common, basic questions that newbies to the business frequently ask. Common questions by new affiliates are: "Where do I place ads?" How do I get listed in the Search Engines?" "How do I generate traffic to my gateways?" "How do I track my results?" We have provided answers to these questions already in this course, but we will now go deeper.

For example, we have told you that you should place ads where the prospects you seek will find them. We have suggested that you use the search engines to find sites that your prospects will likely also find. We have urged you to use search words and phrases that your potential prospects will likely use when searching for an online opportunity or for a specific product that you are offering. We have encouraged you to use information to attract visitors and then use that information to dramatize your visitor's need for the product or service you are offering. We will now delve deeper into how the search engines will process the search terms that your prospects may use to determine which pages to display to them and in what order.

Also, we have told you that you need unique information on your Website to obtain ranking in the search engines. It is now time to look a little closer at the techniques available to search engines to parse out the content of your site, evaluate it, and make it available to those seeking information. Understanding these techniques will help you optimize your content for the best results.

We have also told you that you need to record and analyze the results of your efforts. A closer look at the applications and techniques available to you to do that efficiently is in also certainly in order.

Delving into the science of information retrieval is a way to obtain deeper, richer answers to these common practical questions.


While it may seem somewhat impractical to talk about the obvious, it does provide useful insight to reflect on how information and information processing plays a vital role in every aspect of our lives. To be truly successful in business, you must take time to reflect upon the information processing skills that you employ in your business. To be truly successful in an Internet-based business, you must take time to think about the information retrieval systems that form the foundation of the Internet. To become a true search engine expert, you must have some understanding of the information retrieval techniques upon which the search engines are based.

As demonstrated by the tragic stories of the children born without pain reception, our survival depends upon our processing of information. We have developed computers and the Internet to assist us in processing larger and larger amounts of information to enhance all aspects of our lives. Some familiarity with the science of information retrieval that drives these developments is well worth a little time and effort, especially for those of us involved in Internet businesses.


In our next lesson, we will discuss the fundamentals of databases and how they can be used to process information important to your business. The following lesson will address information retrieval techniques used to search text-based documents, the process used by search engines to find and rank Websites as a result of specific searches.


by George Little
Copyright (year) Panhandle On-Line, Inc.
License granted to Carson Services, Inc. for distribution to SFI affiliates. No part of this work may be republished, redistributed, or sold without written permission of the author.

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