Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Research on the Free Web Tutorial: C. "Free"... well, sort of

There's no such thing as a free lunch


Let's compare "fee web" and the "free web."  Many of the academic information resources provided on the library's web site are subscription services ("fee" web) and are discussed in the Scholarly Research Tutorial.  The information within Fee-based resources are not found by "free" search engines because they are hidden by a password or some other means; the spider programs can't crawl in and see what is there.

What about the "Free" web, what can we find there?  Why has anyone bothered to create search tools for the free web and what do the companies that produce them get out of it?  Why do "free" web pages even exist? 

Ultimately, as with so many things, search tools and web sites exist because of the main motivating forces in our society: Money, Power & Influence (Bwah hah hah hah!!!!!!!)


Search Tools

Let's consider search tools first. They offer you something useful (a way to retrieve "relevant" pages from the free web) in exchange for ... what?

  • Information about you and your search habits which lets them target the advertising you see, which helps them to attract advertisers (Money);
  • Information about search habits of groups of people which they can aggregate and sell to marketers (Money), and use in other ways such as developing other search tools or products to offer to users (Influence/Power).

Web Sites

How about the providers of the web pages themselves?  Why does anyone put up a web site?

Traditional domain endings provide a clue:

  • .com =commercial,
  • .edu = educational,
  • .gov = governmental, and so on.

But domain endings aside, there are two main reasons:

  1. Money motivations: Commercial sites want to facilitate their business, sell you a product or generate revenue with advertising.  Note that they may do this by simply being entertaining in some way so that you'll return to the site and see the ads.  This also includes sites that gather information about you for marketing use even if they don't have ads.
  2. Influence: The information contained in a site is often there to sway your opinion for advocacy, propaganda, or slander.

Sites also exist for a variety of other personal motivations (e.g. family reunions), but the sites that show up high in the search engine rankings have often used Search Engine Optimization (more on that in module 5) to get there and have organizational motivations.

Free! (through taxes)


Government sites are of great value in academia, but not emphasized in search engines.  The U.S. government has a mandate to provide information about itself and about what its agencies are doing.  This information, referred to as "Government Documents," is outside the usual commercial interests and blatent advocacy of many other types of web sites and is considered generally both credible and reliable and is worth looking for for academic use.


Previous  /  Next