8.5 Wide Area Information Servers
Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet

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     Now you know there are hundreds of databases and library catalogs
you can search through.  But as you look, you begin to realize that each
seems to have its own unique method for searching.  If you connect to
several, this can become a pain.  Gophers reduce this problem somewhat.
     Wide-area information servers promise another way to zero in on
information hidden on the Net. In a WAIS, the user sees only one
interface -- the program worries about how to access information on
dozens, even hundreds, of different databases.  You tell give a WAIS a
word and it scours the net looking for places where it's mentioned.  You
get a menu of documents, each ranked according to how relevant to your
search the WAIS thinks it is.
     Like gophers, WAIS "client" programs can already be found on many
public-access Internet sites. If your system has a WAIS client, type
at the command prompt and hit enter (the "s" stands for "simple").  If it
doesn't, telnet to bbs.oit.unc.edu, which is run by the University of North
Carolina  At the "login:" prompt, type
and hit enter.  You'll be asked to register and will then get a list of
"bulletins,'' which are various files explaining how the system works.
When done with those, hit your Q key and you'll get another menu.  Hit 4
for the "simple WAIS client," and you'll see something like this:
SWAIS                           Source Selection                   Sources: 23#
               Server                          Source                      Cost
001:   [           archie.au]  aarnet-resource-guide                       Free
002:   [    archive.orst.edu]  aeronautics                                 Free
003:   [nostromo.oes.orst.ed]  agricultural-market-news                    Free
004:   [sun-wais.oit.unc.edu]  alt-sys-sun                                 Free
005:   [    archive.orst.edu]  alt.drugs                                   Free
006:   [    wais.oit.unc.edu]  alt.gopher                                  Free
007:   [sun-wais.oit.unc.edu]  alt.sys.sun                                 Free
008:   [    wais.oit.unc.edu]  alt.wais                                    Free
009:   [    archive.orst.edu]  archie-orst.edu                             Free
010:   [           archie.au]  archie.au-amiga-readmes                     Free
011:   [           archie.au]  archie.au-ls-lRt                            Free
012:   [           archie.au]  archie.au-mac-readmes                       Free
013:   [           archie.au]  archie.au-pc-readmes                        Free
014:   [ pc2.pc.maricopa.edu]  ascd-education                              Free
015:   [           archie.au]  au-directory-of-servers                     Free
016:   [   cirm2.univ-mrs.fr]  bib-cirm                                    Free
017:   [  cmns-sun.think.com]  bible                                       Free
018:   [      zenon.inria.fr]  bibs-zenon-inria-fr                         Free
<space> selects, w for keywords, arrows move, <return> searches, q quits, or ?
Each line represents a different database (the .au at the end of some of
them means they are in Australia; the .fr on the last line represents a
database in France).  And this is just the first page!  If you type a
capital K, you'll go to the next page (there are several pages). 
Hitting a capital J will move you back a page.
     The first thing you want to do is tell the WAIS program which
databases you want searched.  To select a database, move the cursor bar
over the line you want (using your down and up arrow keys) and hit your
space bar.  An asterisk will appear next to the line number.  Repeat this
until you've selected all of the databases you want searched.  Then hit
your W key, after which you'll be prompted for the key words you're
looking for.  You can type in an entire line of these words -- separate
each with a space, not a comma.
    Hit return, and the search begins. 
    Let's say you're utterly fascinated with wheat.  So you might select
agricultural-market-news to find its current world price.  But you also
want to see if it has any religious implications, so you choose the
Bible and the Book of Mormon.  What do you do with the stuff?  Select
recipes and usenet-cookbook. Are there any recent Supreme Court
decisions involving the plant? Choose supreme-court.  How about synonyms?
Try roget-thesaurus and just plain thesaurus.
    Now hit w and type in wheat.  Hit enter, and the WAIS program begins
its search.  As it looks, it tells you whether any of the databases are
offline, and if so, when they might be ready for a search.  In about a
minute, the program tells you how many hits it's found.  Then you get a new
menu, that looks something like this:
  #    Score     SourceTitleLines
001:   [1000] (roget-thesaurus)       #465. [results of comparison. 1] Di    19
002:   [1000] (roget-thesaurus)       #609. Choice. -- N. choice, option;    36
003:   [1000] (roget-thesaurus)       #465. [results of comparison. 1] Di    19
004:   [1000] (roget-thesaurus)       #609. Choice. -- N. choice, option;    36
005:   [1000] (recipes)  aem@mthvax Re: MONTHLY: Rec.Food.Recipes   425
006:   [1000] ( Book_of_Mormon)  Mosiah 9:96
007:   [1000] ( Book_of_Mormon)  3 Nephi 18:185
008:   [1000] (agricultural-ma)  Re:    JO GR115, WEEKLY GRAIN82
009:   [ 822] (agricultural-ma)  Re:    WA CB351 PROSPECTIVE PLANTINGS      552
010:   [ 800] (        recipes)  kms@apss.a Re: REQUEST: Wheat-free, Suga    35
011:   [ 750] (agricultural-ma)  Re:    WA CB101 CROP PRODUCTION258
012:   [ 643] (agricultural-ma)  Re:    SJ GR850 DAILY NAT GRN SUM72
013:   [ 400] (        recipes)  pat@jaamer Re: VEGAN: Honey Granola63
014:   [ 400] (        recipes)  jrtrint@pa Re: OVO-LACTO: Sourdough/Trit   142
Each of these represents an article or citing that contains the word wheat,
or some related word.  Move the cursor bar (with the down and up arrow
keys) to the one you want to see, hit enter, and it will begin to appear
on your screen.  The "score" is a WAIS attempt to gauge how closely the
citing matches your request.  Doesn't look like the Supreme Court has had
anything to say about the plant of late!
     Now think of how much time you would have spent logging onto various
databases just to find these relatively trivial examples.