To surf on the Internet (World Wide Web) is to follow hypertext links from one web page to another. The links to web pages are often indicated by an underline, or the word or phrase may be highlighted in a different color. The link could also be a picture or graphic image.
Notice what happens when you move the mouse pointer over a word or picture. If the word or image is a link, the pointer changes from an arrow to a hand.
However much fun surfing might be it is not always productive for finding specific information. To find a specific web page or type of information out of the many millions of websites on the Internet, you must search.
Subject directories help you find a specific topic by providing general categories or subject classifications. By then selecting subcategories within the broad categories, you will find web pages devoted to your topic.
Some subject directories have compiled lists of millions of sites and organized them by category. Yahoo is an example of such a directory. While very useful, sites in such a list are not prescreened for accuracy and reliability. To determine if the web page is usable for your purpose you must evaluate it yourself based on the first line or two of text information given.
Other subject directories like ipl2.org, contain a much smaller list of sites, only a few thousand, but the sites are chosen and tested for usefulness by librarians. There are also annotated descriptions of each web site to help you evaluate usefulness.
"Web portals" are subject directories which focus on one field of topic interest. A law portal might have ten categories of law, a news portal might list several hundred or thousand newspaper and magazine sites, and so on. Portals may be found using subject directories or a "search engine."
Most subject directories include a search engine, or programmed searching interface, that allows the user to construct a search leading to desired information. Some search engines are specific to a subject directory. Others kick you to a full Internet search.
Search engines use a variety of searching methods, but generally search a very large portion of the Internet to find sites that have terms exactly as the ones you've entered on page within that site.
No search engine searches all of the Internet, but the larger ones capture several hundred million sites. Generally search engines go out to the Internet on a regular basis and capture pages which are brought to the search engine's own computer memory banks. When you search and get results, you are looking at results recently captured, and these results may have changed since the last time you searched that same topic.
The downside of getting more search results is that you have to "evaluate" more sites to determine what best suits your need. Some search engines today list the sites that pay them most at the beginning of the list.
A list of Best Search Tools can be found at http://www.infopeople.org/search/tools.html
To learn more and practice searching, go to the Librarians' Index to the Internet and chose the category "Internet." Under that, select the subcategory "Training."