Go Ahead, Google it. Or Ask. Or…

If all else fails — searching your local library’s online catalog, using Amazon.com’s advanced book search, and seeing what sources Wikipedia can point you toward — there’s still the option of plopping keywords into an Internet search engine.

For our last example of how you might find additional information about something you read in What’s the Big Idea?, we’ll go with the guy who came up with one of the most useful inventions in the past 40 years: the @ symbol.

The book tells us that it was Ray Tomlinson who decided to make @ a part of email addresses, and let’s say that you want to find out more about how that happened.

An Internet search for “email” will get you a few billion results — probably more than you have time to look through. Even just searching for “Ray Tomlinson” might get you a lot of stuff you don’t need — information about other Ray Tomlinsons, or other things that the Ray Tomlinson has done over the years.

But if you put both “Ray Tomlinson” and “email” into a search engine —

Wait. This isn’t Google. What, you may ask, am I doing?

Just showing that there’s more than one search engine out there. This one’s called Ask, and as you can see, it’s pretty good. The links in the middle of the page look useful enough, and the “Narrow Your Search” links over on the left show that the combination of those two search terms has gotten you right to what you’re looking for.

It won’t always be this easy, but you get the idea.

Now, let’s do the same search in Google:

Notice how three of the first five results mention the year 1971? That probably means that 1971 was a pretty important year for Ray Tomlinson and email, so add “1971” to your search terms, and see what you get:

You might be happy to stop with the links listed here, but there’s one more trick I’d like to show you. Google has a book search, too, and books often do a better job than web pages of saying where certain pieces of information came from. Anyway, if you try the same search terms there, you’ll get something like this:

Would you just look at those page counts — 900! 902! Now that’s additional information.