With more than two million existing sites and thousands of new ones added daily, the World Wide Web can be a very confusing place. It's almost like trying to find a library book without the help of the Dewey Decimal System. Fortunately, there is help out there. Search sites make order out of this chaos, acting almost like electronic card catalogs to help you find the information that you need.

There are four types of search sites: directories, robotic search engines, meta search sites, and gateway sites. Here's a look at each.

Directories are cataloged by a team of human editors. The oldest and most popular directory on the Web is Yahoo (www. yahoo.com).

Pros: Directories are great for broad topics. For example, a search for CVBs will yield a neatly cataloged, alphabetized list of 284 convention and visitors bureaus that have Web sites.

Cons: A directory site does not work as well for narrow, targeted searches.

How to use: One of the best ways to use a directory is to "drill down," starting with the opening page menu, which lists many broad topics, and then narrow the search through successive screens. For example, to find "Convention and Visitors Bureaus," you would begin with an opening screen that has a category called "Travel." Clicking on this will lead to a listing of "Convention and Visitors Bureaus" on the next page. Then you can narrow the search to bureaus in "U.S. Cities," until finally you have an extensive, alphabetical list of U.S. CVBs.

Robotic search engines automatically search and catalog Web sites by using special indexing software programs. These programs sort many components of a site, including key words, introductory paragraphs, hidden codes, graphics, and more. The major ones index vastly more Web pages than Yahoo does. Perhaps two of the best among the scores of robotic search engines are HotBot (www.hotbot.com) and AltaVista (www.altavista.com).

Pros: These sites are good for narrow, targeted searches. If you are looking for Web information regarding a specific person, these are the sites to use. For example, typing in "Anna Lee Chabot" (the current president of Meeting Professionals International) yields more than a dozen references in HotBot or AltaVista. It's also possible to target searches by date, title, domain, or by doing Boolean searches (also called comparison searches), which allow you to search on the basis of the relationships between search words using the qualifiers and, or, and not.

Cons: Robotic search engines often yield a huge number of responses in a seemingly random manner. For example, searching AltaVista for "meeting planning" with no filtering will produce more than 800,000 responses, including every Web site that has the words "meeting" or "planning" in its description.

How to use: Go to these sites, click on the "help" or "advanced search" buttons, and learn how to use the advanced search options specific to each site. HotBot is especially user-friendly in helping to narrow down a search.

Meta search sites scan all the popular search sites, typically checking eight or more simultaneously, then collating the results. Meta-Crawler (www.metacrawler.com) is great for quick, basic searches; ProFusion (www.designlab.ukans.edu/pro fusion) provides more customizing features.

Pros:These easy-to-use searches offer a fast look at what is available from many of the best search sites.

Cons:They do not have extensive filtering and search options (like robotic sites), so searches cannot be narrowed to the same degree.

How to use: These sites are best for searches that are neither broad nor narrow, such as finding information on "Seattle hotels." They also can provide a quick over-view of what is out there on the Net.

Gateway sites, called "gateways" because of their multiple links to other related sites, are the best option for gathering industry-specific information. Those for the meeting and hospitality industries include the Meeting Industry Mall (www.mim.com); MeetingsNet (www. meetingsnet.com); and Meeting Professionals International's site (www.mpiweb. org). All offer numerous links to other sites that are useful for planning meetings.

Pros: These sites, created by people who know the industry, yield high-quality, industry-specific information.

Cons:None, except for limitations in individual site design.

How to use: Explore these sites, and check out their many links to other related sites. Start "bookmarking" useful sites, so you can return to them in the future.*

Corbin Ball, CMP, is an international meeting planner and a technology trainer, speaker, and consultant. He serves on advisory boards for ITT Sheraton and Sonesta Hotels & Resorts. He can be contacted at corbinb@earthlink.com.