Online Databases

Most people who use the Internet are quite proficient at using online databases with- out even realizing it. Have you ever used a search engine? Ordered a book online? Booked airline reservations? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you have used an online database. Any time you use a search button or box to enter search terms, you are interacting with a database. Your requested terms are compared with those in the database, and any similarities are displayed to you as hits. Whenever you enter personal information, such as setting up an account or entering your credit card information, you are inputting data into another database. Companies compile customers’ information in databases for their use and for your use. They can keep track of customer profiles, and you can save your preferences so that the site will remember you the next time you visit. For example, if you want to enter your mail- ing address only once, you can ask the database to display the mailing address automatically when you log in to purchase an item.

More complex websites are even built on a database structure, although they appear as though they are simple web pages to the lay user. These websites use template pages with database fields tagged into the page. When the page is accessed, those field tags query the database automatically for information saved in that field.

Databases are a key to organizing and making sense of the vast amount of information available online. Although the lay user does not need to understand the intricate workings of the database itself, he or she should be aware that once information is entered online, it is saved and can be potentially used in a whole variety of ways. Users may want to consult a website’s information use policies to be sure they are comfortable with how their personal information will be shared with other entities.