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The different sections of the web

The Surface Web

Most of us use the surface level of the web, the so-called Surface Web (aka Visible/Public/Open Web) on a daily basis. The Surface Web is basically anything that can be found using a search engine like Yahoo, Bing, or Google.

How does Google work?

To find out, watch this 5 min video.

Source: Google

The Deep Web

Source: Pere [Adapted]. Published under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license. 

Under the easily accessible Surface Web, there are millions and millions of files full of financial data, photos and other material that's not freely accessible. This layer comprises the vast majority of the total web and is called 'Deep Web'.

The Deep Web is comprised of content that can't be indexed by search engines - you can’t google it or find it with any other search engine. 

Basically, Deep Web content is found anytime when you do a search directly in a website or when you log into your account on a website. Google's web crawlers can’t trace the pages behind these website search boxes.

Examples of Deep Web content: 

  • password-protected bank sites;
  • content that requires payment (such as a digital newspaper);
  • content that requires registration to get access;
  • private data (cloud storage, email-accounts);
  • learning environments (like Canvas);
  • blocked sites (like those that ask you to answer a CAPTCHA to access);
  • private networks (intranets) used by companies, governments, schools and universities, that are secured so that their access is restricted to authorized individuals; 
  • subscription-only (scholarly) information available through a university library.

This means that nearly all of the information that university libraries offer belongs to the Deep Web. Only those who study or work at a well-funded university can access this information. As a result, a large portion of the research literature isn't available to potential users (e.g. students and researchers from universities located in lower income countries).

The Dark Web

And then there's the Dark Web. This is the most hidden part of the web that is inaccessible through regular web browsers. It is most known for criminal activity (e.g., identity theft, credit card scams, and worse).

Open Access

Source: Gideon Burton. Published under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Open access is a broad, international academic movement aiming at free online access to scholarly information. The open access publishing model differs from the traditional subscription model in which readers have access to scholarly information by paying a subscription (usually via libraries). When content is available open access, the icon  is often displayed - but not always!

Academics can make their articles open access by:

  • depositing their article (as accepted for publication by a journal) into an institutional repository, making it freely accessible for everyone. An institutional repository is a digital archive for publications written by academics employed by a university. This type of OA is often referred to as 'self-archiving'. 

  • making the final publisher version of an article freely and permanently accessible for everyone, immediately after publication. This type of open access articles are published in open-access journals, which charge a fee from authors to cover the publishing costs -- as opposed to traditional subscription-based journals. In addition, there are hybrid open-access journals in which some of the articles are open access.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License by Tilburg University Library.