Bahai News - Researcher'S Paradise
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Publication date: 2000-08-27
* A host of encyclopedias -- both free and for a fee -- are only
a few keystrokes away on the Web.
It's time to do a term paper or even an essay. Maybe you need an
idea. Maybe you need to check a date, or how a name is spelled, or
verify information. Maybe one item is not worth fighting traffic to
get to the library.
If you have access to the Internet, you have access to a
researcher's paradise. Scores of sites -- some that mirror the most
popular and reliable encyclopedias -- are free and easy to use. Some
sites charge subscription fees, but offer advantages over the free
For high school students, freshman college students and even
people who write a lot of information at computer terminals, the
resources on the Web are vast and don't require a CD-ROM to work
Incidentally, three notes:
First: My primary focus for inclusion in this list was
reliability. I found about 1,100 online encyclopedias of differernt
sorts on the Web. Some were a waste of Web space. Those listed here
are the ones I consider the most reliable, accurate and, especially,
accountable. By accountability, that means they have a reputation to
uphold if they want to stay in business.
Second: None of the sites listed below even faintly approaches the
vast amount of material on the Missouri Research and Education
Network (MOREnet). The agency provides a package that includes
Grolier Online, Encyclopedia Americana and several databases that
search publications, records and other research materials. Alas, the
connection is only available from universities, schools and public
libraries. Check with any public library or your school to get access
Third: Modem speed is a consideration on these sites. If you're on
a high-speed connection, you're fine. But on my 56K at home, I had no
trouble most of the time even though I never got faster than 44kps.
And on my T1 in the office, I actually didn't see a big difference in
navigating the encyclopedia sites.
I've actually used the Encarta and Britannica sites on a 28.8
modem on my secondary computer at home and didn't see a problem.
Fourth: I checked the sites with two entries: James P. Beckwourth,
the black adventurer, former slave and expatriate Crow Indian who
blazed the Beckwourth Pass through the Rocky Mountains, and the
Baha'i' Faith, a religion that believes in the unity of humankind
through one God.
Beckwourth has such an amusing -- often exaggerated -- history
that I gauge reference books by how objectively they approach him --
or even even if they get his last name spelled right.
The Baha'i' Faith, a religion that believes in the unity of
humankind through one god, is another source of differing
definitions, although only one is accurate. For instance, one
encyclopedia -- not listed here -- called it an "Islamic sect." Yuck!
InternetOracle.com for encyclopedias
home page: http://www.InternetOracle.com/
This is heaven on Earth for Internet research junkies. The site is
actually a list of research search engines; many of them are
connected to encyclopedias, dictionaries and services that specialize
in science, history, English, philosophy and most other topics. Punch
in the URL and up pops a page "Encyclopedias Search Engines." The
list has 18 entries, including an atlas, the standard Britannica.com,
Columbia Encyclopedia, Encyclopedia.com, Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia
and Microsoft Encarta. The list also includes other search engines
such as the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Jewish Source, Encyclopaedia
of the Orient, Information Please and others.
Beside the buttons linked to the encyclopedias are search windows,
so users don't have to switch to a new Web site to get an answer to a
To the left of the list of search engines is a stack of more
search engines grouped by subject and genre. One title, Reference and
Research, opens a list of more search engines for biographies,
libraries, dic tionaries, glossaries and acronyms, homework helpers,
maps and a bunch more.
The main list has search engines for film, games, MP3, women's
issues, gay and lesbian issues, Macintosh sites, health issues,
engines to help find people and companies, and a whole lot more. Each
button leads to other groups of buttons. I never found the bottom.
The only downside: this free service comes with a lot of
advertising in the form of banner ads at the top that might flash,
move or otherwise annoy. At the bottom of pages there are buttons to
things that look interesting, but turn out to be more fee-based
services, such as getting your credit report if you sign up for a
service. But this great service has to pay for itself, so the "free
money" ads are tolerable.
World Book Encyclopedia Online
World Book is the last holdout among the big guns of encyclopedias
when it comes to charging fees to peruse its information. Is $10 a
month or $50 a year worth it? Read on.
Frankly, I liked its articles more than those I found in
Britannica.com. But what's best is the scholarship. At the bottom of
each article are the names of the authors, and -- get this -- a model
of the citation that a student would use in a bibliography or Works
Cited page in a research paper.
It also includes a special help button to show different forms of
citations for different formats. I was able to use the cut-and-paste
function from my computer to move a citation to a word-processing
page, and, with few adjustments, there it was: author, title, book
reference, URL, publisher, date -- the works, as if I'd done it
myself. (A moment of silence for college instructors trying to teach
documentation of research papers.)
This site was the easiest to use, and the most responsive and
accurately researched encyclopedia that I found. It has an atlas,
current-events articles and an entertaining addition called "Back in
Time" that paints a cultural picture of time periods.
Because it is a fee-based service, no ads clutter the viewing
screen. It's all business. But while articles are scholarly, they
aren't very advanced.
This is an excellent site. So it's worth the 30-day free trial to
decide for yourself. What's refreshingly ethical is that the free
trial doesn't ask for a credit-card number. So if you forget to say
no, it will expire and turn you off rather than start billing your
This site has always been a favorite, but it choked while charging
fees. Now it's free but pays for itself with advertising. With
multimedia presentations that rival public television, its offerings
are as good as the hardback with the addition of links.
The site turned off some visitors when it went free earlier this
year because the traffic clogged its servers. But the traffic has
subsided and it's among the easiest to navigate and use. It even has
a place to get free e-mail.
Incidentally, there is another site, Encyclopaedia Britanica
Online at http://www.eb.com, which is $5 a month for a subscriber's
fee and is a lot less cluttered. Plus, there's a free trial.
The site not only provides research into its libraries, it
presents features that make the site a virtual museum online.
Sometimes it's difficult to stick to business. More than once I was
pulled to the side to look at something I didn't need.
Upon entering a search term, the site pulls up several categories.
One is a list of Web sites (that may or may not be on the topic), the
next is the Britannica entry on the search term, next is a list of
magazine articles on the term and, finally, a list of related
products, primarily books on sale from Barnes & Noble.
As for credibility, the Britannica articles are the same as those
in the world-renowned, hard-cover books. The James Beckwourth article
I got from the Web was identical to the one in my encyclopedias at
Incidentally, I was unable to find Macropaedia entries. Those are
the book-length examinations of knowledge that come with the hardback
set of Britannicas.
But the yearbooks seem available through the current-events
buttons throughout the site.
Funk and Wagnalls once was a popular encyclopedia, until it got
squeezed by the kid-friendly World Book and Compton's, and
overwhelmed by the scholar-friendly Britannica and Americana.
But rather than giving up, it attacked the Web with a vengeance.
Now, you can research the encyclopedia on the Web, and sign up for a
mailing list that is quite engaging.
The site is magnetic. The opening screen has entries titled
Current Event in Focus and Moments in History that are pretty good
reading, with one article forcing me to miss a popular sitcom on
television. Poor me.
It's academically friendly, providing help for scholarly work. Its
term-paper tools include lessons on how to write a term paper step by
step, how to work up a research strategy, how to develop a thesis,
note taking, outlining, grammar and style tips, illustrations and
even a list of term-paper topics.
The site also includes buttons for a dictionary, thesaurus, world
atlas, animal encyclopedia and media gallery.
Psst! Quiet as it's kept, Funk and Wagnalls is the foundation --
as in grandfather -- of Microsoft Encarta. That's where the software
company got the first materials for its encyclopedia.
While this has a shallow encyclopedia that's name-heavy but
subject-light, it's actually an almanac. But it's a good almanac. I
found an online list of U.S. Supreme Court justices that I wish I'd
had back in college, plus records and links for the U.S. Census
Bureau and pretty much all the information you'd find in an almanac.
Compton's Online Encyclopedia
This is on the list because of its name. Otherwise, it's either a
shallow site that's good for browsing and doesn't search topics well,
or it's so difficult to figure out that I missed how it works. I
couldn't find James Beckwourth. It's intriguing that it's not even as
good as its CD-ROM version on store shelves. The Web site shouldn't
reflect on the CD-ROM version which is a great product for children
and produced by the highly respected The Learning Company, a division
of Mattel Interactive.
This is a place to go for some information, but it's shallow. I
knew it was not going to be terribly wonderful when I saw the most
prominent button was a link to Encarta. It didn't list James P.
Beckwourth. If you're just browsing, it's not so bad. Type in a
search term in the window and it will give a lot of choices that
often have nothing to do with what you asked. But the articles,
though elementary, are easy reading and might be a good place to look
for term-paper ideas.
Go elsewhere. The site is designed to work with the Encarta
software. The search engine couldn't find James Beckwourth. But the
insult to injury was that it recommended that I try James Backcourt.
Eventually, I forced it to look again and it came up with Saint James
from the Bible. And while Beckwourth is one of my heroes, he was
Not quite an encyclopedia, but ...
Library of Congress Internet Resources Pages
This is an Internet researcher's playground. The Library of
Congress has reading rooms dedicated to topics. The Electronic
Resources page on its Web site has hundreds of Web links categorized
by those topics. Each area is not handled equally. Some have
information that help to find information in books. Others have Web
sites and home pages for the topic. And the site isn't snobbish. Home
pages range from Back Street Boys to Beethoven. The Library of
Congress home page is http://www.loc.gov/library/ and it's fun to
look over before you go on.
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Page last updated/revised 091800
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