The two most important factors in determining an encyclopedia's value are its content, and the ease with which users can find the content they are looking for.
Content. We asked our kids reviewers to give us three examples of recent problems where they could have turned to an encyclopedia for help, producing these test searches:
- How does a common battery work?
Compton's: Got it. Answer was found in the first article identified in our search.
Encarta: Got it - with some hunting. Best answer was found by going to a web link identified by Encarta.
Grolier: Got it - but answer was somewhat difficult to understand, and incomplete.
World Book: Got it. Relatively simple answer was found in the first article identified in search.
Ask JeevesYikes! First several answers focused on the word "work" in our question, producing information on jobs in Alabama... But answer number six, from Infoseek, provided a nice, but technical, explanation.
- What is the Dow Jones Average, and what companies are included?
Compton's: Partial answer. Correctly defined this stock market index, but we were unable to find any indication of the companies included in the average.
Encarta: Got it - but had to go to a web link (to the Dow Jones site) to get the recently changed list of companies in the average.
Grolier: Got it - but list of companies was not updated, and no web links.
World Book: Partial. Correctly defined this stock market index, but we were unable to find any indication of the companies included in the average.
Ask Jeeves Got it - quick and easy. One answer for what it is and how it's calculated; another for the current companies in the average.
- What is the deepest spot in the ocean, and who was the first to visit it?
Compton's: Got it - but it wasn't easy. Eventually found the answer buried in the long article, entitled "Ocean."
Encarta: Got it. Best answer, included a first person account of the actual descent, by Jacques Piccard.
Grolier: Got it - but it took extensive hunting.
World Book: Got it - but it took some hunting.
Ask Jeeves Partial. Not the top answer, but Infoseek correctly identified the Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench, as the spot. Additional searching led to complete answer.
Ease of Use. SuperKids asked our kids reviewers to give these titles a test run. Their conclusion: all are reasonably easy to use, and selection of a favorite was a matter of personal preference and grade level, as much as actual design. Here are several key differences you may want to consider.
Compton's: Allows Boolean (AND, OR, NOT, ADJACENT) searches of the full text of all articles, and by media type. Search results are categorized by source and media type. "Floating" pop-up search and definition windows may be distracting to some users. "Back" button incorporates drop-down history list, no separate forward button. Downloadable updates did not appear to be integrated into search results.
Encarta: Search by Natural Language query, article topic or keyword, using Boolean search parameters across all or specific media types. Also includes a wizard for less experienced users. Integrated, fast dictionary. Clear, intuitive navigation, easiest initial connection to Internet. Downloadable updates integrated into search results.
Grolier: Allows title browsing and simple Boolean search combinations (AND, OR, NOT) of full-text of all articles, and by media type. Media and text must be sequentially viewed. "Back" button is unusually placed at the bottom of the window; no forward or history buttons makes for sometimes frustrating navigation. Some users reported poor on-screen legibility of some fonts. Complex update process.
World Book: Allows title browsing and simple Boolean search combinations (AND, OR, NOT), and by media type. Media and text must be sequentially viewed. Clear navigation. Downloadable updates not integrated into search results.
Ask Jeeves With an experienced web searcher, finding the answers to our test questions was pretty quick work. But finding the real answers isn't always obvious, and the danger of running into inaccurate or misleading sites (and pornography) is real. The CD encyclopedia are still easier to use for a novice.
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