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 many Nobel Prize winners are alive today? And what did they win their prizes for?
Comptons: Bingo! Search produced set of tables listing winners by category, year of award, nationality, life dates, and reason for award.
Microsoft: It's in here, but painful to get at. Search produced a set of tables, listing winners by category, year of award, and nationality. But finding the reason for the awards, and the current situation of the award winner required individual searches, by name.
Groliers: Some of it's in here, but a lot of work to construct the answer. Search produced an index of 59 award winners, but each had to be individually accessed to try to learn the desired information.
- What is the "sound barrier," when was it broken, and why was it such a big deal?
Groliers: Bingo! Multi-level search produced explanation of sound barrier, and mention of Chuck Yeager's historical event. No photos or videos of the Bell X-1, but nice photo and video of the X-15.
Comptons: Partial answer. Idea search yielded answer that Chuck Yeager broke the barrier in 1947. No photos or videos.
Microsoft: Strike-out. Best effort by our reviewers was to find an explanation of the speed of sound. Nothing on the sound barrier, nor Chuck Yeager's efforts.
- When and where did Martin Luther King give his "I have a Dream" speech, why did he give it, and what was the complete text of the speech?
Groliers: Strong partial answer. Search produced article, 30 second audio track of speech, and 70 second video clip of the August 23, 1963 civil rights march. Full text of speech, however, was not provided.
Comptons: Partial answer. Search produced 28 second audio track from speech, plus three still photos. Sound track was more clear than Comptons.
Microsoft: Partial answer. Search produced article, still photo, and 18 second audio track from speech.
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, rather than superior design. Here are several key differences you may want to consider.
Groliers: Groliers has the most powerful search engine, offering the capability of doing full-text searches using Boolean logic. In other words, it will look through the full text of every article for any word or combination of words the user suggests. The user can combine words using "and," "or," and "not" constructions, just as in many powerful database search engines.
Comptons: Comptons has a very clear user interface. One nice feature is the ability for the user to search for specific media forms, like photos or videos, on any query.
Microsoft: Microsoft has a very clean layout, driven by pull-down menus.
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