A recent addition to the Information Please LLC line of products, the Infoplease web site is a powerful combination of several ready-reference tools including the familiar "Information Please Almanac," the "Information Please/ESPN Sports Almanac," the "Information Please/A&E Entertainment Almanac," the Columbia Encyclopedia and the Information Please Dictionary (currently described as the Random House Webster's College Dictionary on the site). Unlike other commercial sites offering abridged versions of their products, the Infoplease site offers the full text of its 1998 products which is supplemented by information to be published in the 1999 almanac. Like other commercial sites, there is advertising (a relatively small amount).
Site contents are organized into general subjects which are further sub-divided to reflect the categories currently in the namesake Almanac. These topics may be browsed or searched using an engine which first displays pages containing the search phrase, then pages containing the search terms. Users may search "all sources" or qualify by Almanac, Entertainment, Sports, Dictionary or Encyclopedia. The promised search refinements and a detailed explanation of indexing methods will be welcome additions. Also useful would be an explanation describing the tools that make up the site (which is not clear), their scope and coverage and where they overlap (for example, is it possible to browse the contents of the "Encyclopedia" or "Dictionary" only?).
Interesting features of this site include: the "Daily Almanac" (information on birthdays, a word quiz and link of the day), "Ask the Editors" (for those "Stumpers"), "Spotlight" and "Features" (hot-linked articles which tie recent events or topics of interest to information currently available through the site).
Clearly minor technical and organizational glitches need to be addressed at the site (in the "Family Trends" category, there are two subheadings "Marital Status" with different text and no clear reason why, and in the feature "Cosmic Dust and Snotties: Recent Discoveries," "Slimy Cave Critters" and the "Ancient Innards" link both displayed the Cave Critters). However, one of the outstanding features of this web site is accessibility to the editors through several different points which request information and suggestions as to how to improve the fledgling site. Users can link directly to the site using a free "Factfinder" which may be downloaded from the site (requires Windows 95/NT and Internet Explorer 4), by linking to the site using a Infoplease graphic (provided) or by inserting a search box directly onto a web page (several different search boxes and the necessary code are supplied).
The site is suitable for a general audience for answering questions that require fast facts, definitions and general information on topics. It is well organized, easy to navigate and the ability to locate this information through a search engine is extremely useful. Improvements might include those suggested above and a clear indication of how often the site is updated. Overall, a very useful reference product.
Coordinator of Electronic Resources
The Sage Colleges