Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Better Than Wikipedia?

Are you a lover or a hater of Wikipedia? Do you turn to it first thing, or do you distrust it with a passion? How many topics listed there show up in the top ten results when you do a Google search? Wikipedia sure is popular, even though debate continues on whether it can be considered reliable and authoritative.

How about an alternative?

How about Encyclopedia.com? They do have a short "About Us" page, but just look at their homepage to see what kinds of credible sources they have. There are general encyclopedias, biographies, medical sources, dictionaries...over 100 sources. And the best part? It's all free!

There are some ads and sponsored sites from Google, but navigation is pretty easy. You might also get some Flickr pictures or YouTube videos. Under the encyclopedia results you'll find magazine and newspaper articles (but keep reading to see how to access these).

Depending on the topic you might only get a paragraph of information, but Wikipedia articles aren't usually very long either. Also, Wikipedia doesn't do keyword searching. It only brings back a match if someone has written an article specifically on your search terms. Encyclopedia.com does do keyword searching, so even if there isn't an article just on your topic, it'll bring back related articles.

Encyclopedia.com is run by Cengage Learning, a publishing company that puts out the sources used in the website. Cengage has partnered with HighBeam Research to give you access to the magazine and newspaper articles. (You may have come across HighBeam if you've ever tried looking for a magazine article through a Google search.) HighBeam offers a free 7-day trial to read its articles*.

Try a few searches in both Encyclopedia.com and Wikipedia. Which one seems to have more comprehensive articles? Which one is easier to use? Which one do you trust to be true? (Since "anyone" can edit Wikipedia at any time, there's no guarantee what you see today will be there tomorrow.) Encyclopedia.com may not have the scope of Wikipedia, but give it a chance the next time you're looking for some basic information.

*Or you could, you know, go to your local library. Chances are your librarian can find you that article or a similar one for free. And he or she can also show you how to find more while searching from home in the middle of the night in your pajamas.

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