HOT TOPIC: Reference Tools
Volume 3, Issue 18 - January 21, 2007
"Over the last ten-plus years there have been a variety of online research applications that have utilized Web technology to provide effective online reference tools. In some instances the technology itself was the story, such as Visual Thesaurus <http://www.visualthesaurus.com/>, wherein users enter a term to find related meanings in a dynamic, JAVA-based, interactive semantic map. The Newseuem <http://www.newseum.org/> has had a longstanding reputation for delivering thoughtful examination of news services and the content they deliver, promoting critical thinking and historical perspective. Then again, the New York Times Learning Network <http://www.nytimes.com/learning/> brings reason and order to information overkill by helping users pinpoint useful data by making students and teachers power users of information.
In addition to the quality reference resources we know online today, there have been many quality sites from the past. In its heyday Needle in a Cyberstack <http://home.mchsi.com/~albeej/> was a leading reference tool by design, offering a comprehensive collection of the best infotools online. Webmaster John Albee worked tirelessly to compile and organize online reference materials in ways that made sense for students, teachers and researchers. Symbols.com has developed a searchable collection of more than 2,500 signs and symbols over time that is fully searchable by word or graphic design. And Serge Rosmorduc’s Nom en hieroglyphs <http://webperso.iut.univ-paris8.fr/~rosmord/nomhiero.html> allowed students to enter a term in French or English and see it written in hieroglyphics. Many of these sites have retained their relevance over time, others have become relics on the quickly-changing virtual landscape.
The key for a quality online reference tool is to keep up with changing technologies and the ever-changing wealth of content that grows online. As a living, organic system, the Internet is never the same entity two days in a row. Having the will and resources to sustain an excellent online directory over the long haul is not a challenge for the faint of heart. This week I offer you more than a dozen of today’s best online reference tools."