First Monday

First Monday Reviews

Searching for Information on the Internet: new books and software
The information-rich Internet, reality or oxymoron? With millions of bytes available on networked servers around the world, sometimes the hardest trick is finding the right answer, quickly. It helps to have the right software at hand and to know how to use it. Many are finding their colleagues, the original intelligent agents, as the best means to cut through digital graphics and net static. In this column, we look at recent books and software that will help you find facts, rather than factoids, and data, rather than disaster, on the Internet. Nothing will yet transform your digital treasures into knowledge, but we're sure someone somewhere is working on it. - ejv

John Brockman
Digerati: Encounters with the Cyber Elite
San Francisco: HardWired, 1996.
354 p., cloth. ISBN 1-888-86904-6
Price $US24.95

Based on thirty-three videotaped discussions and electronic correspondence, this book gives you a sense of the thinking behind some of the digital age's most well known personalities, from Clifford Stoll to Howard Rheingold to John Perry Barlow. Some of it is profound, some trivial and whining, but these deities, after all, are only human. Each interview, if it can be called that, allows each and every Electronic Deity to speak at length, and ad nauseam, on some topic close to their consciousness. In some cases, the spiel is familiar and tired (especially if you've followed their writings or heard their oratory), but many are fascinating and fresh. Each interview ends with comments by other Electronic Deities on the Deity who just happened to speak. This part of the book is grossly uncoordinated, since the comments rarely have anything to do with the previous message; more often, they are praise by one member of the Pantheon for another (yes, boring). What will this book tell you about the Internet? The kinds of things you already know, a lot of commonsense. On the other hand, with a little thought on your part, there are a few gems in this book that make it well worth reading. For those who need further interaction with these deities, you can visit the Digerati Web site, and take part in discussions at the Virtual Round Table. Some day, you hope that they will listen to their own advice. - ejv

Individual Software, Inc.
Learn Internet Explorer Quick & Easy
Pleasanton, Calif.: Individual Software, Inc., 1996
ISBN 0-918617-53-7
Price $US20

illustration of CD-ROMFollowing the same format and content as Quick & Easy's Learn Netscape Navigator, this CD-ROM provides a tutorial on Microsoft's Internet Explorer, version 3.0. In eight lessons, it succinctly explains what the Internet is, what is needed to connect, and how to use the various features of Internet Explorer to access the World Wide Web, electronic mail, newsgroups, Internet search engines, Gophers and FTP sites. In a Web Extras section users learn about forms, frames, Java, Real Audio, and the differences between secure and non-secure web pages.

Users can easily progress at their own rate through the lessons by clicking on tutorial controls that allow pauses, provide a list of topics, a main menu, and help. A review of each section follows each lesson. The simulations require users to point, click, or type commands just as they would if they were actually connected to the Internet. Red boxes and arrows direct them through each step.

In general this is a well-done presentation of the features of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. It does, however, contain misinformation about gophers, alleging incorrectly that "You generally can't use a gopher site to link to another gopher site." Apart from this flaw the information appears current and accurate. It provides a good introduction to Internet Explorer and to the Internet.- James Hodson, University of Illinois at Chicago

Peggy Johnson and Lee English
Searchable Internet Bibliography: an On-Disk Annotated Guide to Timely Materials about Internet
Chicago: American Library Association (ALA), 1996.
ISBN 0-8389-2189-2
Price $US35.

cover of bookIn the first of a new series of searchable ALA bibliographies, the authors have collected about 1400 references to books, journals, videos, articles, chapters, and online resources about the Internet. Targeting all levels of Internet users, they have compiled a briefly annotated list of guides, how-to manuals, and directories about the Internet. Particular Internet subject guides are excluded.

Using Folio Views' powerful search engine, users can search by keyword, phrase, or by the usual Boolean combinations. Users may browse the entire list, search for an author, or pinpoint references matching keywords. Word stems and wildcards may also be used to search. Detailed online help is available.

This is a highly usable bibliography of Internet resources. It's chief drawback is somehow inevitable for any Internet bibliography, especially one that is not online, and not constantly updated. There were no entries for 1996, so it is inevitably out of date as of this writing. It does provide thorough coverage for sources before 1996, so it works as a good retrospective bibliography. In this age of instantaneous updating and ever mushrooming Internet resources, the bibliography as a genre may itself fall victim to technology, except in its online form, or for retrospective purposes. - James Hodson, University of Illinois at Chicago

Peter McBride
The Internet for Windows 95 Clear & Simple
Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1996.
149 p., paper. ISBN 0-471-16352-X
Price $US10.95

For those starting out the Internet, finding something - anything - can be a real adventure. Lots of Internet books claim to tell you everything, but suppose you just want a little to get started? This book, with easy-to-read text and plenty of illustrations, tables, and screen shots, gives you just the right amount of information to get you on your way. In ten chapters, this book starts off with a gratefully small introduction to the Internet, followed by basic outlines of Internet services and telecommunications. It then describes a couple of ways to connect to the Internet, CompuServe and WinNET, followed by basic descriptions of Internet tools, from Archie to Gopher to Netscape. Appendices give you information on service providers, FTP sites, and Archie and Gopher servers. Overall, for anyone using Windows and needing a straightforward guide, this little book does the job quite nicely. - ejv

Damon D. Ridley
Online Searching: A Scientist's Perspective
New York: Wiley, 1996.
344 p., paper. ISBN 0-471-96521-9
Price $US39.95

Some of the most complex information on the Internet is buried in scientific databases, designed for chemists, biologists, and medical personnel. Is there any way for a mere mortal to work through BIOSIS, Chemical Abstracts, and MEDLINE, and survive? This book gives you plenty of examples and hints on how to pull meaningful data from the world's most sophisticated databases. In two major parts with three appendices, the author explains the importance of keywords in searching bibliographic and full-text databases as well as hunting for patents. The second part of the book emphasizes techniques needed to find information on specific substances. Finding thiazole but not isothiazole? The answer to your dilemma is in this book. Search examples and illustrations make this book invaluable. Well organized and bursting with useful suggestions and advice, this book should be a desktop companion for anyone doing research in chemistry and related fields on the Internet. I look forward to future guides like this that will remove some of the trouble from searches for data in other disciplines.- ejv


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