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I've spoken before of the benefits of blogging for SEO purposes, so with every man and his dog now writing blogposts and publishing articles on this here internet thing, where is the ideal place to do your research?
Well I'm old enough to remember the days when libraries and bookshops were the home to any type of research that needed doing (though when I say research I must admit I've always had a particular leaning to making it up on the spot). Whether it was the school library, the public library, or the local branch of WH Smiths, notebooks were opened, pencils sharpened, and books (remember them?) were pulled from the shelves. Whereupon said book was swiftly pillaged for the tasty nuggets of information within.
Of course, the WH Smiths option would require a photographic memory, as bookshops tend to draw the line at grubby school kids defacing their merchandise with bright green highlighters.
But I digress. Nowadays, the internet has opened up the world of research on an unprecedented scale, by placing information on offer 24 hours a day, 365.2425 days of the year. And you don't even have to leave the comfort of your own home. One particular website presently holds the encyclopaedic crown. The first stop for online research; the font of all knowledge; the site that ranks number one in Google rankings for nearly every single search term – Wikipedia.
Linkwise they are up there with the daddies of the internet, sporting a ridiculously high number of backlinks, and pushing them to the top of the rankings for all these search terms. But there are various ongoing debates regarding how much of what you may read on Wikipedia is actually true. This is because it's user-generated, and therefore any chancer with access to a computer, a Wikipedia account, and half a mind for a bit of mischief can contribute their "expertise".
It's also been reported that Wikipedia has been infiltrated by various government agencies worldwide, and therefore only succeeds in towing the particular party line, or serving as a base from which to bleed a more sinister and clandestine message into the public consciousness. Brainwashing by osmosis, you might say.
But putting aside such paranoia, what other resources are out there? Well I chose three particular terms to test the sites out on, these being:
And with the benchmark set by Wikipedia, I set out to try these queries in the other top encyclopaedic-style websites.
Before the days of Wikipedia's rule there was something called Encarta. This harks back to those heady days of dial-up connections and terrifyingly slow maximum download speeds of 56kbps (Yeah, right).
Encarta is owned by MSN and unfortunately, much like the search engine from which it harks, hasn't particularly aged well. It sports the strapline: "MSN Encarta is the online home of the internationally acclaimed multimedia encyclopedia with content you can trust." Is that last bit a sly dig at Wikipedia?
The interface offers a mish-mash of different results, pulled from Encarta's articles and multimedia sections, as well as search results from Windows Live Search. It is with the article results that we're concerned.
The fact they have a subscription service for premium content perhaps weighs on the results offered by the free service. Wikipedia, after all, is completely free.
The world famous encyclopaedia's website. It is worth noting that Britannica run a subscription-based service, and so the free stuff is only concise versions of the paid for content. They do offer a free trial for the subscription service, but this requires credit card registration and you have to cancel within a certain period of time, otherwise they charge.
Seeing as I wasn't willing to register a credit card, nor pay for this service – it is free research resources I'm after – I can't really comment on the actual information, suffice to say that the free stuff is certainly no Wikipedia beater.
Encyclopedia.com offers both their standard results which are pulled from the sixth edition of the Columbia Encyclopedia, and HighBeam Research, a digital archive currently in Beta, that claims to source from 35 million documents, including newspaper, magazine, television and radio transcripts, and video. Obviously I went for the latter, as it should promise to return the most relevant results.
A good site, maybe a little cluttered, but offering a similar sort of user-experience to Google Universal search. Still not up to the standard of Wikipedia though.
Like Wikipedia, Squidoo is also a resource full of user-generated content. As the What's Squidoo? page states: "Squidoo is a hand-built collection of half a million pages built by people just like you." It is free to use, and free to create a page (called a lens). The pages can be a mash-up of text, images, video etc. with links out to various resources.
The most attractive of these other sites, and one worth bearing in mind. The only problems being, as in the case of Wikipedia, is the fact that it is user-generated and therefore open to abuse and misinformation. There also seems to be an over-use of Amazon.com affiliate linking.
So there you have it. Maybe my searches were too specific to expect a decent return, but all I can say is that I didn't have any trouble with Wikipedia, which came up with lengthy and informative dissertations in each case. They also offered plenty of links to external sources. Whether I was being duped by the content is another matter.
So at the risk of sounding like an advertisement for Jimmy Wales's brainchild, I have to say that Wikipedia is still the best option as a resource for online research. But it isn't the only one.
There are blogs out there covering the complete spectrum of topics. A search in Google Blog Search for your specific terms should return something. Failing that, there's Google itself which will return pages of results of websites dedicated to whatever you are researching. There's Yahoo! Answers, where you can pose a question and the good people of the worldwide web will strive to answer it for you. Once again, you have to be wary of misinformation. And then there's the mighty Twitter. Where you can throw a question out into the arena (as long as it's 140 characters or less) and wait for answers from your assembled friends to come flooding back, sometimes with a greater success rate than others.
So there you have it. Just a few suggestions for the research facilities that are out there. It's up to you to make the choice for which suits your particular needs. I've barely scratched the surface here.
Feel free to add your own favourites, or other gems I've missed, in the comments below. I enkyo!