SuperKids' review teams looked at three traditional CD Encyclopedia packages, plus an all-in-one-CD reference library, and a new encyclopedia for younger children for this ratings comparison. We also took a quick look at two alternatives to CD encyclopedia: the traditional paper model, and the World Wide Web.
To evaluate the softwares' content and ease of use, we asked our kids reviewers to suggest a list of four questions they might go to the encyclopedia for, for answers. Their list:
Take a look at the ratings table below, click on the titles of the software you are interested in to see a complete review, or click on "PC" or "Mac" in the Buyers Guide column to see current market prices in our Buyers Guide.
Finally, don't forget to look below the table to see the results of our encyclopedia test.
Finally, don't forget to look below the table to see the results of our encyclopedia test.
|Ease of Use||Buyers Guide
|Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia 1997||Compton's
|* * * * *||* * * *||* * * *||PC
|Grolier's Multimedia Encyclopedia 1997||Grolier Interactive||* * * * *||* * * *||* * * *||PC
|Encarta 97||Microsoft||* * * *||* * *||* *||PC
|Student Reference Library||Mindscape||* *||* * *||* * *||PC
|The Ultimate Children's Encyclopedia||The Learning Company||* * *||* * * *||* * * *||PC
|World Book Encyclopedia
|World Book||* * * * *||* * *||* * * *|
|World Wide Web
|* * * * *||* * *||* * *|
The two most important factors in determining an encyclopedia's value are its content, and the ease with which users can find the content they are looking for.
Content. We asked our kids reviewers to give us four examples of recent problems where they could have turned to an encyclopedia for help, producing these test searches:
- Why do leaves fall off trees in the autumn?
Comptons: BINGO! Simple query, "Why do leaves fall?" produced an article that explains color change and the fall of leaves.
Microsoft: Good answer. In an article about leaves, single paragraphs about "leaf growth" and "leaf fall" give the basics. In another article about plant hormones, reference is made to the role that they play in the process.
Groliers: BINGO! Using the search tool and the words "leaves and fall" produced a one paragraph article explaining why leaves fall, and a second, linked paragraph on how the key plant hormone is produced.
Mindscape: Buzz. The Concise Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia drew a blank when we queried it on falling leaves. If you already knew that the process was called 'abscission,' the American Heritage Dictionary offered a definition.
Ultimate Children's: Partial answer. Article titled 'Leaf' described function of leaves, why they're green, and that they fall in the autumn.
[paper] World Book: BINGO! Looking under 'leaf' we found an eight page article with many pictures. A sub-heading entitled 'The leaf dies' provided an easy to understand, yet detailed answer.
The WWW (using Excite!): BINGO! First query, 'Why do leaves fall' produced a direct answer on the first page of results, from a page produced by Boston's WGBH at http://www.boston.com/wgbh/pages/ncam/transcripts/leaves.html
- Why does hair turn gray as we age?
Comptons: BINGO again! Query on "aging and gray hair" produced an article that explains how hair color is produced, and why it turns gray when we age.
Microsoft: Buzz! No answer. The closest Encarta could come was a brief mention of premature graying caused by certain diseases.
Groliers: BINGO again! Search for hair and color produced an article on hair which included a section on why hair turns gray.
Mindscape: Buzz! No answer. Nothing at all on gray hair.
Ultimate Children's: Buzz! No answer. We were surprised that articles on 'hair' and 'aging' made no reference to graying hair.
[paper] World Book: BINGO! Looking under 'hair', subheading 'color' provides a simplistic but accurate answer.
The WWW (using Excite!): BINGO! First search on 'Why does hair turn gray' provided a somewhat technical answer on the second page of results, at: http://www.tica.org/gencov2.htm on a page maintained by The International Cat Association. Honest.
- Why did some buried organic materials become coal, while others became oil?
Comptons: Partial answer. Articles on coal and oil formation tell us that coal was formed from buried plant life, and oil from ancient dead plant and animal material.
Microsoft: Partial answer. We learned that oil was formed from buried marine organisms, and that coal is a "solid fuel of plant origin," and that both were deposited during the Carboniferous period.
Groliers: Partial answer. Articles on coal, petroleum, and fuel had various explanations for the formation of fossil fuels. Coal is formed from plants buried in freshwater swamps lacking sufficient oxygen to decay. Oil was formed from buried marine plankton.
Mindscape: Partial answer. Articles on coal and oil in the encyclopedia provide explanations for the formation of each. Coal is formed by the decomposition of vegetable material in swamps; oil is formed from the incompletely decayed remains of buried plants and animals.
Ultimate Children's: Partial answer. Ultimate's article on coal described the source as fossilized plants; oil was said to have formed millions of years ago from dead plants and animals.
[paper] World Book: Partial answer. Looking under 'Fuel' we learn that coal, oil and natural gas were formed millions of years ago from the remains of plants and animals.
The WWW (using Excite!): BINGO again! This time we simply entered 'oil AND coal formation differences'. On the second page of results, we encountered a page created by Shell Oil, titled "How Fossil Fuels Form," at http://www.shell.com/o/o8.html. There we learned that oil's organic source was countless microscopic plants and animals known as phytoplankton and zooplankton that floated in ancient seas; coal's source was compressed vegetation.
- How did the ancient Greeks and Romans make such perfectly cylindrical pillars?
Comptons: Buzz. No answer. Closest was a discussion of ancient Greek use of Doric, Ionic, and Corintian columns.
Microsoft: Buzz. No answer. Lots of examples of use of pillars, but nothing about how they were constructed.
Groliers: Buzz. No answer. Learned that ancient Greeks adopted limestone for standard building material, and that columns are round pillars, but nothing on how they were cut.
Mindscape: No answer. But nice explanation of the different styles and uses of columns by different cultures.
Ultimate Children's: Buzz. No answer.
[paper] World Book: Buzz. No answer. Nothing listed under 'Pillars.'
The WWW (using Excite!): BINGO! Search for 'Greek columns' led us to the Perseus Project, at Tufts University. There we learned that pillars were "usually built of separate drums, to which the fluting was applied after the drums were erected. Monolithic shafts, of one piece ... are rare. The joins between the drums usually fitted closely along the exterior edges only. Within the drum of the column, upon both its upper and lower surfaces, was an unfinished shallow depression containing at its center a deep, rectangular hole which held a wooden block, the empolia, fixing the drums in place."
Ease of Use. SuperKids asked our kids reviewers to give these titles a test run. Their conclusion: the top three were reasonably easy to use, and selection of a favorite among them was a matter of personal preference, rather than superior design. Here are several key differences you may want to consider.
Comptons: Easy to install, even with limited disk drive space. CIE 97 offers a full range of search options, including specific word and word combinations on the full text of all articles.
Microsoft: Difficult to install on PC's running Windows 3.1 or 3.11, or on Macs with only 8MB of memory. Once installed, Encarta provides the ability to do searches for specific words and word combinations in the complete text of all articles.
Groliers: Easy to install on a Mac or a PC. Minimal install requires 10MB of hard drive space. Searches can be easily performed on titles or within the full text of all articles.
Mindscape: Easy to install on a PC, although requires over 6MB of hard drive space. Searches are awkward to perform because user must select which resources to search, and which of many different search techniques to use. Lack of Boolean "near" operator produced very broad search results.
Ultimate Children's: Easy to install. Easy to search, but can be confusing or frustrating to a young child when answers are not found.
[paper] World Book: No installation required! However, a large shelf is desirable, within easy reach of all potential visitors. Searching can require multiple trips to the bookshelf. Cost and ability to remain current are the biggest obstacles here.
The WWW (using Excite!): If you already have a web browser installed and an account with an Internet service provider that gives you access to the World Wide Web, a search engine like Excite! is similar to those in the CD encyclopedia we reviewed. However, because of the vast size of the WWW, and the nearly limitless number of sources, accuracy -- as well as availability when you need it -- is inconsistent.
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