Staying In: NET GAINS - Electronic references

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The Independent Culture
By Mike Higgins

netgains@independent.co.uk

www.eb.com

When the Encyclopaedia Britannica (above) went on-line just over two weeks ago, you probably read about the result: 15 million hits on its first day and the whole thing seized up. Moreover, given that the Internet is regarded as a chaotic encyclopedia in its own right, the EB is left to trade on its slightly hokey authority. What's more, there are a number of competing sites which have been around for a lot longer. A small monthly subscription gains you access to the EB. For that, you get an impressive research and reference resource, with over 70,000 articles available.

If it's to succeed, the EB site will have to poach visitors from the on-line spin-off of Microsoft's Encarta (www.encarta.msn.com). Here, full access is $50 annually, but the limited free service isn't bad. And, though it's drawing on only 16,000 articles, Encarta exploits itself to the limit.

Encyclopedia is another rival (encyclopedia.com). This rather tacky site trumpets its association with the on-line cuttings service, the Electric Library, and over 170,000 links. However, little thought has gone in to the placing of the search dialogue box.

Last, but by no means least, is Comptons Encyclopedia (www.comptons.com/encyclopedia). Its main weakness is the lack of cross-referencing, but in every other respect it's a pleasure: easy to read, fully searchable, divided topically and alphabetically, and - something the others have neglected - easy to read.

Light my fire

www.lightyourfire.com

Going on-line for sensible advice about romance is as unrewarding as you might imagine it to be. And we're not even talking about the dating services here. Most, I'm afraid, shape up like Romance 101 (www.rom101.com) - ghastly, fluffy platitudinising.

Light Your Fire (above) is a little better, in that it at least takes a rational approach to affairs of the heart, under the auspices of the fearsome-looking Dr Ellen Kreidman. After a short while, this rather clinical and painfully up-beat site, for all its good advice, grates - it gives you homework, for example.

For a site with a bit of crunch, though, try Nerve (www.nerve.com). Working quite successfully at a non-sleazy but cool approach, it's basically an intelligent sex site. There are book reviews, not-at-all-bad essays on the presence of sex in canonical and current literature and not a little wit.

SITES OF THE WEEK

tech-two.mit.edu/Shak espeare/works.html

Nail that Shakespeare quote at this astonishingly dedicated site which has posted pretty authoritative versions of every play the Bard wrote. Don't be put off by some of the pretentious waffle that accompanies the site either as, beyond that, it's a good introduction to on-line Shakespeareana.

http://www.planet. com/dirtweb/dirt.html

The Museum of Dirt (above) does exactly what it says on the home page: dirt - rubble, dust, flotsam, jetsam - from around the world, bottled, labelled and displayed for your viewing pleasure. Unsurprisingly, celebrity dirt is a highlight, and you can even submit your own.

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