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'Handle with care' databases.

As your Database Update reviewer, I continually hunt for databases, websites, search engines, and social networks that I judge to be worth your attention. As much as possible, I look for the ones that are interesting and valuable and those that might enrich your personal or professional information world, even if only in a small way. At other times, my column is a sentinel that warns you about databases that will not serve you well or those that must be handled with caution and vigilance. This review is one of the latter. The databases covered have genuine value, yet they all have flaws that are not immediately apparent, which makes close scrutiny necessary. Handle them but with care.

Juggle

Juggle (www.juggle.com) describes itself as "a trusted research website that aims to provide factual, accurate information about a variety of popular topics," which are "editorially structured and categorized to create a convenient reference resource." At first, this sounded a bit too good to be true. But since I'm always optimistic, I gave it the benefit of the doubt.

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Juggle's homepage is impressive at first. It purports to cover art, autos, business, education, events, film, games, government, literature, music, pets, places, sports, and television, drawing from "respected newspapers, magazines, information websites, periodicals and academic journals." This sounds as though it is some master work of aggregation, but most of Juggle's content actually comes from our old friend, the ubiquitous Wikipedia. In effect, Juggle is a classified front end to selected Wikipedia articles. It has content from the other sources, but the proportion is very small.

Each Juggle department is organized by lists. For example, within the Literature topic, you have categories such as Top 5 Books, Top 5 Authors, Pulitzer Prize winners, and several others. Each item on the list has an individual record that contains several kinds of relevant information. For example, the Juggle record for a U.S. president displays a short biography, a few images, career high lights, cabinet members, and other pertinent data.

This represents how Juggle is "editorially structured and categorized to create a convenient reference resource." It is undoubtedly a sound and useful concept. Most of the information is extracted from the first paragraph or two of the corresponding Wikipedia article; this is actually quite a good method because these initial paragraphs are invariably structured as a summary of the entire article. The rest of the record indeed pulls together several Wikipedia lead paragraphs that you would otherwise have to follow on a lengthy link hunt.

However, while the concept is commendable, the execution is sloppy. A great deal of Juggle content is woefully out-of-date. The Education section has the U.S. News & World Report's lists ofbest colleges--from 2008. The lists of Grammy winners stop with 2009, and Emmy and Pulitzer winners are listed until 2008. Some sections are up-to-date, but these are few and far between. Juggle's editorial judgment is often suspect. The Top 5 Books of the 19th Century has Middlemarch, Moby-Dick, Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, and The Last of the Mohicans, but there are no works by Charles Dickens or Mark Twain. Juggle is full of errors that are too numerous and varied to describe at length here.

Infoplease.com

As I encountered Juggle's various flaws, I kept mentally comparing it to Infoplease (www.infoplease.com), another general reference source for commonly sought information. I reviewed it several years ago and recalled it as a comprehensive, user-friendly, and up-to-date reference site, based upon the oncepopular and widely used Information Please Almanac.

Having had enough of Juggle, I returned to Infoplease, with the intent of displaying it, by comparison, as a model reference site. But it was not the Infoplease that I fondly remembered. The figures for the U.S. national debt and Consumer Price Index are from 2008. World history timelines stop at 2008. Numerous other sections are also 2 or 3 years out-of-date.

Not all of Infoplease is frozen in time. Several departments are being maintained. The 2010 Oscar winners are there. The current events section discusses the recent turmoil in northern Africa and the Middle East. There is even a section on the recent British royal wedding. It seems that Infoplease editors have adopted a "partial-update" policy.

However, "partially up-to-date" just isn't good enough. A principal advantage of a web reference source, compared to its print counterpart, is rapid updating, especially of timesensitive subjects. With U.S. unemployment rates reported only through 2008, Infoplease fails this crucial test. My disappointment with Infoplease was even greater than with Juggle.

OnTheIssues

I came across this last database, OnTheIssues (www.ontheissues.org), while researching political databases during the 2008 campaign. I found it highly valuable, but I held back from reviewing it because parts were not up-to-date. Upon revisiting it, I unhappily found that this troubling flaw continues to detract from what is otherwise a conscientious and highly useful database.

OnTheIssues presents the positions of U.S. public officials on the country's major political issues and controversies. It is praiseworthy for the range of officials it represents, the breadth of topics it covers, and the depth of its content. Its focus is upon presidential campaigns, with greatest attention to the major and minor presidential candidates. However, it also covers congresspeople, state governors, and key nonelected federal officials, including Cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.

It gathers their positions on a comprehensive range of important and contentious issues in today's politics, including the economy, social values, foreign affairs, the environment, taxes, and jobs. Its coverage is remarkably thorough; OnTheIssues has the 2008 presidential candidates' views on all major topics of voter interest, as well as those of every member of Congress and all 50 state governors. OnThelssues draws upon campaign documents, speeches, debates, interviews, public media, and the internet. Viewers can review an individual's stance on all issues or compare the positions of different people on a common topic.

OnTheIssues' content dates from 2000, covers all national races since then, and even has positions stated in the 2011 State of the Union address and the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference. Nevertheless, there are pockets of neglect. Most officials' positions have not been updated since 2008, even for strongly presumptive candidates such as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin. The section on Supreme Court justices does not show Elena Kagan, yet it does have William Rehnquist and the ill-fated Harriet Miers. Moreover, the site search does not work.

Just the Facts, Please

Asporadically updated database is more trouble than one that is not updated at all. With the latter, at least you know what you have. With the former, you don't know what to trust, and you have to scrutinize every piece of information if you are to use it safely. I am particularly annoyed at Juggle and Infoplease. Juggle is careless and sloppy. Infoplease is disgraceful; it has a wealthy owner in Pearson Education and is full of ads, yet it is a defective product. I'm sympathetic to the plight of OnTheIssues, which has a tiny staff, few ads, and depends upon small donations.

Each of these databases is free and doesn't even require registration. So maybe I shouldn't complain about getting what I paid for. But we are forgetting the small matter of honesty (hopelessly square and oldfashioned though it sounds). Juggle says that it has new and used car reviews, but its "new" car reviews are for model year 2010, and its "used" car reviews are for 2009 models only. Infoplease states that it has "up-todate facts and figures which we've seen is untrue. I really don't mind that some of your content is out-ofdate. Just don't state otherwise.

Mick O'Leary is the director of the library at Frederick, Md. Send your comments about this column to itletters@infotoday.com.

Juggle, Infoplease, and OnThelssues

SYNOPSIS

Juggle and Infoplease (both general reference) and OnThelssues (politics) are comprehensive and often useful databases in their respective subjects. Nevertheless, each is flawed, primarily by being out-of-date in many of its sections.

PROVIDERS

* Juggle, LLC

33 Bronze Pointe, Suite 150 Swansea, IL 62226 www.juggle.com

* Information Please, Pearson Education

501 Boylston St., Suite 900 Boston, MA 02116 www.infoplease.com

* OnTheIssues.org 1770 Massachusetts Ave., #630 Cambridge, MA 02140 www.ontheissues.org
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Title Annotation:DATABASE UPDATE
Author:O'Leary, Mick
Publication:Information Today
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2011
Words:1386
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