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The dummies versus the best.

Judging from the title, this isn't going to be a column highlighting an episode of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader with members of Jersey Shore as contestants. Instead, the focus this month is on the November/December issue of The CyberSkeptics Guide to Internet Research with guides for "dummies" and the October issue of The Information Advisor, which features the best business sites.

Two Decades of Dummies

I'm talking about specific dummies: the books that for 2 decades have come under the For Dummies imprint. In her CyberSelection (Cyber, pp. 1-2, 8) column, Susanne Bj0rner gives a brief synopsis of the For Dummies history (the first book, DOS For Dummies, debuted in 1991, sold out its first 7,500 copies in 2 weeks, and became a mass market hit) and then looks at the Dummies.com site, which has been relaunched to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the For Dummies series.

Initially a product of IDG Books, the For Dummies imprint is now owned by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. From its start with DOS For Dummies, the series has grown to include more than 1,600 titles sold in more than 100 countries. Bj0rner notes that the subjects have expanded far beyond the technology scope and now include everything from Guitar Exercises For Dummies to Bathroom Remodeling For Dummies. There's a reason for the continued success of the series: The brand still assumes that the potential reader has little or no prior knowledge about the book's topic. Although the authors are all experts in their particular fields, content is built upon short chapters that feature easy-to-use lists, steps, and charts.

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Dummies.com follows the same formula. The homepage has a centerscreen ad from which several topics, or "teasers," rotate in and out. Find a topic that piques your interest, and click on it to get to its How-to page. You can also click on the related book title or cheat sheet. The book page provides a thumbnail of the book cover, title, authors, formats (many are available as ebooks), ISBN, price, a 200- to 400-word description, and more links to related content. For many titles, free PDF downloads are available and include a detailed table of contents, a full chapter or more, and the index.

The left side of the homepage lists 18 book categories, from Business & Careers and Computers & Software to Food & Drink, Pets, and Religion & Spirituality. Each of these categories can also be expanded. With Business & Careers, you also get Topics, Cheat Sheets, a Featured Video, and a Most Popular list. Pick one of the Most Popular links for more options, including a tips page, related external ads, a Get the Book display ad, and relevant Dummies newsletters.

A search box at the top right of each page lets you search across topics. Bjorner says that despite a few technical glitches, Dummies.com offers an efficient website and management system. While entire books are still available for purchase, the site has found a way of "slicing and dicing book content into chunks--of chapters or other parts--and selling it by the chunk." But there still is plenty of information available without charge.

Best of the Best Roundup

Did you know that the creators of Information Advisor (IA) also produce a free monthly enewsletter called Best of the Business Web (www.bestbizweb .com)? Each issue describes five free or inexpensive websites that provide good resources for business researchers. For the October issue of IA (pp. 4-8), the archive (120 business sites collected during the past 2 years) has been revisited, updated, reorganized, and categorized by key topic. In Part 1, the favorite, or "best of," sites and sources are listed for two key categories: Company Information (17 sources) and Country/International Information (eight sources). Each source features the name, URL, description, and value. (The upcoming December issue examines the remaining category favorites including Government, International, and Social Media resources.)

While I can't list all these sources, here is a sample of what you can find. From the Company Information category, you can glean narrative data on the largest private U.S. firms; a directory and organizational chart of 130,000 employees at 8,000 worldwide organizations; the best sources to check when doing company research; factual information on public and private firms from around the world; and North American suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors organized by product.

Balancing the Federal Budget

Hmm. Do you think John Wiley & Sons takes suggestions for new For Dummies titles? But one question remains: Who are the experts on balancing the federal budget? Wonder if former President Bill Clinton has some free time?

Lauree Padgett is Information Today, Inc.'s senior managing editor. Send your comments about this column to itletters@infotoday.com.
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Title Annotation:IN OTHER WORDS
Author:Padgett, Lauree
Publication:Information Today
Date:Nov 1, 2011
Words:791
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