Magazine article Information Today

How May We Misdirect You?

Magazine article Information Today

How May We Misdirect You?

Article excerpt

The June 2001 installment of this column about Elsevier's Scirus site and its related Web "storybook" (http:H scirus/scirus.html) drew the most hail-mail I've ever received about a column. Users obviously realized that even one of the most recognized companies in the information industry can produce a directory about Web sites that's deeply embarrassing and dysfunctional. A representative of Elsevier contacted me explaining that "We've been spammed by two pornographic Web sites cloaked as scientific material. As a result of your article these pages are now on our blacklist and will not be accepted again. If you run a similar search today you will see the number of results for both words has decreased dramatically."

I did run a test search and, indeed, sites containing the F-word in them decreased. There were 27,517 pages, now there are "only" 15,865. Using the derivative forms of the F-word had yielded 38,737 sites; in early August it brought up 25,338 sites (and as I mentioned earlier, less than 1 percent of them were science-related).

As for the S-word, its occurrence decreased from 48,293 to 25,225. As a reminder that Scirus may not be "for scientific information only" (as its logo claims on every page), a search for the exact phrase "guide to comparative religions" brought up sites with the S-word in both the URL and the title: Those are still there, even though they would be easy for Elsevier to identify and remove. I'd venture a guess that nuns may not be pleased when they get those results while searching Scirus for religion-oriented Web sites.

Generally, blacklisting a few sites does not solve the problem that there are hundreds of thousands of entries in Scirus that refer to pages created by depraved people. Just as you can't call a meat kosher if it isn't properly treated, you cannot claim that a Web directory is for scientific information only and that "it excludes sites that contain no scientific content" when it's so brutally polluted with sheer junk. You can imagine what's in Web directories that are compiled by those who don't have the quality-control resources that Elsevier has. Those users have only ego and unrealistic ambitions at best, and ulterior motives at worst. (At, there's a table of contents to take you to my Web storybooks, which feature annotated screenshots and commentaries describing the worst offenders.)

Unrealistic Ambitions

The classic example that I often use to illustrate such problematic sites is the case of the FREE Internet Encyclopedia. It's a product created by Clif Davis, a former Ph.D. student in computer science, and librarian Margaret Adamson Fincannon-a duo seemingly made in heaven for the task they wanted to achieve. They admit that it's incorrect to call it an encyclopedia because it's actually a set of (mostly dead) links to a wide variety of free sources.

The FREE Internet Encyclopedia has MacroReference and MicroReference sections that may remind you of the Macropaedia and Micropaedia sections of Encyclopaedia Britannica. As you can see in my Web storybook about the FREE Internet Encyclopedia (http:Hl/ ~jacso/extra/picks-pans/davis/davis.html), it's no Britannica. Still, it gets more citations than the best Web directories, such as the Librarians' Index to the Internet, and many of the citations are from librarians' directories. These links do a disservice by endorsing the FREE Internet Encyclopedia, a site that should have a warning label because it's potentially dangerous to your health.

The really disturbing symptom is that as of early August, Google found 1,360 links to the URL of the FREE Internet Encyclopedia. So many people can't be wrong, you say? Indeed they are. There's no rhyme or reason for the choice of terms for which links are provided, such as the hundreds of entries for mineral names. There are also no links to entries that even a pocket encyclopedia would define. …

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