Culled From the Web

The Blue Moon Review The Internet Movie DatabaseSalon Magazine

Each month the editors of Eclectica bring you reviews of the Cream of the Crop, the Best of the Web, the Elite of the World Wide Web. These sites represent the best of their kind... the eclectic kind of course!

Scores for each site are on a scale of 1-10 in three different areas of quality: Content, Layout, and Navigation

The Blue Moon Review

Score: 25.5 = Content - 9, Layout - 9, Navigation - 7.5

Edited by Doug Lawson, this is one of this highest quality traditional literary zines on the net. Doug created the Blue Penny Quarterly and edited it from 1994-1996, but now there is hardly any reason to go and visit their web site. The Blue Moon Review is even better than BPQ used to be, which is high praise indeed.

The current issue features stellar work that is generally a cut above what is usually to be found during this, the infancy, of webzines. Highlights include translations by Alfred Corn, fiction by Avery Chenoweth and an audio reading by Mary Lee Settle. Obviously The Blue Moon Review benefits from the precision and competence of its editor and his staff as well as his well-earned connections and credentials in the traditional, print literary world.

Doug writes: "our editors are working writers who publish regularly in their fields (literary fiction, poetry, etc), and we're produced by industry professionals who also create award-winning areas on America Online, Compuserve, and elsewhere on the web. Our writers have included (or will include) winners of Best American Short Story awards, Guggenheim grants, NEA Fellowships, and other prestigious awards; we're also happy to work with new writers of talent. (Many submissions come in from some of the most prestigious writing programs in the country--among them Columbia, Iowa, and the University of Virginia.) Our next issue is scheduled to be released on June's new moon."

Unique among zines is The Blue Moon Review's Reader's Choice Awards, which allow the reader to vote for his favorite poem and essay/fiction. The winner of the award receives a cash prize (currently the only payment), and voting readers have a chance to win a free book. In the world of zines that are equivalent to the small press without the ability to "pay in copies" but also without the resources to pay each writer, this seems like a good compromise.

Navigation and layout of The Blue Moon is straightforward, utilizing a simple framed approach that actually illustrates the way frames should be used. Each text piece is layed out in nice columns with a san serif font, and a link for Table of Contents on each page. I did find the lack of any kind of jumpbox or navigation among the issue's actual contents in the navigation frame to be a little odd, as was the traditional page of Contributor's Notes that was not linked by individual authors. Both of these seem to be holdovers to a print format that are not bad, but don't really help matters either. It would be nice to be able to jump to another piece or section from within the piece the reader has just finished, or to be able to read about a contributor from within his or her work. All of the pieces were coordinated as far as font, color and backgrounds, and there were a variety of graphics that were easy on the eyes and small enough to load quickly. I am not a huge fan of light text on dark backgrounds, but the columnar layout made the magazine easy to read. External links were featured in a number of areas, from facts about the moon to other recommended sites; all were well chosen. My only caveats being a broken link to the description of a book being given away as a prize and the fact that Eclectica was not on the favorite links page. (O.K., I'm kidding about the latter.)

This really is a great site for anyone who loves words, texts and poems well-edited and ably presented.

The Internet Movie Database

Score: 25 = Content - 10, Layout - 6, Navigation - 9

The Internet Movie Database states that they are "an international organization whose objective is to provide useful and up to date movie information freely available on-line, across as many systems and platforms as possible. It currently covers over 100,000 movies with over 1,500,000 filmography entries and is expanding continuously." I would simply say it is one of the best sites on the web in terms of content and plain fun.

Critics and web experts from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert to the staff at PC Magazine have complimented this site as the most comprehensive and best on the web... and for good reason. The numbers of the IMDB are impressive, and the fact that it is completely free even more so. Just about any film you can imagine can be found here, and the wealth of information contained in the database is simply staggering. Among the categories for which information is collected are all of the common ones such as cast, crew, date, plot summaries and the like, but also users' votes, reviews, goofups, images, crazy credits, quotations, literature, business information, FAQ's and much more.

The IMDB is searchable in so many different ways, and linked so well, that it is easy to get lost for hours. Look up a movie by title, actor/actress name, character name or word search and get full title information. Then click on an actor or actress and get their filmography (including notable television appearances), biographies and more info. Or go to the title and click on the year, producer, distributor, studio, language, genre or any other information and one click brings you a whole new set of corresponding titles. Or search for words in the bios or any other fields. Or view the top movies as voted by real people who use the database. If you have any interest in movies, acting, actors/actresses or anything else cinema, then this site is guaranteed to keep you up nights.

In addition to all of that great stuff, there are weekly columns, daily quotes, news releases and other movie information that is constantly updated. The best of these has to be the affiliated "WASHED UP-date," which is full of fun facts, trivia and all of that "where are they now" kind of information that everyone likes to read about.

Layout of the site is straightforward and no-nonsense. Navigation is a dream, with every page being extensively hotlinked so that typing and retyping and backing-up and forth are almost never necessary, and practically every possible piece of information and category that could be a search or part of a search is hotlinked for your browsing convenience. The site is relatively quick, and graphics are minimal except where you expect them, as in section of images and screen shots.

As you can tell, I am a big IMDB fan. I appreciate it because it is fun, free, comprehensive and has so many nice little touches. No more searching the web for hours to find information about a single title, no more sorting through million-mile-long hitlists, no more searching for 20 different sites to get the real critical scoop on a film. Check this one out, folks. You won't be disappointed.

Salon Magazine

Score: 26 = Content - 9.5, Layout - 8.5, Navigation - 8

Salon is the only web-only site that can, at this time, compare with elite print variety magazines like the New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and others. True to their stated purpose, they are an "interactive magazine of books, art and ideas" that is not "a techno-cult."

The magazine is ably edited by a slough of talented people that have all had extensive experience in print and on-line publication, and their editing talent and commitment to quality are obvious in the final, wonderful product. Updated five times per week (Monday-Thursday and Weekend editions), Salon is ambitious, provocative and generally successful. Recent headline topics include musings about Tiger Woods, the Big Brother aspects of Microsoft software and whether or not it is time for "gays to stop being sexual outlaws" ... and this is just a small sampling of their 7-10 features each day. In addition there are recurring columns and sections covering the gamut from food to sex, five-minute mysteries to humor, books to film, all with original content and frequent interviews (among Salon's regular columnists are national and internationally known authors Camille Paglia, James Carville, Christopher Hitchens and Annie Lamott).

All of the writing in Salon is at least competent and often outstanding. Although there are rare times when attempts to be "hip" or "nineties" or "cutting edge" are a little too peevish or desperate-- as in the aforementioned Microsoft piece or the often unfortunate "Unzipped" column by Courtey Weaver that attempts to discuss contemporary sexual issues but is usually just uninteresting whining-- most of them successful at being provocative and different from their print counterparts. Even the cartoons are a cut above the rest!

Interactivity is a part of the mission at Salon, and they have done a good job of it. There are many contests and the like, but the most interesting and dynamic section is the Table Talk (TT) message forum. TT utilizes the best in forum software (Web Crossing), thus allowing one to have a personal profile and subscription and making it easy to find threads, propose topics and contribute to any of hundreds of conversations in seventeen different subject areas including books, media, digital culture, television, mind and spirit, politics and others. The forums are very active, well moderated (i.e. generally hands-off, with Table Talk hosts and Salon Staff frequently participating) and populated by a unique assortment of outspoken regulars, occasional bystanders and writers such as Chris Offutt and Sherman Alexie.

One of the things I like about Salon, besides the obvious quality, is the fact that it is not only updated so frequently, but it constantly is changing to please its readers. The advantage of the medium becomes apparent in the changing configuration and constant addition of new sections. A particular favorite of mine is the newer weekly, Wanderlust, which has featured writers such as Isabel Allende, Pico Iyer, Tim Cahill and Gretel Ehrlich.

As you'd expect, the layout and navigation are also well done. Graphics are optimized, tables are used wisely, frames are used correctly and sparingly. Particularly nice are the constant pointers to places to bookmark columns and links to TT discussions. My only gripe in this department is some strange inconsistencies of font use and naming which occasionally mar an otherwise well thought-out magazine. Past work in all of Salon is archived, indexed and searchable, creating a great resource for information about contemporary people and topics as well as a place to spend many satisfied hours browsing.

Salon really shows why those who love words, media, magazines and culture are beginning to get excited about the World Wide Web and electronic publication. The content is fresh, full of variety, constantly updated and available whenever one wants it. Unlike print counterparts, back issues are always available and the content easy to find. But most importantly, Salon is a site that is technically proficient without sacrificing editorial values-- the writing does not read as if it were written by computer technical writers, nor does the presentation look like it was created by writers who are still devoted to their Underwood manual typewriters! My hat is off to the editors and staff of Salon, and I look forward to continued success and innovation. I only have one question: where is the poetry and fiction?

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