Culled From the Web

Poets & Writers Magazine Book WireProject Gutenberg

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.

Poets & Writers Magazine

Score: 24 = Content - 9, Layout/Design - 7, Navigation - 8

Poets & Writers has long been, to my mind, the premiere magazine for the writer and reader of "literary" fiction and poetry. The authors it chooses to feature are always worthy, if not necessarily known to readers of genre fiction, its articles are useful, and it has one of the best suites of classified ads (calls for submissions) around. Their web-site, after some redesign and fine-tuning has now become nearly the equal of its print sibling.

I first perused the PW website about six months ago. At the time there was not much being offered there and the pages were poorly designed and slow-loading. Since that time, however, the site has begun to capitalize on the medium by providing more interactive services (chat rooms, forums, searchable directories) as well as more actual content. For instance, in addition to a popular interactive message forum called The Speakeasy, there is also a searchable subset of the Directory of American Poets and Fiction Writers, current literary news, a plethora of links and resources and more. I would like it, however, even as a subscriber, if they would at least provide make one or two of the articles from each issue available on-line. I don't think they are going to lose any current or potential subscribers, and I'd like to think that because of the quality of the publication, it would actually generate more revenue!

The layout of the PW site has been redesigned since I first started browsing around in it. It now uses the simple (and ubiquitous) left/right frame layout with a simple button navigation frame on the left, and each page has its own small menu at the top and bottom for jumping to other sections. It would be nice if they would add some kind of "What's New" section for the regular browser, but that is a small thing. There are still some problems with aesthetic aspects of some of the pages: there is an awful lot of use of horrid looking <pre> tagged text, underlining, and needless centering that combine to make some of the pages (such as the Great Resources pages) look atrocious even though their content is quite good.


Score: 29 = Content - 10, Layout/Design - 9, Navigation - 10

If you are reading this review, you are someone who has a demonstrated commitment to fine writing and using the World Wide Web. If this is the case, or if you are a booklover of any stripe or inclination, then BookWire has something for you. BW really breaks down into two distinct sections: BookWire's own book and author information and the book review sites which it hosts.

The book and author information contained at the site is staggering in size, quality and presentation. Whatever your kind of book, or whoever your favorite author, the odds are you are going to find plenty here to keep you busy. Looking for poetry, publishers, winners of most of the big book awards, Mystery Writers of America, bestseller lists, the most comprehensive author tour calendar in the business, or just a good book-related cartoon every day? BookWire has all of that and a lot more...

Like the rest of BookWire, the review sections are all of the highest quality and coverage. I'm not sure about all of them, but it appears that most of the book review sites are hosted by BookWire but are otherwise independent. In fact, I came across BW through serendipity after perusing one of the book reviews it hosts, The Hungry Mind Review which is, incidentally, one of the best book reviews both in print and on the web. Other personal favorites are the Boston Book Review, and the Quarterly Black Review of Books. There are also a number of other reviews hosted by the site in more specialized topic areas which I have not had occasion to use.

As you'd expect from my sickening amounts of praise, navigation of BW is clean and efficient, aided by a tables based layout throughout most of the site. The main homepage provides links to a lot of different areas so it is a bit cluttered, but because it is not image-based it loads very quickly. Perhaps with a little time they could come up with a more streamlined point of entry for the main site, but that is a very small consideration considering the overwhelming amount of current, accurate topical material that BookWire provides.

Project Gutenberg

Score: 27.5 = Content - 10, Layout/Design - 8.5, Navigation - 9

Project Gutenberg is not a website per se, but an electronic text initiative started by Dr. Michael Hart in 1971 when he was serendipitously given $100,000,000 worth of time on a Xerox mainframe to do with as he pleased. As the introduction to PG on this site details, Dr. Hart quickly decided that the greatest value of computers would not be in computing, but in the electronic storage, searching and retrieval of information. Since that time, Dr. Hart and his cadre of volunteers have created 900 clean, well-edited plain electronic ASCII texts which are freely available to everyone. The project is committed to creating the texts in plain ascii text rather than a proprietary format in order to make it accessible to everyone without expensive or extensive tools, though there are plans to eventually incorporate graphics and other media when standards have been somewhat agreed upon.

Of course, there are other electronic text repositories and initiatives (many of which distribute the PG texts as well), but none of them have the commitment to quality and the wide range of texts that this project does. Titles released in just the last couple of months include Dickens, James, Whittier, Spinoza and more, plus the entire Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon! There are other sites with plenty of electronic information, government documents and the like, but PG is the only major project I am aware of that is, for pure profitless motives, doing the hard work of entering in, editing and distributing such a variety of philosophical, artistic and other texts.

The website provides access to the texts themselves through a variety of FTP mirrors as well as a search engine located within the site (thus the decision to use pure ascii demonstrates, again, its utility), information about the project and its history and current status, an archive of newsletters, information about donating time and money and much more. Navigation is obvious and the site utilizes a nice columnar format throughout which seems particularly fitting considering the content.

Strictly a non-profit effort, the project has appeared close to being shut down at times due to lack of financial support. When you visit the site you are going to see requests for volunteers and donations-- don't just blow them off. Give them a couple of hours or a couple of dollars while you are downloading a selection for your own digital library... it will be time and money well spent.

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