Online Answers for “People Questions”

“When you are in need of a short, comprehensive biography of a famous person, there are many online resources available for consideration,” says Joann M. Wleklinski. In her Online piece Get a Life Comparing Online Biography Resources.

Along with Wikipedia, which she calls “a decent resource for a quick, first-look overview of a subject,” she reviews Biography.com, noting that its “content is for the most part reliable, but hardly comprehensive. It seems that a certain amount of sizzle about a person doesn’t hurt the individual’s being represented, either.” See the article for her assessment of general web search engines Google, Yahoo!, and Bing.

Fee-based and subscription services she studied include Gale Biography Resource Center, which “covers 450,000 biographies of 380,000 people” and which she found accurate in its “representation as ‘a comprehensive reference database on a wide spectrum of topics.’” Results were delivered from “a wide range of resources…(and) When it fit the subject matter, resources also included Ebony, EntertainmentWeekly, Jet, and The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide.”

In her review of H.W. Wilson’s Biography Index, she notes that “Individually, searching had its minor notes,”  but that “Sources represented in search results were substantive and varied (depending on subject, of course).”  Wleklinski also explored the H.W. Wilson Biography Reference Bank, which covers “more than a half-million people and 36,000-plus images” and which, like Wilson’s Biography Index, “presents the searcher with a staggeringly large number of options.” And she found that H.W. Wilson’s Current Bio Illustrated offers more than 15,000 full-text biographies, more than 9,000 obituaries “and 19,000-plus ‘lively images.’…(and that) The biographies cover a wide spectrum of industries.”

Wleklinski concludes that the historical databases compared “All had their strengths and weaknesses, but overall they performed reasonably well.” And she cautions, “As always in the field of information, be skeptical. Don’t rely on only one resource. Look at several resources and ask how the different resources compare with regard to inclusiveness and accuracy…If your entry point is simply a person’s name, start with the free sources, but for more complicated queries, free online search engines won’t suffice.”

For additional insights, see Get a Life Comparing Online Biography Resources.

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