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As of this writing, there are more than 50 million websites residing on servers all over the world and the number is growing by thousands every day. To visit them all would require accessing two websites every second for a year.
My guess is that you want to use the Internet to find information, news, articles, wisdom, knowledge, and the occasional recipe or sports statistic. But finding what you want among those millions of sites is not an easy task. Yahoo! can help narrow your hunt. But even 20 or 30 sites are a lot to browse through when you're in a hurry. And that's the reason for this book, the definitive reference for Internet users.
We've identified and profiled those sites that best serve the needs of people looking for information in a vast range of subjects. That's it, plain and simple. To achieve that, we've built on the Yahoo! principle of making the Web easy to access, easy to use, and fun to wander around in. Yahoo! has become the premiere portal, or launch pad, for everyone logging on to the Internet; it's a place where you go to reach your favorite Web content with just a click or two of your mouse.
Looking for the best sites on the Net while you're on the Net is not for the faint of heart. It's a lot like learning how to drive a car by getting thrown behind the wheel of a speeding vehicle. You need a sense of the entire carlike the ignition, gas tank, mirrorsbefore you can go roaring down the highway. Consider this book your driver's ed class to the information superhighway, providing you with the map to the sites you will need for your particular off-road explorations. Once you are comfortablebehind the wheel, you can explore the side streets at your leisure.
This book is divided into numerous categories comprising many hundreds of sites. Whether you're into astronomy and aromatherapy or horticulture and horror, you'll find what you are looking for. In many cases, these categories will include a site that we consider to be the penultimate. We call these sites category killers. Using these sites as the benchmark has enabled us to eliminate lots of sites that may have decent levels of info, but not quite enough to make the cut. Our goal for Yahoo! The Ultimate Desk Reference to the Web was to include only those sites that serve either as the ideal destination or a great point of departure for additional searches.
Other criteria also came into play for designating a killer site. This is a book about great websites and great resources, not just URLs (Universal/Uniform Resource Locators), the Web addresses of the best-known brand names. In fact, some of the best-known names in their respective categories haven't embraced the Web, so we haven't included them here. Even with a great name, you still need a great site. You'll be amazed at how many of the sites in this book are run by individuals on their own time simply decimate other sites in the category-even those sponsored by corporations, institutions, or universities. In short, a category killer site has to dominate its field nearly to the exclusion of other sites covering similar ground. Take the movie category, for example. Yahoo!'s Movie Index lists more than 10,000 related sites, including actors, movie titles, and trivia. Some of these sites are amazing, while others are mind-numbingly awful. Do you really need 10,000 movie sites to find the answers to the majority of your questions? No. You need one. And we've selected it and reviewed it here for you.
Unfortunately, however, not all areas have category-killer sites, which is why there are multiple listings for various categories. In some cases, you will need more than one site simply because of the breadth of the topic or the absence of one tremendously strong site. History, for instance, is extremely fragmented on the Web, as is science fiction. Thus, we have multiple entries for these (and other) categories because it takes several sites to provide you with one superb resource. Diversity also proved tricky to handle: How, for instance, can national politics be covered in one site in the face of numerous political parties, loads of factions, and enough opinions to crush an elephant and a donkey. To be comprehensive, we obviously had to include multiple listings.
As with any desk reference, this book is a single source providing information on a range of subjects in an easily accessible format. The next step for the adventurous information seeker is to plug into the best search engines and learn the fine art of data mining and search refinement. And the best engines, of course, are listed here.
That the Web needs a guide such as this is indicative of how big, how pervasive, and how important it has become. To keep it in perspective, think of the Web as a resource and research library. You can go and sit in a library all day long every day that it's open and browse through books, magazines, and newspapers until your heart's content. It doesn't cost you a dime, and they don't kick you out until they close the doors for the night. The Web improves on the experience because it never closes, you can crank your stereo, you can eat and drink while looking at the selections, and no one shushes you. The Web is like having a library crammed into a 7-Eleven. It's open when you want it to be, and you can even buy stuff there.
We've done our best to choose sites that have proven staying power, but nowhere is the adage "the only constant is change" more true than on the Internet. We purposely avoided news-oriented sites that hadn't been updated since the beginning of the year (you'd be amazed at how many haven't been updated since the mid-1990s); we also stayed away from sites where the relevant information on a particular topic appears twenty levels below the main page, like when the chemistry links you need follow the plot summaries of the webmaster's all-time favorite episodes of "Seinfeld."
Those sites selected for inclusion have a number of features that suggest longevity: first, simply, how long they've been around; second how a site compared to others in the category; the third factor was who or what organization maintains the site. Finally, we depended on good, old-fashioned instinct, including sites just too damn good to ignore.
Thus, out of the millions of sites on the Web, those profiled...