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ResearchGuide: a tool for building subject guides

THIS WEEK, NetSpeak explores a tool that can be used for developing subject guides by subject experts/librarians through a web interface.

Though search engines such as Google and AllTheWeb.com are the major tools employed by most netizens for locating Net resources, these have some obvious drawbacks. For example, a researcher looking for information sources related to a subject, however good he is with search engines, may not be able to collect all the relevant links with a single query. The lack of a proper mechanism to evaluate the quality of the search output is another deficiency. These limitations of search engines have led to the creation of alternative search tools and `subject guides' is one such alternative.

Subject guide

A subject guide can be regarded as a web portal that guides the user to appropriate web locations by subjects. That is, if you access a subject guide on a specific subject, say political science (for example, http://www.library.ubc.ca/poli/), you will find many access points that will take you directly to web pages related to this subject and there is little chance of the presence of dead or irrelevant links. The significance of a subject guide is that, as specialists create it, its contents will be more authentic/reliable as compared to search engine results. On the Net you will find several search guides that include `WWW Resources in economics' (http://www.helsinki.fi/WebEc/), and `Subject guide: Physics' (http://library.queensu.ca/webeng/guides/physubj.htm). Here, we will examine a free tool, `ResearchGuide,' that can be used by a research organisation or library to develop a search guide easily.

ResearchGuide (http://researchguide.sourceforge.net/) is a PHP-based open-source tool for helping subject specialists create subject guides on various subjects by entering the content "through web forms.'' That is, once the tool is in place and set up properly, an authorised subject specialist can populate the database with information available on the Net related to a specific subject, and this can be accessed by any one on the Net via the Web.

As mentioned in its site, the subject expert can create different categories from Reference Works/Indexes to Articles/Collections and can add any number of resources to these categories. Apart from the facility to create a subject guide through the web, the tool lets one create a `specialist' page where one can present one's personal/professional details. To experiment with this tool, access its demo page at: http://researchguide.sourceforge.net/guide/admin//. You can use the tools available here to create your own subject guide on a subject of your choice.

To implement this service, you just need to have access to a Web server with MySQL (free database server) and PHP support. If you are a Windows user you can download the package PHPTriad which can automatically install Apache web server, MySQL server and PHP in your desktop, from the site: http://sourceforge.net/projects/phptriad/.

If the required set up is ready, download the ResourceGuide archive and expand it to web server's document directory. For more details on the installation, refer the link: http://researchguide.sourceforge.net/guide/docs/index.txt.

Another point to note is that `ResearchGuide' archive comes bundled with another useful tool, phpMyAdmin (http://www.phpmyadmin.net/) that can be used to administer MySQL databases through the Web.

Sharpreader

We have seen many news aggregators — both web-based services and the ones that operate from our desktop — that collect/display RSS (Rich Site Summary) format based news feeds from various sites. Sharpreader is another desktop-based news aggregator worth testing. The program has a three-pane interface where the feeds — organised under various categories — are displayed on the left-pane, latest feed contents are shown on the top-right pane and the bottom-right pane is used to display the content of the selected item. You can subscribe to a feed by just entering the URL of the feed into the address bar and clicking on the button labelled `Subscribe.' You can also subscribe by dragging and dropping the URL into the address box. For more details on this software that requires .NET framework to be installed on your machine, visit: http://www.sharpreader.net.

Wildgrape NewsDesk is another RSS-reader that can be deployed for reading latest content headlines published on various sites. The significance of this free tool, which also needs the .NET framework in your machine, is that it comes pre-loaded with several news feeds from various popular Net news sources. Apart from presenting several news-feed contents, `NewsDesk' also provides multiple features that facilitate a user subscribe to news feeds of his choice.

The tool can be downloaded from: http://www.wildgrape.net/download. htm.

WhereIsIP

It is common knowledge that any machine connected to the Net has an IP-address and spotting this IP-address helps you get some details of the machine that was used to access such Net services as e-mail and web.

For example, as mentioned in this column earlier, by reading the e-mail headers you can identify the various servers through which a mail reached your mailbox, which might help you gain some idea about the source of a message.

A small write-up available on this page (http://www.jufsoft.com/whereisip/mailclient.asp) provides a little more information on this subject. In this context, the program WhereIsIP (http://www.jufsoft.com/whereisip/) that can be used to know the geographic and other details of a server from its IP address is worth a trial.

J. Murali

Email the author at: murali27@saytam.net.in

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