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Top 10 Research Tools
By CNET staff
(October 20, 2006)

It’s easy to suffer from information overload when the world’s data is at your fingertips. What you need are tools that help you home in on the most relevant facts and organize them. We’ve rounded up (in random order) some great services that help you go straight to expert sources and keep track of your research. These digital tools can keep you on track—whether you’re working on a middle-school science fair, wrapping up a graduate degree, or pursuing a hobby.

1. Encyclopedia Britannica 2007

In an era of free content, ponying up for expert information still pays off. Britannica’s $49 digital encyclopedia draws upon an astute legacy of more than two centuries, offering entries vetted by Nobel Prize winners and ready-made citations for your term papers. This version is faster than its predecessor, and the DVD purchase includes access to Britannica articles online. You weren’t really going to cite Wikipedia as the last word in your final project, were you? Read review

2. Wikipedia

You might shun this online, open-source encyclopedia if you’ve ever been burned by prank entries or fudged facts. But because anyone can edit Wikipedia, it’s a richer resource than Britannica for subjects off the beaten path, such as the 1960s underground press or rivethead subculture. Though it’s not the only source you should reference in term papers, at least Wikipedia gets you started. Read review

3. FeedDemon 2

Many free RSS services let you subscribe to oodles of news sources that so you don’t have to hopscotch from site to site to get the scoop. But the $29 FeedDemon 2 is the best RSS reader for steamrolling through thousands of feeds. Need headlines from the science section of the world’s major newspapers? Check. Want the latest research from insider blogs about solar power? Check. FeedDemon is faster and more customizable than browser-based freebies, and it also lets you access feeds online. Read review

4. Diigo beta

How helpful is it to bookmark a Web site if you need only one sentence from that 3,000-word article? Diigo is a free bookmarking service that lets you do what we wish Yahoo’s would: highlight text and comment on Web pages. Diigo caches each site so that you can search within text, not just the topic tags. And you won’t have to leave the community, since Diigo lets you save bookmarks simultaneously in both places. Read review

5. Google Scholar beta

Google Scholar searches journals in the arts and humanities, business, science, medicine, and mathematics. It turns up abstracts and sometimes full articles that are indispensable for academic and professional research and points to libraries that keep the hard copies. One downside: Scholar doesn’t let you subscribe to newsfeeds for your search queries, while rival Windows Live Academic beta does. So far, however, Scholar retrieves more content. Read editors’ take

6. Google Book Search

Google’s goal to digitize the world’s libraries has hit some copyright snags, but Mountain View continues to sign deals with universities, scan books, and put their pages online. You can read the entire text of books in the public domain or see excerpts from, say, Build Your Own All-Terrain Robot, before committing to buy the hard copy. Props are due to Project Gutenberg, the first major effort to make e-books free. Read editors’ take

7. Yahoo Answers

When you’re stumped about something, asking a knowledgeable person can cut to the chase better than a Google query. But what if there are no experts on, say, epiphytes in your circle of friends? Pose that question about rare orchids to Yahoo Answers, and you’re sure to find a green thumb among the tens of millions of users. Among rival social search sites, we found the widest array of explanations on the broadest range of subjects at Yahoo Answers. However, the site can be cluttered by amateurs, so be patient. Read review

8. Windows Live Local

Although Yahoo Maps beta won our Editors’ Choice award, Windows Live Local innovates in ways that are ideal for research. You can save locations to your account and even mark up maps with pushpins and by coloring in routes and regions. You could use these features to impress your history teacher, for instance, with a customized map drawing that shows where ancient Native Americans lived in your town. And Local is powered by Redmond’s impressive Virtual Earth technology, which makes for some stunning satellite views. Read review

9. Google Earth 4

Google Maps first made satellite views of the planet free on the Web. But the Google Earth download gets you even closer, letting you fly around the globe, zoom in for a closer view, and add your own landmarks with Google SketchUp. If research brings you back to the land, Google Earth is an essential ally. For instance, environmentalists fighting mountaintop removal mining used Google Earth to assemble a virtual tour of the damage done. View slide show

10. Google Home

Google Home organizes your newsfeeds, site bookmarks, maps, stock quotes, e-books, podcasts, calculators, currency converters, dictionary lookups, language translators, search histories, yellow pages—hold on, we’re out of breath. Anyway, you can drag all that onto one simple Google sign-in screen that goes wherever you do, with some advantages over Netvibes and others. Read review

11. Google Search

Oops. A list of 10 wasn’t enough to cover all the good stuff. We do so much Googling, we almost forgot to mention the No. 1 search engine, which gets more powerful the more people use it. We tend to take for granted finding what we seek on the first page of search results. At the same time, is quietly innovating to narrow its results, separating long-necked birds from construction equipment when you look up cranes. But we like Windows Live Search best for grabbing images. Read review

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