Direct line to multimedia

November 8, 1996

THE MULTIMEDIA AND CD-ROM DIRECTORY 16TH EDITION TFPL Multimedia, +44 171 881 8000, Pounds 175 +VAT for two issues ISBN 0 333 670 345. Multiplatform DOS/Macintosh/ Windows CD

Since most personal computers have only a single CD drive, it is useful to have several related reference databases on one disc, and even better if these databases are cross-referenced. The Multimedia and CD-Rom Directory is a combined reference on the multimedia industry, assembled from two printed books: The Multimedia Yearbook and The CD-Rom Directory. Once it is in the CD slot you can follow trails of inquiry from a title to a company, to that company's other titles, perhaps digressing to check a definition or two. And unless you are under doctor's orders to avoid the newly recognised medical condition of information overload, you may have the results of several independent searches on your screen at once.

CDs are meant to save bookshelf space. They should also be easy to learn to use without reading a large book first. TFPL Multimedia (a joint venture combining TFPL's subject expertise and the Macmillan group's marketing muscle) has the right idea: the manual is a ten-page booklet which slips inside the standard, single-disc jewel case.

The installation instructions for five languages and four operating systems look imposing but in fact installation (on Windows 95, at least) was simple. The manual offers a quick tutorial on the Lasec Optisearch 2 retrieval software, which will already be familiar to users of, for example, Mecklermedia's CD-Roms in Print on CD-Rom (sadly unavailable since Gale Research took the rights back).

There is little about the disc's content but you will learn that there are seven databases covering companies, CD-Rom titles, hardware and software, books, journals, conferences and a glossary.

Forget the glossary when you make your buying decision. It is quirky and out of date. Under "multi-session" we are told "see Photo CD" but there is no hyperlink to the Photo CD definition. Finally getting there, for some reason there are two separate definitions of Photo CD. But neither says anything about multi-session drives, what they are or why they are needed.

"Internet" is correctly said to support electronic mail, newsgroups and chat lines, but the World Wide Web is not mentioned. Elsewhere the World Wide Web is defined, but with no indication of its multimedia potential.

By contrast the international database of companies is thoroughly useful, though it is high time they included URLs for company Web sites. You can search the whole record, or any combination of the fields: company name, country, geographical code, contact, company activities, platforms, product type, sectors, titles, product. All these are freetext fields, with no pulldown picklists, so something like "geographical code" can be a bit puzzling. What are we meant to type in here? You can, in fact, view a list of options by clicking on the "index" button.

Freetext search is good for some tasks and bad for others, and the results are unpredictable. "PC" is listed as a platform for 45 firms. But "Apple", "Mac" and "Macintosh" retrieve no hits whatsoever, which is plain weird. Hint: use the index, or try *Mac*. But check a known Macintosh CD publisher, Broderbund UK, and its platforms are listed as "CD-ROM, Desktop computer" which is less than helpful.

The database is evidently compiled from information provided by the companies, with poorly controlled terminology. So when you cannot find something do not give up, search a little smarter.

TFPL Multimedia has gone to a lot of trouble to structure the information, with as many as 17 fields for each CD-Rom title record. But as we have seen, there is some uncertainty about the semantics of each field, afflicting not only the searcher but the data providers. Since the software is fast, it is frankly easier to follow Internet habits and search entire records, narrowing down to specific fields only if an overwhelming number of documents is retrieved.

Keep your wits for designing the query, bearing in mind that there is no stemming, no thesaurus, and a poorly controlled vocabulary, so your query may need to contain a good many wildcards and boolean ORs.

Tony Durham is Multimedia editor at The THES

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