Sydney Morning Herald
[ Issue 1 ]

'The Sydney Morning Herald' keeps Emily Bronto occupied for hours

Bikwil is pleased to present 'The Sydney Morning Herald'

The Sydney Morning Herald and Land o' Useless Facts

For our first instalment of Web Line Tony Rogers turns his attention to two sites — The Sydney Morning Herald Online and Land O’ Useless Facts — each quite illuminating in its own way, depending on the mood you’re in.

Feed Alka Seltzer to a seagull?

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Web Line — Tony Rogers

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(Web Line is intended to be the place where Bikwil readers can salute their favourite places on the Internet.)

For our first issue we turn our attention to two sites — The Sydney Morning Herald Online and Land O’ Useless Facts — each quite illuminating in its own way, depending on the mood you’re in.

Experienced Net users will be aware that you can point your browser to an initial site of your choice, so that whenever you log on you are automatically connected to that site. In my case it is The Sydney Morning Herald. This way I get the day’s major news stories within a few seconds of launching my browser.

As to be expected from a paper with the Herald’s pedigree, the daily news is comprehensive in its national and overseas coverage. And there’s a nice bonus — the news archives. These provide SMH Online “back issues”. At the moment the electronic archival material extends back about a year.

Not that SMH Online just gives you news; it offers much more. The editorial(s), for instance, and daily Herald features such as Stay in Touch and Column 8. Business and sporting articles, too — usually at least half a dozen of each.

Real estate isn’t forgotten either; nor are the classified motoring pages. The domestic real estate section is particularly strong, with a powerful search facility using clickable maps of Sydney (and Melbourne too, thanks to advertisements from The Age), plus categories like price, number of bedrooms, parking, pool, and so on.

There’s a very large and useful employment classifieds page, which covers not only Herald ads, but also those of The Australian Financial Review, The Age, The Sunday Age and The Sun-Herald. Job ads are searchable by keyword.

The computer section is substantial, always with five or more articles. This is updated Tuesday mornings. Also updated once a week (Friday afternoons) is Metro — music, galleries, theatre, movies, other Sydney events, etc.

Then there’s the email section, where you are invited to send your views on current controversial issues. If you prefer not to write, you can read the opinions of others. This section is additional to the Letters in the daily print version.

Clickable links are provided to the Web pages of sister publications The Age and The Australian Financial Review. There are other Web links provided as well, by category (e.g. art, cinema, stage, sport, literature, science, travel).

Overall, the site tends to be text-based, with the occasional photo. Now and then, however, good use is made of audio and video clips.

Apart from the two exceptions noted above, SMH Online has fresh information every day except Sunday, uploaded about 1 am.

Naturally, all these goodies in no way substitute for the real thing — especially on Saturdays (Spectrum, Good Weekend, etc.).

Deb and Jen’s Land O’ Useless Facts reminds me of the ancient volumes of Notes and Queries beloved of librarians the world over, though LOUF exists on a vastly smaller scale. After all, as a goldmine of elusive information, Notes and Queries could be safely said to have had a head start, having been begun in 1849, whereas LOUF didn’t appear till 1995.

That said, LOUF has much to recommend it. Its main appeal will be to those pursuers of freak bits of knowledge who are immediately attracted by the site’s title, like Trivial Pursuit devotees, people who make bets in pubs or indeed any D. Q. who has ever tilted at information windmills.

Here you’ll find answers to momentous questions like these:

Which country in 1776 was the first to recognise the United States?
What will happen if you feed Alka-Seltzer to a seagull?
How long would a standard Slinky be if you stretched it out flat?
What is the infinity sign called?
What was Wilma Flintstone’s maiden name?

There are links to other “Useless Fact Pages”, too.

Just watch out for the unstructured way LOUF presents its contents. As yet, short of using your browser’s Find button, there’s no quick way to locate an answer you might be seeking. Hopefully an index or dedicated search tool will be developed in due course.

But say, doesn’t this very lack of formality epitomise the Net and its fascinating value?

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