by Steven Price

The National Geographic Society has recently released a CD-ROM collection, THE COMPLETE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, which contains 108 years (1888 through 1996) of the magazine on 30 compact disks. This isn't a rug journal, of course, but there is so much anthropological and ethnographic material that any collector interested in village and tribal weavings finds NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC irresistable, especially the older volumes.

Just about everyone is familiar with the magazine, its style, and the general scope of its contents, so there's little point talking about those things here. The CD-ROM set contains every page of every issue through the end of 1996, including advertisements, photographs, diagrams and maps. The only exceptions are the large map inserts in each issue of the magazine. The User's Guide says there are 178,567 images, 9,480 articles, and more than 188,500 pages reproduced in the set of compact disks. I guess they wouldn't say it if it wasn't true.

The first thing to impress about THE COMPLETE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC is how compact it is. The whole package, 108 years of the magazine, is in a slipcase only 9 inches wide and 9 inches high. It contains 10 boxes, each holding one decade of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (1888-1899 are all in one box) on compact disks with 3 years and 4 months (40 issues) per disk. The User's Guide and a poster size map of the world, physical geography on one side, political on the other, fit in the slipcase above the 10 boxes of disks. For those who, like me, prefer to have the disks in "jewel cases", the set occupies only 12 inches of shelf space, 5 inches high.

After absorbing the idea of having all of this in so small a space, the user discovers how easy it is to access the contents, a formidable task in the printed version. A keyword search of the entire set, or of a selected subset of issues, can be done from any one of the 30 disks. The installation also permits the user to install the search index directly on the computer's hard drive, which speeds the searches up somewhat but requires 100 megabytes of disk space (installing only the program onto the hard drive uses 10 megabytes). The search program is a powerful one, allowing searches to use Boolean operators and include as many as 35 terms and up to 600 characters. The results provide the titles and locations of the articles that meet the search selection criteria, as well as lists of related topics and of contributors. The search results can then be used to navigate directly to the destination.

I found the search engine somewhat quirky. You begin by selecting from three options: "Articles and Features", "Articles, Features, and Page References", or "Advertisements". The first search I tried was for the keyword, Turkoman. It turned up no entries in the "Articles and Features" mode. Several variations on the spelling gave the same outcome. Then I searched for Central Asia, and it promptly presented a list of articles. The first one I went to had the word Turkoman scattered throughout it. I then did another search for Turkoman, this time in the "Articles, Features and Page References" mode. This turned up a long list which, interestingly, didn't include the article full of the word that I had found in the less extensive search for Central Asia. The search engine obviously has some shortcomings, although it is certainly far more convenient than any conceivable printed index to so extensive a publication series could be.

One obvious problem in establishing a system for searching over 100 years of geographical information is that the names of many places change with changing political situations. If you want sources containing information about Russia's St. Petersburg, an ideal search system would automatically take into account that it has also been called Petrograd and Leningrad during the past century. The index in this set clearly contains a list of synonyms to handle this problem. Searching for Cambodia automatically retrieved references to articles referring to it as Kampuchea and as Indochina.

In addition to going through the keyword search, the compact disks can be browsed much like magazines on a shelf. Each disk contains tables of contents and images of the covers of all the issues in its decade, and clicking the appropriate lines with the mouse navigates directly to the points of interest. A zoom function allows a page to be magnified so that one-half of the page occupies a full screen on the monitor, a rotation function allows photos that were printed "sideways" to be reoriented on the screen, a bookmarks function allows each individual user to have his own bookmark file, and a print function gives the user the option of optimizing for text or for graphics.

There are some irritations, like the video sequences with which it opens. These can be mostly bypassed by mouse-clicks, but it's hard to imagine that the program would take as long to get started if it wasn't necessary to load them into memory. All in all, though, I find the set a wonderful addition to my library, and suspect that most collectors would feel the same way. Distributed by Mindscape, it is available directly from the National Geographic Society for $200 ($180 for members), and from retail software outlets. I found it in a computer "superstore" at $180. The set is compatible with Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Mac systems. It belongs at the top of your Winter Solstice wish list.

To comment on this not-a-book review, you may e-mail Steven Price.


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