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Magazines > Information Today > April 2006
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Information Today

Vol. 23 No. 4 — April 2006

DATABASE REVIEW
BUDDIE Winner Handles Criticism Well
By Mick O'Leary


Yes, it’s awards season again. In this year’s murky morass of mediocrity, we have a beacon of quality and distinction in the 2006 BUDDIE award for the Best Unknown Database.

This year’s winner is particularly close to my heart, because it shares a mission with what we do here at Database Review. (Don’t look ahead—the award will be announced after proper anticipation and suspense have been generated.) Suffice it to say that both this column and this year’s BUDDIE winner share a critical (hint) duty to keep the world from descending into a cultural miasma of Jerry Springer videos, bling-swathed rappers, and male-enhancement ads.

First, let’s review the three criteria for the BUDDIE. The winning database must be all of the following:

1. Important: It must have high importance or be highly interesting to a large share of the information-using public.

2. High Quality: It must be well-designed and carefully maintained.

3. Unknown: It must be unknown—or at least less well-known than it deserves to be.

And the Winner Is …

Fanfare. Envelope, please. The 2006 BUDDIE winner is Metacritic.

Metacritic (http://www.metacritic.com) aggregates criticism of film, music, TV, books, and games from hundreds of Web sites. It stands out among a vibrant field of criticism sites for the quality of its content, breadth of coverage, and its review-rating system. Metacrit­ic was launched as an independent site in 2001, concentrating originally on film criticism. Since then, it has expanded to cover additional media. In 2005, it was acquired by CNET (http://www
.cnet.com), a sprawling Web empire of information and entertainment technology sites. Metacritic is ad-supported and requires neither subscription nor registration.

Good Reviews, All Media

The pre-eminent criterion for any aggregated database is its content. On this measure, Metacritic is unsurpassed. It gathers reviews from hundreds of respected and authoritative Web sites, including prominent newspapers (Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal,The Washington Post, and dozens of other dailies), general magazines (Entertainment Weekly, New Republic, The New Yorker, Newsweek, TIME), Web journals (The Onion, Slate, Salon.com), and dozens of special-interest publications, including Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, and many gamer magazines. Most of the reviews are full text. Those not available in full text have informative abstracts. All reviews have the Metacritic rating.

Metacritic has the most wide-ranging reach of all Web critics, with sections for film, DVDs, television, music, books, and games. Take a look:

• Film is Metacritic’s most comprehensive section. It covers virtually every Hollywood wide- and limited-release film that came out in the last 5 years, as well as many independent and foreign releases. It also includes many noteworthy earlier movies. Most films have multiple reviews; for popular movies, there are dozens. For most films, there are pre-release reviews, which makes Metacritic a valuable aid if you like to take in movies on their first weekend.

• DVD is a subset of Film, with reviews of recently released DVDs, generally using the same review. However, if an older film is released on DVD, reviews may discuss enhancements, extra features, and other changes from the original.

• TV has wide coverage of broadcast and cable programming, including new series, specials, documentaries, and made-for-TV movies. TV is Metacritic’s newest department, with coverage starting in 2005.

• Music covers popular music releases, starting in 1999. While it concentrates on the various genres of rock and hip-hop, it is not as comprehensive as Film in its coverage of new releases.

• The Books section is another recent addition to Metacritic, with coverage from 2004 of most fiction and nonfiction titles from the mainstream best-seller lists. In addition to wide-circulation newspapers and magazines, Metacritic also grabs book reviews from Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, The New York Review of Books, and Publishers Weekly.

• Games is Metacritic’s largest section, with thousands of reviews from more than 100 sources, covering thousands of games released over the past 10 years on a dozen platforms.

Adding Value to Reviews

Some review sites provide a long list of links, but this is only half the job. This is the weakness of competitor Internet Movie Database (IMDB; http://www.imdb.com), which usually has more review links per movie than Metacritic. IMDB’s links are not excerpted, rated, or otherwise cataloged, and they’re not arranged in any perceptible order. Metacritic, on the other hand, has a review-rating system as well as several search and browse options.

Metacritic has its own homemade rating system, called Metascore. To construct a Metascore, a Metacritic staffer first reads the review and, working from the critic’s own scoring measure, assigns it a score on a 1–100 point scale. The complete set of scores for a given item is then averaged, using a weighted scoring system that gives higher value to critics and publications that Metacritic considers more authoritative. The final result is a single numerical score that represents the essence of the item’s critical acceptance.

Metacritic

SYNOPSIS

Metacritic is a portal for reviews of popular movies, music, TV shows, books, and games. It aggregates reviews from dozens of high-end media sites and applies its own scoring system for added convenience. Metacritic is more comprehensive, deeper, and better organized than any other media review Web site.

PRODUCER

Metacritic, 235 Second Street, San Francisco, CA 94105; http://www.metacritic.com.

The Metacritic site is set up for easy browsing by Metascore, medium, or title. Each review has a separate record that includes its citation, Metascore, and a short excerpt that represents its conclusion. All of this makes Metacritic a stand-alone review clearinghouse that quickly provides you with a pure distillation of critical reaction without having to click on a single link. If you want the full review, Metacritic links to full-text records for most of the reviews it cites. Some source publications do not license their full-text reviews, a few require registration, and there are some dead links.

Metacritic has a good set of search options (something that other review sites often lack), including keyword, item title, personal name (author, actor, etc.), medium, date, and Metascore. Overall, the Metacritic site is simple to use. It’s easy to find an item by searching, or just browse through to find something interesting. My biggest complaint is with Metacritic’s ads—not with their existence or number (you expect that on an ad-supported site)—but specifically with their design. They often have the same layout as the content sections of the page, which makes it difficult to tell just what you’re looking at.

Top Review Site

Among a strong group of media-review sites, Metacritic stands out for the breadth and depth of its content and for its Metascores and other value-added editorial work. There are plenty of places to find a good review of a movie, book, game, etc. For movies and music, I like Allmovie.com and Allmusic.com. They are more comprehensive in their genres than Metacritic, but they give you just one review and cover just one medium each. And as I already mentioned, IMDB is too weak on the added value. Amazon is very comprehensive and up-to-date on books, but it relies on just a few sources and is weak on other media.

Metacritic’s closest competitor is Rotten Tomatoes (http://www.rotten tomatoes.com), a highly entertaining review aggregator that also draws on a strong roster of review sites with its own scoring system. However, Rotten Tomatoes covers only movies and games, and the site itself is a cluttered mess. All of this leaves Metacritic as the last review site standing and a fitting winner of the coveted BUDDIE.


Mick O’Leary is the director of the library at Frederick, Md., and a principal in The Data Brokers. His e-mail address is harmonyrd@yahoo.com. Send your comments about this column to itletters@infotoday.com.
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