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VOLUME 26 • NUMBER 5 • September/October 2002 
• FEATURE • Comprehensively Covering Computer Science 
by Susan Fingerman

NEVER HEARD OF REVIEWS.COM? It's the reincarnation of the venerable Computing Reviews, published by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) for the past 40 years. ACM has partnered with, an affiliated company of Information Express, to re-invent the product as a robust online database. (Should you enter as the URL, you're swiftly redirected to This site is not for the faint of heart; it's almost overwhelming in the richness of content and customization possibilities. But then, the main audience will most likely be veteran users of computer science information. If you are intimidated by the database, rejoice that the title will continue to be available in print.

Kept in free beta for over a year, went on sale by subscription on May 1, 2002. The extended test period allowed the producers to listen carefully to the testers, resulting in having just about everything a site can offer, for techies and non-techies alike.

Carol Hutchins, head librarian at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Science at New York University, took on the additional position of editor-in-chief in February 2002. The outgoing editor-in-chief, Neal Coulter, wrote, "Carol's library background makes her a perfect choice...because she understands [the] database organization and orientation; knows the available scientific literature; and is highly interested in the cultivation of ACM's Computing Classification System."


Sources are those represented in the ACM Guide to Computing Literature and include both ACM and non-ACM materials. Computing Reviews comprehensively covers books, articles, conference proceedings, theses, technical reports, and even Web-only publications in the computer science field. Reviews are both informative and opinionated. Its mission is "to furnish computer-oriented persons in mathematics, engineering, the natural and social sciences, the humanities, and other fields with critical information about current publications in any area of the computing sciences, and to further, thereby, the development of the computing sciences as a discipline, as an art, and as a tool for revolutionizing our technology and our patterns of thinking."

The content, as in the print version, is organized by the ACM Computing Classification System (CCS). Although the 19 categories are quite comprehensive, the system, last updated in 1998, needs another revision, a project currently under consideration at, according its president, Bruce Antelman. The publication actively recruits qualified volunteer reviewers, who currently number over 1,000. The 19 content editors who oversee each CCS category are listed on the site (click on the blue "Computing Reviews" title at the upper-left-hand side of the home page) with their background and contact information.

Click on a review title, and it returns a bibliographic citation, with the item type, additional hyperlinked CCS terms, the complete review (sometimes with references), and hyperlinks to the author of the material as well as the author of the review. The link to the author of the material actually sends you to the Alert set-up screen, while the link to the review author results in a listing of other reviews by that author. It would be helpful to also include the "issue" of Computing Reviews in which the review was originally published, since there is no indication as to when the review was created. Beware: You can start down a very long and circuitous route when you click on one of the CCS terms, but it's a great way to get an overview of a topic and the people and organizations that are involved with developments in that area of computer science.

Now comes the instant gratification part. Click on the "full-text" button and you are given two or three choices. If the item is an article and is available online, you are linked to the journal site, given an abstract, and can enter your subscriber information to receive the full text. If your library owns the item, it can choose to have you search the catalog or order the item. Thirdly, you can purchase the item, either an electronic or print copy, via a link to Information Express or

Top Level CCS Categories

A. General Literature
B. Hardware
C. Computer Systems
D. Software
E. Data
F. Theory of Computation
G. Mathematics of Computing
H. Information Systems
    H.5 Information Interfaces and Presentation
I. Computer Methodologies
    I.1 Algebraic Manipulation
    I.2 Artificial Intelligence
    I.3 Computer Graphics
    I.4 Image Processing
    I.5 Pattern Recognition
    I.6 Simulation and Modeling
    I.7 Text Processing
J. Computer Applications
K. Computing Milieux

Subscription Models

According to the site, subscriptions are currently being subsidized for the first 2 years, as Computing Reviews "increases its value by developing its software offering and growing its content base." In other words, as it shakes the bugs out and adds to content, forums, etc.
I don't know of too many other sites this generous.

And ACM also offers an Individual subscription at $9.85/month. It is not clear if this is for members only. Other options are (all for three simultaneous users and with 50 percent off for additional sites): non-profit—$2,600; small corporation—$3,650; medium corporation—$4,700; and large corporation—$6,250. Contact links to the ACM for more information on pricing are provided at the site. plans to expand the concept to other societies and information providers who wish to "provide a community environment" for their audience. I hope many of them sign up.


You can customize and personalize in many ways. On the default home page, you'll see the contents of "Today's issue" listed by CCS category. Choose to view the contents by title, author, reviewer, or by your customized "favorite view" that shows you the page set up just the way you want it.

Other buttons give you a choice to see Hot Topics, which include those reviews chosen on the most "cutting-edge" topics of the day, Reviewer Profiles, or Forums, which are discussion areas that are just beginning to be populated. A Forum can be on a topic, or can be a discussion on a specific item in the database.

There are several types of Search capabilities. The simple search gives you a free text box, and the search can be limited by date (back to 1974), partial review, and sorted by relevancy, date reviewed, date published, author, article title, type of publication, or journal title. You can also choose to display from 10 to 100 items per page, in descending or ascending order. The advanced search adds fielded Boolean searching, along with limiting by source type, CCS category, and terms. A "preset" allows you to customize your own search screen.

You can also browse by author, title, reviewer, or issue (back to 1985). After you leave the home page, there is always a left-hand toolbar that offers you options to search, browse, and go to hot topics, the forum, or your Smartbox.

The Smartbox area is one of the most value-added features of It is the Alert feature that you can customize by content and by display. Choose to be alerted when a new item appears in your favorite CCS, journal, by author, reviewer, item type, or forum, or even a saved search. Choose the time frame you wish (30, 60, 90 or 120 days), number of items per category or subcategory (3, 5, or 10 to avoid information overload!), and sort by CCS category, date, or title. Additionally, you can modify your account information at Smartbox.


There is more to admire than dislike about, but there are always some improvements to be made. For example, item types include Book, Divisible Book, and Book Chapter. It is not clear from the reviews what the differences are among these book types, and there is no explanation to be found on the site.

Another inconsistency, which I can empathize with, is the variations in the indexing of an author's name. For example, there are links to both LaMacchia, Brian and LaMacchia, B. I assumed this was due to the indexing practices of the journal in which the item was published, but when I went to the two articles LaMacchia authored, both citations had his name with the initial only. One very nice feature surfaced when I searched on Mr. LaMacchia's name: It was found referenced in a book review that covers a "LaMacchia" case. How one can consciously search within the text of a review, however, remains a mystery.

Author affiliation could be added to the basic review information. This would assist in competitive intelligence efforts and add credibility to an item. Right now it can be obtained only from the full text.


Librarians will find useful for collection development, keeping up with a topic or subject expert, and identifying the current hot topics in the field. It will also be helpful in pointing users to materials owned by the subscribing library and should serve to leverage investments in the online catalog and the library collection in general.

The Forums have great potential, presently vastly underutilized, for discussion in many areas between both novices and experts. How many times have you wanted to ask an author about something they wrote, or a reviewer about how they really felt about a book?

Reviewers and editors now use an online Category Editor's Module to edit and rate reviews, communicate with reviewers, and assign and suggest items for review. The system has cut the time from review to publication from 9 months down to as little as
1 month. With reviews being added daily, the increased currency of is notable. Both reviewers and editors have separate "mini-sites" that allow them to perform their functions more efficiently.

When reviewers sign up to offer their services, they have a myriad of options to choose from beside topical areas. These include how often they can review, how often they want to see a list of items to review, and when they are available to start reviewing (when they go on vacation they can just let the editors know right in their site profile). Account information includes how many reviews have been assigned, accepted, canceled, or rejected.

One thing I particularly appreciate is that the site, unlike many others these days, seems to be optimized for both Internet Explorer and Netscape. It seems appropriate that a site dedicated to the literature of computer science has found a way to break the IE monopoly.

Susan Fingerman [] is the owner of SMF Information Services, LLC and the editor of Business Information Alert.

Comments? E-mail letters to the editor to

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