Karen R. Diaz

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What makes a Web site the best? There are myriad answers. What makes a Web site the best for reference? Even though the question is more specific, there are still many answers. A high-quality site can be hard to define in generic terms. In describing the process of selecting the top reference titles for the year, Lawrence similarly asked, "As for the pertinent question, what constitutes an outstanding reference title? Ask ten people, or librarians anyway, and you will get as many answers."(1) It has been said, in fact, that quality is like art—it's hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Increasing attempts are being made to provide evaluated, high-quality Web surfing. Some of this is done by meta-site creation. These resources imply that a site is "good" if it's in the guide. Many examples of these sorts of sites available by and for libraries and their constituents exist. However, some resources go beyond simple listing and provide actual ranking, rating, and evaluation of sites, which can lean toward either the subjective or the scientific and are hard to do well without selection and ranking criteria. This column examines various examples of Web site rankings or ratings and attempts to enumerate the vast possibilities of criteria for evaluation. To clarify at the outset, ranking and rating are two distinct processes. Ranking requires comparing sites with each other and putting them in some prioritized order (the coolest, the most in-depth, the best-looking, etc.). Rating requires evaluating a site against criteria and assigning a score or rate to the site based on the criteria. In reality, distinguishing constantly between the two processes in the scope of this paper would require a much more tedious examination than I have given and would lend a different tone than I hope to set. Thus, you will find references to ranking and rating as if they are very much the same.