[Computer Currents Archives]
Can You trust the Web?
Just because it's on the Internet doesn't mean it's right
August 5, 1997
[Can You Trust the Web?]
PC TECHNICAL SUPPORT
MEDICINE ON THE WEB
Put down that can opener; that's not a real Web site to the left. But
one day we asked ourselves, What kind of advice is being doled out on
the Internet? Should you trust the legal tips given at CourtTV.com? Can
Dr. Bob be trusted to dispense accurate advice on which drugs to take
for clinical depression? Will that advice-for-a-fee, third-party
computer service site unsnarl your Windows snafu-or fu it even more?
To get some answers (or at least an idea of what kind of pitfalls lie in
wait for Web surfers in search of help), we commissioned a quartet of
expert writers to examine a sampling of legal, health, computer, and
restaurant review sites on the Web. Their jobs were to find out just how
accurate, relevant, and timely Web-based advice and information is-or
We didn't look at Web sites strictly aimed at professionals, but rather
at sites for informed business users and consumers. Naturally, we
cruised Yahoo and other popular catalogs for sites likely to get a lot
of traffic. We also ferreted out lesser-known Web sites that had great
advice or conversely, those that were sloppy. Our writers, in league
with experts they consulted, report the surprising results below.
Great Web sites ... and a few dogs
Lawyers wasted no time hopping on the World Wide Web bandwagon. As a
result, there are dozens of law-related sites to help solve your legal
problems. Legal advice lurks in the home pages of law firms, legal
publishers, law schools, legal newspapers, and even cable TV
networks. You can find information on everything, from creating a will
to filing for bankruptcy to firing an employee. But can you rely on the
legal advice you get on the Web? Four Web sites I examined highlight the
benefits and problems.
CourtTV gets high marks for demystifying the law, but some legal forms
lack explicit instructions.
CourtTV (courttv.com) boasts an informative glossary of legal terms for
nonlawyers and an interesting library of court documents, from civil
rights suits to Whitewater. The site also provides legal help on small
business, family, and elder law topics. Articles from CourtTV's Cradle
to Grave Legal Survival Guide address appointing a guardian for your
child, dividing property during a divorce, pensions and retirement
plans, and more. Sample documents, such as an employee handbook or a
distributorship agreement, are available courtesy of bar associations,
law schools, and major law firms.
Steve Abbott, an attorney and partner at San Francisco-based Venture
Strategy Group, which counsels emerging companies, liked the way
CourtTV.com is organized but says, "Sites like CourtTV are really good
because they demystify the law. But they can provide just enough
information to the lay person to be dangerous."
For example, Abbott pulled up a sample confidentiality agreement from
CourtTV.com's small business forms list. He was troubled that it did not
provide explicit instructions. "The form isn't wrong, but it isn't
specific or in context. For instance, you need different confidentiality
agreements depending on the business situation. The form provided
doesn't even explain which side of the deal you're on." In Abbott's own
business, he uses five distinct confidentiality agreements.
The Legal Information Institute (www.law.cornell.edu) from Cornell Law
School is a no-nonsense site loaded with information on every legal
topic under the sun, including intellectual property, tax, and
environmental law. For the nonlawyer, the Legal Information Institute
provides short summaries generally explaining each legal specialty. More
important, it provides access to current, primary legal sources: the
actual state and federal laws, statutes, and court decisions. This
comprehensive site is a good place to start when researching legal
However, Law.Net (law.net) isn't a good place to start or finish. It
touts itself as a "one-stop legal information resource ... for
businesses and consumers" and is sponsored by attorneys and purveyors of
various legal products. But the site is virtually devoid of
substance. Law.Net has a short page of links mostly to law schools, not
to primary legal sources.
The Electric Law Library (www.lectlaw.com), however, is loaded with
how-to articles and various rooms devoted to business law (ranging from
federal wage and hour laws to partnership setups), news, laypeople's
law, reference, and more. Advice in the Laypeople's Lounge ranges from
how to dispute credit reporting errors to fighting a traffic
ticket. Many of the articles are taken from self-help legal publisher
Nolo Press and government sources. Sometimes, though, it's unclear who
wrote an article. Beware of such anonymous legal advice.
The site's tone is slightly wacky, but the information is generally
helpful, accurate, and on the mark. Joanna Aptekar Strober, a securities
law and venture capitalism attorney, found the Electric Law Library
"pretty useful, but clearly aimed at someone who needs basic
The bottom line: Should you rely on legal advice on the Web? Yes and
no. Given the consequences of malpractice, you're unlikely to find
wholly erroneous advice on the Web. In fact, the advice you'll find is
too general to be wholly inaccurate and too general to help in most
specific legal situations.
Whatever you do, never substitute the Web for a real, live lawyer. But
legal sites can help you save money. With a little online research, you
can pinpoint the questions you'll need to ask. Online legal forms can
also help you draft legal documents your attorney can review instead of
create from scratch. That means fewer billable hours and more dollars in
Whatever you do, be a smart legal consumer. Make sure any advice is
provided by a licensed attorney, not a paralegal or layperson. Ask for
the provider's credentials and check them with the state bar. Remember,
too, that laws--like community property laws--vary by area. Don't seek
divorce advice from a New York Web site if you live in Atlanta. Check
the date of information being offered. Stick with sites that provide
primary sources: statutes, constitutions, ordinances, court opinions,
and so on. It's wiser to rely on the text of your state's probate laws
than Joe Legal Eagle's essay "Ten Steps to a Fool-Proof Will." If
nothing else, you can narrow the focus of your questions for your
attorney by perusing primary sources.
Finally, when in doubt (and even when not), always consult an attorney
before you take action. A little information can be a dangerous thing.
The following sites are quality suppliers of primary source material:
the House of Representatives Internet Law Library (law.house.gov),
Brobeck, Phleger, & Harrison (go to the links page at www.brobeck.com),
FindLaw (findlaw.com, a legal search engine), and Regent University
-- Leslie A. Gordon
PC TECHNICAL SUPPORT
Do online troubleshooters create more troubles?
Whether you're configuring a new printer or grappling with a cryptic
error message, sooner or later you'll need help. That usually means
calling the vendor's technical support department. But these days, it
increasingly means surfing to a vendor's Web site or reaching out to a
third-party support company. Some sites provide outstanding, up-to-the
minute support, while others fall short. I've picked some sites that
represent the best and worst of online technical support.
Sound card and multimedia kit vendor Creative Labs (www.creaf.com)
clearly lands in the "best" column. This extensive Web site covers all
of the company's key products, including product specs, drivers, and
patches. But the FAQ files (at
www-nt-ok.creaf.com/wwwnew/tech/faqs/faqs/html) really set this site
apart from the crowd. If you have setup or configuration problems with a
Creative Labs product under Windows 95, NT, or OS/2, these precise,
accurate, clearly written files will set you straight. You'll also find
a selection of technology FAQs like the Guide to Full Duplex or
Plug-and-Play Installation Tips.
Creative Labs doesn't offer email support; it stresses phone and
fax-back support instead. But Creative's Online Knowledgebase
(www.creativehelp.com/kes/) offers an impressive set of current,
accurate solutions for new and existing products, from the Sound Blaster
line to OS-related issues. Simply pick the topic, then work through a
series of questions to isolate the problem and solution. The
Knowledgebase is updated every few months.
If you've ever installed a hard drive, motherboard, or expansion board,
chances are you've struggled with confusing jumpers or cryptic CMOS
setup parameters. The raison d'etre of MicroHouse(www.microhouse.com) is
to organize this kind of information for techies in such indispensable
guides as The Hard Disk Technical Guide and programs like EZ-Drive.
The company's Web site only gives you a smidgen of this information, but
you can rely on it. At the site's Hard Drive Parameter page, enter the
make, model, and capacity range, and MicroHouse will spit out the key
drive parameters you'll need to configure the drive.
The Hardware Posting Board, however, is another matter. You can post all
manner of questions about motherboards, modems, and so on, but the
answers you get from the company staff are cursory at best. And any user
dialing in can post answers, which is both good and bad.
But MicroHouse's new TechCrawler (www.techcrawler.com) search engine is
cool. It sifts through more than 1,200 hardware-related Web sites for
help. For example, I searched for hardware troubleshooting and got 526
documents in return!
Of course, vendors can only handle so many queries, and some would
rather not handle any. Hence the rise of third-party help desks that
charge you for supposedly solving your PC dilemmas. For more
information, see last year's "Get Support!".
But some help desks aren't much help. Computer and Communications Help
(computer-help.com) is one site that flunked my simple tests. At first
glance, the CCH site looks pretty comprehensive, with driver section,
message forum, artificial expert robot, and FAQs that promise a wealth
of information. But look closely and you'll find the site is pretty
In the driver section you pay (up to $9.99 per driver, update, or patch)
for files that are almost always free directly from the vendor. And
while the site has a wide selection of free DLLs, drivers, and
executables, most of the files are dated between 1991 and 1995. The
Emergency Technical Support Message Board sounds like it would be as
busy as a big city ER, but it was a ghost town. I visited on July 2 and
found that the last four questions (posted between June 13 and June 29)
were still unanswered.
What about the expert robot? I pitched a simple CD-ROM drive problem and
was asked, "Are you getting the message 'Incorrect DOS version' during
the boot process?" When I answered no, the robot spit-linked to the
wrong file somewhere and spit out a list of products for sale! When I
clicked the ? button, I was told to call a 900 number or send in an
email with my credit card number. The FAQ section does little more than
list links to FAQ files on vendor sites. I saw no hardware FAQs provided
on the CCH site itself.
How good is CCH's paid email support? The company offers several
priority levels: 24 to 48 hours for $35 per incident, 4 to 24 hours for
$60, zero to 4 hours for $100, and ASAP for $250 per incident. I choose
the first and asked, "I adjusted the resolution of my video card, and
now my display is all whitish and hazy with lines running through
it. What happened? Is the video board damaged?" A day later, I got this
reply: "Possible incorrect freq being generated by graphics card." This
answer is, strictly speaking, correct. Changing the resolution can
easily drive the refresh frequency beyond the monitor's acceptable
range, resulting in a messed-up image. But CCH's answer didn't contain
enough information to help most users correct the problem. The solution
was to restart Windows 95 in Safe Mode and change the display resolution
to its original value.
PC Mall (www.pcmall.com) has been a respected PC mail order company for
10 years, and its product site is extensive and well-maintained. But
don't come here for technical support
(www.cc-inc.com/cfm/frames/pchomepage.cfm). Your options are to review
the FAQ, send an email and wait for an answer, or follow a hot link to
the related manufacturer. The FAQ file holds a mere 10 questions, and
for an organization that sells everything from CPUs to spreadsheets,
that's just not enough. I posted a simple question about how SDRAM
differs from EDO RAM and never got a reply. The moral is to look to
mass-market distributors for products, not support. For last-minute
patches, drivers, and help, the original vendor--via phone or Web--is
still your best bet.
Still, there are a few trustworthy sites I can recommend. Are you
looking for hardware manufacturers on the web? Try HardSeek at
notes.msoft.it/hw/default.cfm. Are you looking for helpful technical
information? Try Tom's Hardware Guide at sysdoc.pair.com. Stay up on all
the latest PC technologies with the Intel Industry Initiatives site
-- Stephen J. Bigelow
Medicine on the Web
Consumer health and medical Web sites are all the rage. It's a small
wonder. The kindly, wise doctor who made house calls has been replaced
by "don't ask, don't tell" HMOs. But where can you find credible help
when making important medical decisions? Healing is both an art and a
science. By necessity, we rely on the advice of our physicians. Can we
respect the medical opinions on the Web?
Maybe. The Web is an unparalleled compendium of personal experience,
scientific documentation, and snake-oil. Search for a health topic and a
disk-choking bolus of information will come your way. Some of it is far
too arcane for the average person, but much can help you get a handle on
the human condition.
"People don't always know where to go for help," says Alan F. Scott,
M.D., a psychiatrist and our medical site consultant. "They often come
to an information source-be it a doctor or a Web site-with certain
preconceived notions, trying to find research that supports a particular
stance. But when they access a multitude of sites, their perspective is
challenged. It can be a learning experience if you're open-minded."
There are thousands of health sites on the Web. Many take their data
from professional peer-reviewed journals, university studies, and
pharmacology monographs. The credibility and timeliness of the data can
often be high. But as published information wends its way through the
Web, it can get stale. Some health sites I surveyed carried news a year
or two old.
Since we've all got a cog or two loose-and our online advisor is a
psychiatrist-some of the following sites deal with mental health issues.
This is a good thing, since the delays you'll encounter online could
make anyone snap.
Consider the case of Psychiatry Star (www.psych.med.umich.edu), a
luminary that apparently burned out a few years ago. Among other things,
Psychiatry Star features such useful medical resources as Detroit
weather forecasts and an online dictionary. The FAQ section was last
updated in July 1994.
Still, its information on general mental health issues and the use of
medications and side effects is concise, correct, and complete. You'll
also find useful links to many other medical sites. Texts, FAQs,
resource lists, and pharmacology suggestions can all be downloaded.
"Psychiatry Star's outline structure is useful," says Dr. Scott. "I can
get to the henhouse quickly with little trouble. The information is easy
to understand, carefully phrased and nonthreatening for the lay user."
For more sophisticated or professional users, the site has excellent
links to other sites, such as Dr. Bob's Virtual En-psych-lopedia at
You certainly won't forget the rotating blue brain featured at Dr. Bob's
site. Run by Dr. Robert Hsiung, M.D., an assistant professor of
clinical psychiatry at the University of Chicago, the site has an
abundance of detailed, accurate information about psychiatric
issues. There's a lot here on drug interactions and in-depth FAQs
concerning treatment indications, dosage, and side-effects for a host of
commonly prescribed medications.
Dr. Scott was impressed. "I like his conversational manner, suitable for
an educated layperson or a medical professional," says Scott. "The
site's very complete. He talks about treatment protocol, appropriate
medical tests that should be done before placing a patient on certain
pharmaceuticals. He cautions about possible problems with meds. It's not
an easy read, but it's well worth the time when you really want to dig
For those who find Dr. Bob a bit too pithy, there's the WellnessWeb
(www.wellweb.com). This general health site features a long,
alphabetized list that you can browse and get simple, understandable
information about the cause and treatment of various medical
conditions. It's a good place to start your medical search, but if you
don't already have a diagnosis, you'll be hard pressed to choose the
WellnessWeb is split into Complementary Medicine, Conventional Medicine,
and Nutrition/Fitness sections. It's designed to make medicine a little
less forbidding. There's the Therapeutic Pets area, for example, not to
mention Lenore Howe, who runs the Complementary (read: Alternative)
Medicine section. Perhaps you're wondering about Howe's qualifications?
She's a "polished writer ... who, in addition to her ground-breaking
articles ... gives great vision and coherence to our mission." Her
visionary reply to a woman who emails about a recurrent yeast infections
begins with, "1. The obvious: lack of adequate sleep, too much work,
not enough fun." Hmmm. I always thought yeast infections were caused by,
well, yeast! And maybe too much fun. But to be fair, Howe does offer
some sensible advice, like "wear cotton underpants."
Although the WellnessWeb offers such advice gratis, to get a personal
medical question researched, you have to pony up $30 or more. But based
on my experience, a call to a local hospital advice nurse is faster,
cheaper, and probably just as accurate.
If you still want to go the online route, fill out an onscreen form and
supply basic medical information (what drugs have you been taking for
this condition, your sex, and so on) and your credit card number. A
report containing 20 to 25 medical summaries related to your ailment
should arrive in your email box within two days. The only problem is it
After repeated failures, I called the company. "We're trying to get that
fixed right now," said a representative. "We'll send your report via the
U.S. mail." But don't hold your breath. Two weeks later, my search still
hadn't arrived. Perhaps Ed McMahon is bringing it?
CyberDocs (www.cyberdocs.com) boasts online medical advice from
board-certified American physicians, 24 hours a day and prescriptions
for drugs (but not controlled substances or drugs prone to abuse) to
anywhere in the world. The site is staffed by two specialists in
emergency medicine and provides access to others in aviation medicine,
cardiology, obstetrics/gynecology, orthopedics, and more. Medical
information and physician consultations are kept from prying online eyes
thanks to RSA encryption technology. A cyberspecialist consultation with
a board certified doctor costs $50-about the same as a visit to your
local doctor. But then again, most primary care physicians will answer
simple questions over the phone for free.
CyberDocs is a carefully designed, medically thoughtful site. You're
advised not to wait for the service if you're in an emergency
situation. It's a good thing, too, since it took us 20 tries to get into
the service and then more than an hour to post a question, consult with
the physician, and get a prescription. And there's a niggling problem
with that prescription service that serves people "anywhere in the
world." The CyberDocs are licensed to prescribe drugs only in
Massachusetts. If you don't live in Massachusetts, you must check a box
stating you do.
After you register, you're asked to provide a detailed demographic and
medical history. You are then invited into a virtual consulting
room. The online wait for the doctor took 12 minutes. We posed a
question about a pulled muscle from stretching too far while working at
the computer. The online physician and a CyberDocs founder, Dr. Steven
Kohler, was professional, thorough, friendly, and considerate. He spent
at least an hour exploring the problem, its potential ramifications,
complications, and treatment regimes. He then issued a prescription
(which they can call, fax, or FedEx to your pharmacy) for a mild muscle
relaxant and an antiinflammatory along with a written treatment
protocol. He stressed follow-up care with a local physician. It was
quite a bargain for $50-if you have the time.
Q&A formats abound at medical and university sites. Go Ask Alice, a
feature of Healthwise (www.columbia.edu/cu/healthwise) from the Columbia
University Health Service, receives more than 600 questions a week. You
can ask one question in a group of 12 topics about a certain condition,
but don't hold your breath. Alice (actually, Columbia doctors staffing
the site) only answers one question from the tons it receives. Still,
the answers are practical and nonjudgmental. Alice takes at least a
month to reply to email queries, a practice that seems to be common with
many medical Q&A sites.
While no match for a Physician's Desk Reference, a number of sites offer
solid drug information. With a click or two, Healthtouch
(www.healthtouch.com) can summon current, succinct, if somewhat
simplified, information about drug use, warnings, and side effects.
PharmInfoNet (pharminfo.com/pin_hp.html) is a massive site that includes
detailed drug databases, FAQs, sci.med.pharmacy newsgroup archives, a
for-fee Q&A section with a clinical pharmacist consultant, user forums,
disease centers, research links, and more. There is some duplication
here, but the drug data here is current, accurate, and complete and
should be understood by consumers.
So can you trust the Web with your health? "I haven't run into anything
harmful on the Web," says Dr. Scott. "But if you look for it, you can
find it. You can access every viewpoint known to man. The medical sites
we visited were good, conservative, medically-oriented sources. As long
as you stick to well-documented, maintained sites, you should find
As always, adds Scott, consider the source. Check any recommendations
with a physician and don't hesitate to dig through a standard reference,
such as a Physicians Desk Reference, Merck Manual, or medical
encyclopedia. Remember: Don't believe everything you download.
To speed your Web surfing, we recommend: "The Internet Health, Fitness,
& Medicine Yellow Pages" (Osborne McGraw-Hill, 800/227-0900) and "An
Internet Guide for the Health Professional" (New Wind Publishing,
-- Joelle Harkness
RESTAURANTS: THE UNKINDEST BITE
Restaurant Finders on the Web
Everybody eats, so everybody's a restaurant critic: De gustibus non
disputandum. Chacun a son gout. One man's meat is another's poisson. But
not all reviewers are created equal. Your food-fearing neighbor hooked
on mom's meatloaf, your fitness-freak cousin whose food is fit only for
her Corgi--I take their Epicurean opinions with a whole shaker of salt.
The same can be said for many of the Bay Area
restaurant-finder-cum-review sites examined for this article. There's a
whole spectrum of formats and food views, from anonymous data-compilers
providing geographic lists to professional critics sharing their "bests"
to clueless tourists posting their reviews like transitory pigeons
leaving contributions on your windshield. Most sites let you search for
restaurants by neighborhood and cuisine, but none will find every
restaurant that fulfills your criteria. Another common problem I found
was that every site I visited listed numerous extinct eateries. No site
I've seen has monthly, much less weekly, updates. So which sites can
steer you to superior dining?
The Bay Area Digital City site has numerous restaurant features. (It's
available on AOL. On the Web go to www.digitalcity.com, click San
Francisco on the map, and then hit the Restaurants button under the
Entertainment section.) The Sax-On-Site reviews by Scott Sax, a former
Los Angeles chef, are simply strange. Current write-ups feature a sushi
bar's roaches and a burger joint's rats. The wildlife was part of the
ambience, not the cuisine. R. Canard's Home Plate doles out a few
precious reviews of a precious few upscale places he's enjoyed. His
prose is delicious and his palate as elegant as his pen (well,
keyboard). The raw Restaurant Listings seem lengthy until you realize
how many IHOPs and MacDonald'ses are included. The Digital Citizens'
Picks are all raves. If no members have reviewed a restaurant, it's
likely not listed. Lurkers can't spontaneously contribute reviews: They
must sign up for the club. Searches by type cull pathetically incomplete
results. African returned just three selections, omitting at least three
additional Ethiopian eateries in the City and perhaps a half dozen in
the East Bay. Ghosts of many dead restaurants wander these halls. Many
of these reviewers' palettes are a little, um, underdeveloped, so the
site is rife with lauds for well-located, lousy eateries.
Digital Lantern (www.digitallantern.com/san_francisco/index.html) covers
3,294 restaurants in the City plus 14 in the "town" of Stonestown, 1 in
Oakland, 10 in Berkeley, and so on. Listings for popular restaurants
cover costs, ambiance, and service and may include short reviews. But
for smaller or newer places, all you typically get is name, address,
phone, and perhaps an arbitrary dollar figure. Checking bills I've paid
at restaurants I've recently visited, the amounts this site lists are
inexplicable. The brief customer reviews are often of questionable
accuracy and several years old. The search engine is flaky, too:
Starbucks is categorized as French, while Avenue 9, a new California
cuisine yuppeteria, is identified as Chinese vegetarian. The What's New
feature shows that even new data can be senile. For example, you learn
that Lhasa Moon, a Tibetan restaurant, has been renamed Alegrias! In
reality, Lhasa Moon is unchanged; Alegrias is a Spanish restaurant four
At the eGG (the Electronic Gourmet Guide at www.foodwine.com/eggsf), you
can pick up Michael Bauer's "The Best 100 Bay Area Restaurants" from
last winter's Chronicle, along with electronic reprints of reviews from
the Bay Guardian. In addition, this site includes brief, anonymous,
complimentary reviews of relatively few restaurants arranged in several
categories. For example, Cheap Eats includes just five suggestions, and
not one of them Chinese, Thai, or Mexican. Accuracy is spotty. The
review of Flying Saucer, for instance, was evidently written before the
restaurant expanded a few years ago, and it misstates the famous
contretemps involving the Chronicle's former food critic. (The eGG says
the critic complained of rude service, but in fact she had no problem
with the waitstaff. The chef himself, recognizing her, chased her off
There's not much meat at Menus Online (menusonline.com), but what's
there is choice. Review excerpts are drawn from a wide range of print
sources, from student publications to Caroline Bates of Gourmet. All of
them are signed and dated so you know who's talking and when. Most are
reasonably accurate and some (such as the La Folie's review) display a
brilliant grasp of a chef's personal style. You can mainly search by
neighborhood and while the choices are sparse, you will find some
interesting eateries. Best of all, you can scrutinize relatively-recent
menus and see what's cooking and what it will cost.
Sidewalk (www.microsoft.com/sidewalk) is Microsoft's answer to Digital
City. These city-specific guides for nearly a dozen cities ranging from
New York to San Francisco are attractive and packed with spiffy
features, such as instant maps of restaurant locations.
But the depth and accuracy of the offerings varies. The Seattle site
claims that its food mavens visited reviewed restaurants several times
over several months. But the San Francisco site (still under
construction at www.microsoft.com/sidewalk/teamsanfrancisco.htm) is
another story. As one of the contributing restaurant critics, I can
foresee some problems. The capsule reviews were mainly written last
winter, so many will be obsolete when the site formally debuts. Updates
are planned but will take place gradually. As for the "several visits
over several months" clause, the deadlines were desperately short (30
days to write more than 20 reviews), and Microsoft's modest per-capsule
fee barely covered the cost of an average dinner for two. As a result,
most of the reviewers had to base their assessments on a single visit.
If the head cook had the flu that evening, too bad for the restaurant
(and the reader).
Zagat's famed city guides aren't available on the Web, but rather,
America Online (keyword: ZAGAT). But Zagat bears including, given its
long, distinguished service in the field. Like the books, the online
version bases its reviews on many diner surveys. Participants tend to
like the restaurants they think they're supposed to like (famous ones
with high prices), so the assessments can sometimes be a popularity
contest. Don't expect to locate any new little ethnic gems here;
restaurants don't get listed until the editors decide they're worthy or
sufficient numbers of participants have commented on them. Still, the
wide range of participants makes Zagat's assessments more accurate than
most, and the reviews are updated yearly, which is more frequent than
Some minor league sites worth visiting or avoiding follow.
The Best of SF site (creativegroup.com/bestofsf/rests97.htm) is the work
of parents of children going to the Claire Lilienthal School. The list,
mostly of favorite restaurants, isn't bad and the comments are literate,
but some touristy mediocrities are included. Reviews aren't signed, so
you can't detect a pattern of which contributors share your tastes.
CuisineNet's (cuisinenet.com) San Francisco listings are bare and
handicapped by wrong or obsolete data. For instance, a search for
Caribbean brought up seven Bay Area choices, but two are extinct, one is
actually Asian-fusion, and several better choices weren't mentioned.
The Internet Epicurean (www.epicurean.com) is mainly useful for its
links to other food sites (some of them obsolete), but several features
(especially the Chef Forum and the recipes) are cool.
Lycos San Francisco City Guide
(www.qsanfrancisco.com/qsf/guide/contents.html) has a brief array of
restaurant reviews, all glowing, for many eateries notorious for
sub-mediocre cuisine. One example is the Cliff House, a view with pricey
noshes attached. Very few restaurants are included, and searches are by
Restaurant Row (www.restaurantrow.com) is mainly a search engine for
retrieving restaurant names and addresses by category, but it's not very
complete. It found all three of the city's Brazilian restaurants under
Brazilian, but couldn't locate a single barbecue or Ethiopian eatery.
The city staffer for Bon Appetit provides the opinions found at the
Restaurant Scene (www.restaurantscene.com). The site's searchable
Insider's Guide has none too many choices, but the included restaurants
are generally good, and the writing is clear and descriptive.
So dare you trust your taste buds to the Web? Do it only if you're
adventurous and restaurant-savvy enough to spot which "reviewers"
actually know their carpaccio from their kitfo. You take that shaker of
salt with you.
-- Naomi Wise
) 1997 Computer Currents Publishing. All rights reserved.
Stephen J. Bigelow writes Computer Currents' Computer Advisor column and
is the author of "Troubleshooting, Maintaining, and Repairing Personal
Computers: A Technician's Guide" and 12 other PC-related books from
McGraw-Hill. A regular contributor to Computer Currents, Leslie Gordon
is a San Francisco attorney, part-time law professor, and writer. Joelle
Harkness is an East Bay freelance writer who specializes in medical and
veterinary subjects. Naomi Wise is restaurant critic for the San
Francisco Weekly and has served in that capacity for the East Bay
Express, City Magazine, and the prehistoric San Francisco Good
Times. She has authored/coauthored four cookbooks, including the
California Culinary Academy's "Meat and Game," now on remainder tables
In such ugly times, the only true protest is beauty.
-- Phil Ochs