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Jim Breen's Japanese Page

Bill Gordon

2. Site Evaluation Using Standard Criteria

As the Internet grew rapidly in the 1990s, certain standard criteria have been developed to evaluate the quality of Internet resources. Many of these criteria mirror the ones used to evaluate the quality of print resources. In deciding on the criteria to use in evaluating Breen's web site, the following four lists of evaluation criteria received special attention since they seem to apply directly to a site such as Breen's, which has a more academic flavor: Librarians' Index to the Internet (2000), Social Science Information Gateway (2000), Alastair Smith (1997), and Wesleyan University Web Literacy Class (2000). Although differences exist between various lists of criteria for evaluating web sites, most organizations and individuals agree that the criteria should include authority of the author, scope, organization/design, content, and reception by target audience. These five key criteria will be used to evaluate Jim Breen's Home Page.

Jim Breen provides on his home page a description of his background and qualifications, which shows he has the credentials necessary to write authoritatively regarding electronic dictionaries and related language software. He serves as an associate professor in the School of Computer Science and Software Engineering at Monash University in Australia. His research and classes are in the field of digital and data communications, and he works on electronic dictionaries, especially those related to the Japanese language. He worked in the field of programming and data communications from 1968 to 1985, and he has been a university professor since 1985. He served as a member of the Australian Internet Working Group, which established the first Internet backbone in Australia.

Breen's web site contains a disclaimer that states the home page is a personal page published by the author and not sponsored by Monash University. Despite this site being a personal home page, the site contains many resources of value to other academics and to persons (from beginners to experts) interested in the Japanese language and culture. Others recognize the author as an expert in his field, and many have praised the quality of the resources at his site (see further discussion in section on "Reception by Target Audience" below).

The top page of Jim Breen's Japanese Page lacks a clear description of the site's purpose and scope, but the table of contents gives the user some idea of the focus of the site. Also, the meta information in the HTML for the page has a description of "information about the EDICT/KANJIDIC/JMdict [names of dictionary files] projects, the WWWJDIC dictionary server [Japanese-English translation aid], and many links dealing with Japanese WWW resources: software, education, dictionaries, culture, literature, etc." The site's contents reflect this description, but the site also has an extensive archive of software and files related to Japanese dictionaries, Japanese language software, and various aspects of Japanese culture. The archive includes software for many different types of operating systems (e.g., Windows, Unix/Linux, Macintosh, MS-DOS, and even palmtops) and includes word processing, dictionaries, educational software, and other utility programs.

This web site has multiple targeted audiences. First, the site contains much information for other professionals working on dictionary files, translation software, and Japanese-English translation. This accounts for the technical language used in much of the dictionary documentation. Second, the site assists English-speaking people who study or use Japanese from the beginning to the advanced level. Finally, Breen provides an abundance of information and resources for a more general audience who have some interest or have a specific question on Japan. The numerous links to Japan information and the Ukiyo-e Gallery target this third audience.

Organization and Design
Jim Breen's Japanese Page has the appearance of a web site put together by a professor, rather than a professional organization. The pages contain almost no color, images (other than the Ukiyo-e Gallery), or side margins, and many of the pages are extremely long. For example, the front page (i.e., Jim Breen's Japanese Page) provides over ten pages (when printed) of links to web sites relating to Japan and Japanese language information. The front page has a table of contents for the site, but most of the ten main categories have no description, and some categories have acronyms that a new user will not know. For example, one of the ten main categories is "THE JMDICT (NEW EDICT) PROJECT," with no further description. The site lacks a map, so the user can sometimes get lost.

Despite the organizational weaknesses of the table of contents, the front page's links, which make up about 90 percent of the front page's content, have been logically organized into easy-to-understand categories. Breen provides clear, concise annotations for the links and marks with a "New!" image any link added within the prior month or so.

The information required for input into the web interface for Breen's dictionary is easily understood, and the software has the capability to handle romaji (Roman letter) variations in the spelling of Japanese words. The results are displayed with a maximum of ten entries per page, and the "continue" button must be pressed to see additional entries. The display of the entries is organized well on the web page, but codes are displayed for each word without any code explanations on the display page. For example, each name is assigned at least one code, such as s (surname), p (place name), f (female given name), m (male given name), and g (given name, as yet not classified by sex) (Breen, ENAMDICT, 2000). Other words may have any one of over 40 codes, such as abbr (abbreviation) or oK (word containing outdated kanji). The user must go to the file documentation to obtain the meanings of the codes, but it is difficult to find quickly the meanings of the codes within the documentation. The addition of the codes' meanings to the display page (especially for names) or a link directly to where the codes' meanings could be easily found would improve the understandability of the dictionary entries. In addition to the codes described previously, each word has a two-letter code at the end to indicate the dictionary file that it originates from (e.g., LS = Life Science dictionary file). The site's usability could be improved by the elimination of these two-letter codes from the display page. Many other sites that use Breen's dictionary files do not include these two-letter codes on their display pages.

This section considers the accuracy, currency, and writing quality of Jim Breen's Japanese Page. The entire site seems to contain highly accurate information. In the dictionary's documentation, Breen acknowledges the corrections and proofreading performed by others to the dictionary entries over a period of several years. He encourages feedback, "I will be delighted if people send me corrections, suggestions, and ESPECIALLY additions" (Breen, EDICT Documentation).

Breen constantly works on keeping the contents of his site current and on enhancing the functionality of his dictionary files. For example, when reviewing the site, no dead links were encountered. He provides a detailed history of changes to software, files, and even the external links on the top page. A scan of these histories reveals how frequently improvements and changes have been made to the site. A couple of the many significant planned improvements include provision for inclusion of examples of word usage and provision for cross-references to related entries.

Breen writes with a clear, direct, and concise style. This makes the link annotations on his top page easy to understand. However, the site contains much technical information, especially in the documentation for the various dictionary files, so a user without a good background in programming, computers, or Japanese will find some of the explanations extremely difficult to follow. Even those people with a good background in these fields will need some time to familiarize themselves with some of the acronyms and abbreviations.

Reception by Target Audience
Web users frequently go to Jim Breen's Japanese Page because of the comprehensiveness and high quality of its resources. As evidence of this, the Google search engine, which uses a sophisticated system to rank a web page based on an analysis of the quality of sites that link to the page (Google 2000), consistently ranks the pages of Jim Breen and other pages that use his dictionary files near the top of its searches. For example, a search for "Japanese" and "dictionary" shows the top ten listings of 173,000 to be based on Breen's dictionary files. Google's Web Directory's "Language and Linguistics > Natural Languages > Japanese" category ranks Jim Breen's Japanese Page as the number one resource (Google Web Directory 2000). Even Jim Breen's Ukiyo-e Gallery outranks 8,600 other entries for a Google search on the keyword "ukiyoe." His dictionary files and other software have five fully-operational mirror sites around the world, which provides additional confirmation of the popularity of his resources.

Praise abounds for Jim Breen's Japanese Page. Adjectives used to describe Jim Breen and his site include "Our hero!", "amazing," "outstanding," "interesting and useful" (University of Washington 1999; Eicher 1999; Masden; Lunde 1999). An Asahi Evening News article (Horvat), which reports on the dearth of high-quality web sites on the Japanese language, calls Jim Breen's site "perhaps the most often praised Japan-related site." One Japanese language organization describes his Japanese Page as "quite possibly the definitive source for Japanese language reference on the net. Jim Breen has assembled an incredible collection of resources for anyone who wishes to use Japanese on the net" (nihongo.org).

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Conclusion | Bibliography
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