The best in online database services for the Atari
by ROBERT DeWITT
The power of computers to manipulate data at lightning speed has given rise to a burgeoning new industry -- online database services. You can hook up your trusty Atari to one of these services, and have it search out and capture in minutes information that might have taken you weeks of traditional digging. As more and more individuals take up computing, such information services are proliferating. Antic has reported on a few of these services in the past(June 1982 and May 1983). Here we summarize the main features of those more established services, along with several new services that have recently been made available.
Collector's Data Service
410 W. Mercer
Seattle, WA 98119
A variety of rare and valuable items for sale, including everything from jewelry to real estate, is listed by Collector's Data Service. It costs about a penny per line per day to place an advertisement on the service, and access charges are $17 per hour during business hours and $8.50 per hour at other times. No membership fee or monthly minimum charge is required; charges are billed to your major credit card account, which is verified online. Access through local Tymnet numbers is included in the access fee.
Of Special Interest: stolen property notices.
945 Haverford Rd.
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
A true child of the communications boom, NewsNet is an electronic publisher that carries 175 newsletters, the UPI press wire, and the P.R. newswire (a roundup of press releases). The newsletters are heavily business oriented, but some titles, such as Howard Ruff's Financial Report and the Penny Stock Preview, should appeal to the individual investor. The evening access charge at 300 baud is $18 per hour ($36 for 1200-baud transmission). If you want to read text (as opposed to simply searching for topics), you pay a surcharge that varies by the title of the document. The service's minimum monthly charge is $15.
Strong Point: financial advice.
Dow Jones/News Retrieval Service
PO. Box 300
Princeton, NJ 08540
The grandaddy of all online services, this started as a stock quotation service during trading hours, and your need for such information cannot be better satisfied, even though a number of other services now include stock quotes. Dow Jones (DJ) owns the Wall Street Journal and Barron's, and offers them electronically here (on an exclusive basis), along with fast-breaking financial news gathered by the DJ News Service. Profiles of 10,000 companies also are on file. If you need financial data, you need Dow Jones, despite the service's moderately expensive rates ($72/hour during the day, $12/hour at night) and frequent surcharges for special information.
Special Feature: text search to 1979.
Control Data Publishing Co.
P.O. Box 261127
San Diego, CA 92126
(800) 833-3785 (in California)
Years ago, CDC and the University of Illinois collaborated to develop a computerized system to present and manage educational material. The result is PLATO, a network of mainframe anb microcomputers that contains over 200,000 hours of structured "lessons" on every topic imaginable. Until recently, PLATO was restricted for technical reasons to expensive terminals that were specially designed for it, but an innovative $50 cartridge from Atari now makes PLATO available to you at only $5 per evening hour. See David and Sandy Small's article on PLATO in this issue for further details.
Strong Point:online learning.
BRS After Dark
1200 Route 7
Latham, NY 12110
Though it sounds slightly naughty, the name of this service actually betrays a common aspect of many online databases aimed at individuals -- they cost less after working hours. BRS stands for Bibliographic Retrieval Service. Originally (and still) a medical/technical service during the day, it offers a wealth of scientific information. BRS After Dark is an abbreviated version of BRS that offers data on a number of scientific and technical fields. You pay $50 up front plus fees of between $6 and $15 per hour, depending on which of the service's 25 databases you use. The minimum charge is $12 a month.
Strong point: scientific research.
5000 Arlington Center
Columbus, OH 43220
CompuServe dominates the field of online services for individuals, and more than 100,000 subscribers have access to its potpourri of information. Inexpensive to join and use, CompuServe offers a wide variety of services (including programming, storage, bulletin board, shopping, electronic mail, airline reservations, and real-time communication) as well as information. Its main news source is the associated Press. CompuServe's information base is vast, if sometimes trivial. Before signing up, compare it to its major competitor, The Source. Details are available at most computer stores. Night rates are $6 per hour plus occasional surcharges. The $40 entry fee is often defrayed or waived as the result of various promotional schemes.
Of Special Interest: strong Atari group.
3 Blackstone Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
Delphi, a new service from General VideoText Corp., may presage a major movement of the future -- user publishing. It offers news, electronic mail, and searchable data, but it also specializes in user-created files, which may be either private or public. You can write, edit and store files while connected to the system, or upload material created offline. You can keep your calendar up to date, contribute to collaborative novels, publish a newsletter, register your opinions, seek expert advice, or confer in real time with other users. Registration is $50, but non-prime-time access is only $6 per hour, even at 1200 baud, and there is no monthly minimum.
Of Special Interest: Atari bulletin board.
DIALOG Knowledge Index
3460 Hillview Ave.
Palo Alto, CA 94304
Space research gave rise to Dialog, a subsidiary of Lockheed. During working hours, its 200 databases (which contain over 75 million records) serve more than half a million users at prices we needn't describe. At night, 22 of the service's most popular databases are available through a service called Knowledge Index, which specializes in medicine, psychology, and business. This service costs $24/hour. There is no minimum charge, but you must buy a $35 instructional manual (consider it a fee for the two free hours you're given to learn the system). Hardcopy printouts of desired material are reasonably priced.
Of Special Interest: Microcomputer Index.
2164 W. 190 St,
Torrance, CA 90504
A freebie for callers who live in the areas it serves (long-distance for others), CLEO is a Computerized Listing of Employment opportunities. Its scope is currently limited to high-tech jobs in California, but is growing rapidly. Watch for CLEO's arrival in your community. Local numbers now active are (213) 618-8800 (Los Angeles), (714) 476-8800 (Orange County), (619) 224-8800 (San Diego), (408) 294-2000 (San Jose) and (415) 482-1550 (San Francisco)
Chemical Bank of New York
P.O. Box 20302
Jericho, NY 11753
Pronto is making the dream of banking from home a reality. This electronic service allows you to track your account balance, pay bills and budget your financial resources online, and gives you access to other "electronic customers" and the bank's staff. You can establish and maintain any type of account on the system. Pronto sends you written, monthly statements of activity and budget status. Chemical Bank has opened the entire state of New York to Pronto, and licenses the system to a number of other banks around the country. Among these are Union Trust in Connecticut; Manufacturer's National Bank, Detroit; First National of Pennsylvania; American Security, Washington, D.C.; Banker's Trust, South Carolina; Florida National Bank, Jacksonville; Worthen Bank, Little Rock, Arkansas; and Crocker Bank, San Francisco.
Of Special Interest: cartridge-based for the Atari.
Computer Phone Book
By Mike Cane
New American Library
New York, NY 10019
Omni Online Database Directory
by Edelhart and Davies
MacMillan Publishing Co.
866 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022
These two books are recent and comprehensive guides to hundreds of online services for computer owners, and each contains an enormous amount of information. The Phone Book ($12.50) is better organized and easier to handle. The Omni Directory ($10.95) is organized by topic, but the authors' method of subdividing their subject matter may not coincide with your special needs. We use both books at Antic, and suggest that you look at each of them before you choose one over the other.
745 U.S. Highway 1
North Palm Beach, FL 33408
(305) 845-2996 (info)
(305) 84L-OGON (data)
Another free service -- if you can afford to call Florida is the Free Access On-line Software Library. This company charges manufacturers of software to List the particulars of their products here for your possible interest. Several thousand programs for all manner of machines are now detailed, including many for Atari. Caution: you can't buy programs online or download them; you can just search for current information. Expansion plans call for a hardware database and other product information, plus LOGON numbers in Canada and on the West Coast.
1616 Anderson Road
Mclean, VA 22102
The higher-priced spread of the margarine group, The Source attempts to provide a more refined general information service than that offered by any other non-specialized database, but it doesn't quite achieve the quality of specialists like Dow Jones and Dialog. The service's $100 registration charge is stiff (but is often discounted), access rates are generally high ($7.75/hour for evenings and weekends), and there's also a minimum charge per month. We find it easier to use than CompuServe, a features such as a private "chat" mode and a conferencing mode show signs of some thoughtful design work. Its vices and information are similar to CompuServe's, but you should compare the two before signing up with either System.
Unique Feature: send electronic mail by voice.