About.com is one of the most confusing places on the web. It seems to bill itself as one-stop-shopping for reliable “how to” and other information. The fact that it’s owned by the New York Times and written by so-called “expert guides” reinforces this image. Yet when you look closely at the articles themselves, it’s immediately clear that site varies widely in terms of accuracy and trustworthiness, and it’s exceedingly difficult to tease out the wheat from the chaff. I can never tell why certain topics are chosen for inclusion, what kind of editorial control is applied, and how authors are deemed “expert.” At times about.com seems like Wikipedia. At other times it seems like Yahoo Answers. Most often it seems like someone did a cut and paste job of Technorati, including a random assortment of blog posts of varying interest, quality, and subject matter under a single umbrella, and then tacked on an idiosyncratic index. Considering how poorly the site is organized and how haphazard and heterogeneous its articles are, it’s disturbing how often results from about.com come up in Google searches. Obviously people are using it, but I’m not sure how much it’s helping them.
That’s a long way to go to say that a link turned up on Digg yesterday pointing to about.com’s 100 Most Important Women of World History. Like most everything else on about.com, it’s totally subjective and of dubious historical worth, but it’s presented as somehow definitive. Still, it’s a good candidate for the Tops of All Time series, and about.com is a good source for the series in general. This article alone includes links to The Top 100 in Women’s History, the 100 Books that Changed the World by American Women, and other overlapping lists. I won’t grab any more from about.com for this series because I feel like it would be cheating, but there’s certainly plenty more for the taking.