When I was a boy in central Ohio, I discovered a secret. If a question was stumping me — say, "What's the leading export of Ecuador?" or "Who led the American League in RBIs in 1957?" — I could call the reference desk of the public library in downtown Columbus, and an anonymous librarian would look up the answer. I don't know how many people knew about this service back in the 1970s. I sure never told anyone. (I didn't want to clog up those phone lines — or admit that I was curious about Ecuadoran trade.) But I always thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be cool to have a reference desk of my own?"
Well, now I have one. It's called Refdesk (www.refdesk.com), and it's a crack house for data junkies. The brainchild of Bob Drudge, father of cyberscribe Matt Drudge, Refdesk contains links to hundreds of Web-based information tools. They'll help you track down almost any nugget of knowledge — whether you're looking for a movie quote, a medical definition, or Ecuador's balance of trade. (Hey, old habits die hard.) Think of Refdesk as a hybrid of Yahoo!, The World Almanac, and a squad of Navy seal-trained reference librarians.
Oh, and thanks to Refdesk, I can report that oil is Ecuador's leading export and that Roy Sievers, of the late and sometimes lamented Washington Senators, led the AL in 1957 with 114 RBIs.
A version of this article appeared in the May 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.