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These websites have it covered

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Is it fair to judge a website by its cover (or covers, as the case may be)? Well, when covers are the site's main content and reason for being, it seems like a reasonably fair proposition. But presentation still counts for something, and sites like the Smithsonian Institution's Cover Art: The Time Collection and Jim Bumgardner's CoverPop both - in their own unique ways - present their content in a manner that even brings a bit of entertainment to the exploration. Because even if you're being deliberately superficial, you still want to do it right.

The Smithsonian's "Cover Art" is an online-only exhibition of Time Magazine covers - selected from more than 2,000 portraits commissioned for that publication, and subsequently donated to the National Portrait Gallery. And while one may normally imagine ornately framed oils of distinguished luminaries when thinking of the NPG, the Time covers offer a much closer to 'street level' survey of the prominent figures of any specific period. (And as the exhibit demonstrates, some covers also offer insight about the period as well.)

After an eye-catching splash page image of the Beatles from 1967, accompanied by a fairly extensive but entirely unobtrusive text introduction to the exhibit, Cover Art opens into a virtually tab-, hyperlink-, and button-free interface. There are conventional links for such housekeeping as Credits and Copyright information, but the exhibition itself is an elegantly simple tiled layout of 22 cover illustrations (much more attractive than that sounds), which scroll around as you move your mouse, and zoom in and out with a press of the Z and X keys.

Within this opening collection, surfers encounter such personalities as Bob Hope, Julia Child, Joe Namath, Maria Callas, and Albert Einstein - depicted in forms that range from straight photography, to cartoons and paintings, to a bronze sculpture, in the case of John Wayne. Also included is the portrait that appeared on the very first issue of Time in 1923. (The name of Joseph Gurney Cannon might not ring a bell today, but the 86-year-old, 23-term veteran of Congress would certainly have been well known on the occasion of his retirement from politics.)

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