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The Almighty Buck

Britannica and Free Content 149

jwales writes: "Larry Sanger, editor-in-chief of the Nupedia and Wikipedia sister projects, has written a fabulous response on k5 to Britannica's decision to start charging fees for access. It's all about freedom (in the sense of free speech), but there are implications for freedom (in the sense of free beer)."
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Britannica and Free Content

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    A "many-eyes" encyclopedia would seem to have a lot of promise, until you image what a "many-instruments" symphony orchestra might sound like. Some things need a hierarchical structure of control with a final authority. Being that final authority is a time-consuming and responsible position. Good editors are not found on every street corner - hell, if they were, then Katz would probably be long gone by now.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    My favorite part of was the "dirty jokes" banner ad that popped up and caused my employer's censorware to sound alarms.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I was a Beta tester for the EB back in 1994-95. At the end of the trial run we were given a questionnaire which asked how much we would be willing to pay for access to the site. The multiple choice started at US$20.00/month and increased from there. I selected "other" and said it would make a nice US$5.00/month add-on to a content provider like Prodigy, C-Serve or AOL but I didn't think an individual user would pay the prices they were looking for. They launched with a price that was ridiculously high and it never flew. In an attempt to salvage the site, they created a version that was funded by click-through ads (this was at the height of the dot com frenzy) . We all know that business model is currently not returning profits, so they are now back to charging for full access. I find it ironic that their new price is the one I suggested six years ago : )
  • by Anonymous Coward
    record companies ought to release music tracks as MP3 but recorded at some very low bit rate, like 56k or the like. Enough that you aren't missing the music, but it's not good enough quality to sit around and listen to all day.

    You're not the first to think of this.

    A friend and I came up with the same idea about a year or so ago.. we turned it into a web site, using local talent.. we currently only have 20 or so bands, but more are coming (a couple of independant labels have expressed interest..) We're in the midst of overhauling the site, to turn it into a "community" site - allowing visitors to rate bands and post reviews and comments, etc..
  • by Anonymous Coward
    > do we really need an "open source" enclopedia?


    When you buy an paper encyclopedia, it is yours. You can give it to someone else, you can give it to your childs, someone may find it in your Attic in 200 years. You can wip your ass with it. You can xerox the article you want to do original origami. You get what you paid for.

    I have absolutely no problem about paying real big money for a paper encyclopedia.

    When you talk about a CD/DVD-ROM encyclopedia, the things start to get less attractive. Due to the fact that bit and bytes are easily copiable, those thing come with heavy protections. Often you cannot easily copy/paste or print articles. Those encyclopedia are not information, but software. Even if the media is still usable (which I doubt), ou can be *absolutely* sure that, in 30 years, you will not be able to read the content of your CD/DVD-ROM encyclopedia. This means that it didn't really belong to you.

    When we talk about web-resources, things are totally ugly. Paying for access to the online encyclopedia is not a problem by itself, but the truth is that you don't have anything. If they go out of business, you have lost your encyclopedia. If they change their business model, you loose access to the encyclopedia. When you access an article, you have absolutely no proof that you'll be able to get the same article the next day (so, are we in war with eastasia ?). On top of that, they will record you viewing habits, center of interest, time spend on each page and sell it to advertisers. If they don't do that now, they'll do it next year.

    So ? In meatspace, I am okay to buy things if they belong to me. I virtual space, things belong to me if and only if they are free, like in freedom. This is why I use mozilla and not explorer. Mozilla is mine. Explorer is not, and will never be mine.

    So, the truth is that I am ready to pay for free(dom) content/software (and I already did). Of course, "open-source" et al have blurred the concept of "free". Freedom is not about money.

    Last point, about the quality thing. I found that free content, put together by fanatics is often of higher quality than most of closed content. Getting a good free Encyclopedia will probably take 20 or 30 years. But this is not a reason not to start it now.


  • by Anonymous Coward
    I got a free set of Britannica about a month ago at a garage sale. It's a bound set, from the year 1968. For most of what I use an encyclopedia set that's plenty recent enough. Though I gave the '68 set to a friend, because I bought 1973 and 1974 sets (that was the divding year where they went from the classic single series of volumes to the Micropaedia/Macropaedia system so both sets are worth keeping) for fourty cents a volume about two years ago.

    I'm not sure why I would want the weaker online form of the encyclopedia. I got a paper set for about $15 (the older '68 set for free!) and it'll last forever. A CD-ROM version probably won't work on whatever replaces Windows, when I need to use it fifteen years from now, and the online version... well, why would I want to pay an access tax to my ISP to access that? Why would I want to have to slouch over a keyboard to reference it?

    Screw electronic media. It has it's place, but only for trivial information. It's not archival.

  • by Masem ( 1171 ) on Thursday July 26, 2001 @03:12AM (#2192677)
    I wish RIAA or other such companies thought this way.

    I've proposed way back when Napster first started that the record companies ought to release music tracks as MP3 but recorded at some very low bit rate, like 56k or the like. Enough that you aren't missing the music, but it's not good enough quality to sit around and listen to all day. Then release them into the 'wild'.

    Those that would have never bought the music track will still mooch these, but they're not getting a good quality track, and thus will have no incitive to share again.

    Those that never heard of that CD have a way to try out the music and see if they like; if they like, they buy the CD. If not, no other money is lost. Again, the quality of the free track makes it worthless from a 'sharing' standpoint.

    Those that probably would have bought the CD (for example, one that follows a specific band) have a way to listen to try before they buy, and that includes all the an album, not just the one or two songs that are radio-featured or at those listening kiosks in the record store. (Eg, I know a lot of people would have avoided DMB's "In These Crowded Streets", knowing the other 8 or so tracks outside of the two for radio play).

    Additionally, the music companies could then combine this with an online music program such that one can buy those tracks at a reasonable cost (.25 to .50 a track) at a very high bitrate (196k).

    Unfortunately for us, the record companies first played ostrich, then denial, then litigation, in regards to online music. Very much like a Mr. Gates regarding the internet in his book "The Road Ahead".

  • Free beer is a cool drink that costs you nothing.

    Free speech is where you pay a lot of money for a police force to make sure that wierdos get to say things in public without being beaten up by violent stupid people who disagree with them.

    Free 'as in beer' software is software that costs you nothing. Free 'as in speech' software is software that you're allowed to fix if it's borked, and call it something else and give it to your friends, and get a warm fuzzy feeling out of it.

    Free as in 'from the constraints of rational thought' is the usual mental state of people arguing about free software of either type.
  • Thats a long term aim, but no reference work started out comprehensive

    Errr, come on! Most reference works start out as comprehensive. Not perfect, but comprehensive. Let's see, the first "Complete works of Shakespeare", was, I bet pretty comprehensive. Maybe an obscure sonnet was missing, added in edition 4. But, no one in the real world is publishing something called "The works of Shakespeare" with 4 plays in and a preface saying that with so many members of the public contributing other works, they hope to have at least 12 plays by edition 2!

    The value of reference works is in their comprehensiveness. Who wants a guide to the Java class libraries that just leaves out 400 assorted methods because no-one got round to writing the entries for them? Do you think people would still say it was a useful book? If you were teaching chemistry, would you advice students to pay for a full periodic table of elements, or encourage them to use a free one that still have a few elements missing, but was copyright free!

    I currently work for a medical journal ( I can attest the the value and importance of running expert reviews, medical specialist editors, technical editors, copy editors and the rest of it. You don't get that for free.

  • The thing about these Encyclopedias is that they are meant to be comprehensive. So far, none of the free ones are. I mean they are nowhere close to it.

    So, there are lots of arguments about why it is possible for people to create a free encyc. but the proof of the pudding is, let's face it, in the eating.

    So far, there is simply no evidence (regardless of what predictions might be plausible) that these kind of free info repositories work.

    The Internet itself (+google) is the closest thing to a free 'as in beer' encyclopaedia.
  • Here's my experience with the supposedly world class editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    First, look up the Macropedia article "number games" and go to the heading "logical paradoxes" (under problems of logical inference). There you'll find an appallingly false statement, namely the claim that the sentence "All statements made by Cretans are false", if uttered by a Cretan, leads to a self-contradiction. In truth, there is no contradiction there, as anyone who has studied elementary logic and negation of quantified statements (deMorgan's laws) knows.

    Well, so I thought that should be pointed out, and I wrote a letter to the author of that article, a retired professor in New York. I learned that he had since deceased; I then sent the letter to the editor of the EB. The editor wrote back that he would study the issue. Several months later, I received a reply: his "sources" disagreed with my assessment and argued that the text should remain unchanged!

    I have since lost interest in helping them correct the numerous inaccuracies in their mathematical articles.


  • Fair enough - I chose nupedia cause that is the one people were mentioning over and over.

    So, instead of one source for info now, we have to hit several - google for encyclopedias? Search them all at once?
  • go to nupedia, type Egypt into the search.


    Yet, if you look at the list of recent articles, at least I know it's got Snobol 4 covered.
  • I'm getting immensely tired of this inability of the tech industry to remember back more than a few short years.

    Encyclopedia Britannica was actually one of the first major general purpose information sites on the web, and most assuredly charged for access.

    (I know this because they had a free access program that used unique email addresses to limit repeat signups--but since I had a static DNS that redirected *all* usernames to my address, I could repeatedly sign up for free weeks of service.)

    Find your own significance in this.


  • >>>Surely the obvious matter that enough eyes checking something will make it a good source.

    So if the chinese govenment forces enough people to endorse a particular article on the virtues of the Chinese state, it must be true, right?

    Besides, where's the motivation to correct crap? Linux / Open Source Software works because for the most part the programmers are making something they themselves use--there's payback. You don't see a lot of Open Source replacements for Jump Start Preschool--not high on the priority list for most hackers. Likewise, if I'm the leading expert on Bali, I don't need a wikipedia article on Bali--I'm unlikely to bother wasting my time correcting all the errors posted by the istant "experts" who took a one week vacation there once.

  • In general, people mean "free content" to include tax-payer supported content. Without taxpayer money the Net itself wouldn't exist. However, tax-payer supported content has the advantage that people don't have to cough up a special fee to use it. This is good, especially in terms of your example of basic education. Probably a significant fraction of the populace wouldn't cough up the dough needed to educate their children, if the fees weren't already paid for by taxes

  • Depends if you're willing to trust the first few things that your favoured search engine throws up.

    At least with the Britannica they have a reputation for accuracy that you can rely on.

    Something that the search engines don't have and something which new enterprises (like nupedia) will have to generate.

    "I do not speak for my employers, though they are controlled from my Teddy's huge pulsating brain."
  • This is either a troll or one of those FIRST POST people who don't have time to read the article before posting.
  • You're paying for someone to spend their time to educate your children, the materials the books are printed on, the desks, the chairs, the building maintenance, and so on. It isn't free beer, in other words. ;)


  • discuss anybody's content charging policy but their own...

    Are *you* going to either pay or put up with ads for the privilege of discussing asshole surgery and ignorant capitalist-aplologist propoganda with the superior-quality trolls..?

    I would have made a few pithy links there to relevant nonsense on Kuro5hin but it's so bloody slow at the moment I couldn't be bothered.

  • by kuro5hin ( 8501 ) on Thursday July 26, 2001 @02:24AM (#2192691) Homepage
    Note that the article is available. The comments just won't appear right away, on the full-article page.

    I'm kind of pleased at beating the slashdot effect this time. :-)

    There is no K5 [] cabal.

  • I just looked over Wikipedia (hey kudos and everything for trying [it's way more than I've done in that area], but come on)...ughh. Anyone else have flashbacks of Andreeson many moons back, in the era of early beta-TABLE-era Navigator, claiming that Netscape would be your new OS (this precipitated MS to kick into high gear and destroy Netscape): Pretty classic vapourware trait of putting the cart before the horse and making claims that can't be backed-up except through fantasy and ridiculous extrapolations: "If we get all the world's smartest people to expend countless hours typing in information thanklessly, contributing to our cause...We're gonna be the best reference anywhere!" The idea of public content creation is one that seems great in theory, and it works great when the community is very small, but it doesn't work as scaling occurs. Soon enough there'll be some pathos played out with a big public message ostracizing all those evil trolls who ruined what was supposed to be a grand exhibition of human co-operation.

    And what's with using the GNU documentation license? Talk about pandering to the crowd. How about just saying "This is public domain information"? You don't need to make a big crusade about it with the FSF/Stallman verbal diarrhea (18,000+ characters to say "this is free") spouting out . Seeing that instantly told me that this is just someone/some people making a big statement rather than actually trying for some selfless goal. My favorite part of that license is:

    Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.

    What a farce. All hail the new leader Stallman! The communist revolution has begun!

  • Let me quote from the header in case you fail to understand: everyone is permitted to copy and distribute copies of this license document : It isn't the application of a specific instance of the license that we're talking about, it's the use of the license. In essence it's saying "Take this license and use it to promote freedom, but damnit keep it the way we authored it. We know all and see all. Our way or the highway..

    Freedom is freedom so long as it achieves the "free" (ergo government sponsored) communist agenda.

  • A calendar does not measure time, a clock does


    yes, but isn't that the point? an encyclopaedia must be semantically correct.

  • I would say that by common assent clocks measure time, since a widespread definition of time is "that thing clocks measure" ;)

    can i measure time in that sense by a calendar? no. it does not change state, like a clock -- i can look at a clock now, and in exactly 3600 seconds it will have one more hour displayed (providing it is reasonably accurate). a calendar provides a view of some period of days or months, but if i look at it in 3600 seconds time, it's displaying the same information.

    surely it is the nature of encyclopaedias to be pedantic. if not, then who?

  • I remember visiting the Encyclopædia Britannica website ( []) back in '97 and you had to subscribe then to access to encyclopædia...

    Did they set up and start providing access for free or something?


  • Just don't tell me the regular users will decide what's right and wrong, it won't work.

    IMHO, that is the only approach that will work. Collaborative ratings (not like what Slashdot uses, but where there is a well-defined link between the identity/reputation of the reviewer and the rated material) along with the viewer choosing who they trust (also unlike Slashdot), can result in the subjectively good stuff floating to the top and everyone being happy with it.

  • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <<charleshixsn> <at> <>> on Thursday July 26, 2001 @08:59AM (#2192698)
    Britannica's reputation has been suffering of late. (Well, this is about 5 years ago.) Not because it was bad, but because it was difficult to use. The original CD version of the Britannica wasn't particularly useful. I, personally, compared it to Comptons rather than to the print edition that I grew up with. And at their prices (and my frequency of use) I haven't re-subscribed. Now it sounds like during the period that I have ignored them they have revamped the indexing and price structure. Again.

    Do we need an open source edition? Yes. Given the DMCA, I'm not willing to trust any important work to solely being available in proprietary form. The CRC math handbook isn't available anymore because of copyright issues. (Well, this may have changed again. This was a few years ago.) And people were being told that they couldn't use the table of sines in building interpolation routines. I'm sure that a decent lawyer, a few years, and a bunch of cash could have gotten around that, but the people being challenged didn't have those resources.

    Yes, an open source version is needed. Commercial entities can't be trusted with exclusive control of anything. (Actually, I don't think that anyone can, but we are arguing about Open Source here.) History shows that they will press the exclusive control of one resource into associated areas, in a kind of embrace and devour strategy. (No, Microsoft didn't create that strategy. They merely articulated it.)

    Caution: Now approaching the (technological) singularity.
  • MODERATORS: Comment #10 is a troll.
    It may be a troll, but its a sufficiently interesting point of view not to mod it down, so I'm not going to waste my mod points by doing so.
  • So I submitted it. <decloak> Now I almost hope they nuke it, or at least rewrite the submission, because I failed to make clear why it is potentially stuff that matters;

    Either it's true for the most part, which would be just incredible. How can the judges get away with stuff like that? Where's the media? What happened?!


    It's a big lie, in which it's interesting because all the effort that's gone into it. Loads of documents, interviews, people, etc, and lot's of 'facts' that shouldn't be to hard to check up on, for an american. Does the case even exist? If not, why haven't anyone debunked the page already?How many people like me are there, spreading the big lie on and on...?

    Apart from the reports on Dmitry, this is the most interesting thing I've read in a good while.

    I'd still like to see the hoards of slashdot have at it, but it must be made clear that this is highly suspicious stuff.

  • Where exactly is the quality control in those established? Surely the obvious matter that enough eyes checking something will make it a good source. It works for mainstream science and seems to work for Open Source and Free software.

    Also, there is nothing stopping you donating some time / money to reach the goal you require. The final product will be a Free encyclopedia that meats your requirement and doesn't cost, by then, unecessary amounts.

    Of course, you're free to continue purchasing closed vartiants but I think that now we have the internet, this isn't necessary on 'quality' grounds if approached responsibly. Free Software and Free Music don't appear to lack quality, perhaps they lack support from some people's view (not mine) but that's not really an issue for books.

    The same applies for software and music IMO. I already use Free variants of those in ever increasing amounts and have no plans to stop.

    Of course, I really care little for the "How will Britanica make money if we make a free variant". Would you like Cars banned just so Blacksmiths can continue to make horse shoes and protect their market?
  • Can we have a spell checker in Slashdot ;)

    "meats". I can't believe I did that.
  • And Apache isn't the most popular web server. And Linux isn't growing faster than anything else.

    You only see what is around you. Look futher.

    And also not that those "kids" will one day have your job and be much better at it. Trends. Its all about trends. Where do you see them stopping?
  • That is as pedantic as it gets. =}
  • ...but the Encyclopaedia Brittanica has been available from for quite a long time on a subscription model, certainly a year or so longer than This I know, as my former school had (and, indeed, still has) a subscription. Perhaps they've decided to consolidate the two sites?
  • Why does he claim that he will put Britannica out of business? ... Though I recognize the benefits of these claims in motivating troops or getting momentum and coverage, I feel that they are immature and short-sighted.

    Unfortunately, I believe this is simply a matter of the U.S. culture of competition. From an early age we are all taught to compete with each other before we cooperate. We compete for our parents' attention, for grades, in sports and games, for popularity, for jobs and raises, etc.

    Free software (to me) is primarily about cooperation. In some projects, volunteers work together to produce a product. Once released, developers allow users to fix or improve it at whim. That's based on cooperation. However, these same people were still raised in competitive cultures, and it tends to seep in with comments about squashing the closed source competitors and ultimately the entire concept of closed source.

    While some will claim that competition is important for breeding better products, I just don't buy it. When I write software for myself and post here, I'm not competing against anyone, yet I do my best because I want to. I won't claim not to feel my ego boosted when I see one of my posts moderated up, but I get far more enjoyment from seeing my post generate a good discussion. I too was raised in the U.S., and the best I can do now is be aware of my drive to compete and temper it with my desire to cooperate with my peers.

    Open source minusses

    - designed for coders
    - no respect of deadlines
    - never completed

    Closed source plusses
    - designed for users
    - meets deadlines

    I am a software developer. I've developed for myself and for others. With regards to deadlines, no software of non-trivial complexity is ever completed on time. Obviously that's an over-generalization, but it's damn near accurate. Writing software, like writing a book, is a creative act and cannot be driven as easily as a manufacturing process. It's also a fairly young art, and we're learning all the time.

    If by "never completed" you mean that many free software projects simply die off, that's just life. I've left many personal projects incomplete due to lost interest or finding a new way to do it. If you mean that they are never "final," then I put forth that no software is ever final. Version 1.0 comes out, then 1.1, 2.0, 2.5, and so on. Software is a very complex tool, like a car. You can't expect it to be like a hammer where you design it and, well, it's done. Maybe you add a better grip later, but for all intents and purposes, it's still a hammer. I don't see a difference between closed and open source here.

    You are very correct about the difference in target audience, but that's due to their reasons for being produced. Corporate software is created to make money; free software is created to solve a problem. Making it easy to use for as wide an audience as possible is merely the best way to maximize profit. It has nothing to do with the process behind it. Corporations can spend money on usability studies and focus groups.

    I predict that soon there will be free focus groups -- users that provide open/free usability studies for everyone to use. This is the equivalent of developers writing open/free code. There will be people that create better interfaces around existing applications because they can.

    There are a few tweaks I'd like to make to Windows 2000 to make it easier for me to use (Oh hush!), but that's impossible. Microsoft won't cooperate and allow me to do that. There are many tweaks I'd make to linux so that I could use it, but right now I don't have the time. The difference is that if I made the time, there's nothing to stop me. In fact, I bet I could find a few other developers that would be more than happy to work with me.

    [Note: my vision sucks, and I have tried three separate times to get linux to an acceptable level of visibility for me (fonts and colors) and failed. However, I didn't take the time to seek help from others, so it's my failing. As well, I am totally keyboard-centric since I can hit key combinations without depending on my eyes, and I find X-Windows to be more mouse-centric, oddly enough. I bet there are people out there that could show me how to configure it to work for me, but I haven't looked. Again, this is because *I* haven't taken the time, not because it's not doable on linux.]

    So here's my suggestion for the free software and free encyclopedia community: Enlist students to help with your projects. Talk to teachers and arrange for course credit in exchange for coding and research. I would have loved an opportunity like that as a kid. I taught myself Basic, 6502 assembly, Pascal, and finally C before graduating high school. I could have learned even faster by cooperating with others and working on real-world projects rather than yet-another-space-invaders-clone (though that was fun too).

    For English class, I did research for a debate on whether or not tobacco should be criminalized. That was cool, but again I would have loved to tackle researching the U.S. invasion of South Vietnam for an encyclopedia. And to have gotten some course credit, in lieu of some other class, like Basic Programming, for which I completed the 21 programming assignments in the first two weeks and had to entertain myself for the remaining ten, would have rocked.

    And think about it. Who more than children have tons of free time, boundless energy, and untapped creativity? There is your talent pool. And as they move into adulthood, they will have a much stronger understanding of the power of cooperation and the value of freedom.

    Peace PatientZero

  • Right.

    I wish I could mod this up - Britannica does stand for quality - my parents scraped enough together to get me two different sets of Britannica (one an older set for everyday reference, the other a current set for occasional reference, as well as each yearbook every year up until a few years ago) when I was younger. The quality of that encyclodpedia, compared to cheesy things like Comptons, or World Book (I think that is right) - uncomparable. Brittanica ruled.

    I hope they stay in business - someday I would like to purchase a quality bound encyclopedia for my library - and I would like it to be Brittanica.

    Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!
  • Where the heck did you manage to find a first edition (and if I may ask, how much did it cost)?

    I personally love books, and I really try to seek out older books (one of my favorites is a Coynes School text book from the 30's - detailing the latest in TV systems - including Nipkow disk scanning techniques) - but have yet to find anything much over 100 years old that strikes my interest (what I mean is I have found many 100-150 year old books - but none were on subjects that I fancy). Being able to find such an edition of an encyclopedia would make my day (I think the oldest book I have is an algebra primer from the late 1800's) - provided it didn't break the bank.

    Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!
  • You list "never completed" as an open-source minus. In fact, this is an open-source plus. Packages are always being improved, and just because the project doesn't end ("never completed") doesn't mean that there isn't a nice functional application you can use. Under closed-source plusses, you list "meets deadlines" and yet most of the time these products don't meet deadlines.
  • Absolutely true. This is also something that will never be true about the open source encyclopaedias.

    One can be sure that every word in Britannica has been picked over with a finetooth comb by a collaborative effort, and Britannica is considered one of the world's most reliable sources of accurate information.

    The approach of the open source encyclopaedias is to throw together a lot of diatribe about anything, and hope that the good bits float to the top. For example, it will be easy to search the encyclopaedia and find highly contradictory entries.

    Another more pertinent point: that article was in fact written by the designer and main manager of the open source encyclopaedias, so of course he is going to write something which favours his view. Any English student will tell you that an exposé of a speaker's own work is very low on the authoritative scale. This is not to say that the open source encyclopaedias therefore suck, it is saying that the posted article should be taken with a grain of salt.
  • Leaving out topic is not a flaw. In fact, there are many topics which Britannica does not have.

    A 'flaw' in an encyclopaedia is incorrect information, and/or irrelevant or unspecific information.

    An encyclopaedia is not the book of all information; it is the book of correct knowledge.
  • I can't wait for the section on Beowulf clusters.
  • The troll quota and readness are simply a reflection of the fact that k5 has a much larger userbase.

    If Slashdot were a small site and k5 were a huge one, the problem would be the other way around.

    I agree with you on the story submission/rejection thing, k5's idea for that is excellent.
  • The topic is online encyclopaedias. Therefore, comments about journalism site unavailability are offtopic.
  • Once you've done that research, you are no longer basing your opinions on the document in question, but rather on the reseach you've done yourself.

    Contrast this with Britannica (for a convenient example). You would do well to consider anything you read there to be factual, without performing any further research (or even thinking).

    As an aside, I wonder how many people actually did such research based on this article.
  • Two items:

    First, try ebay. A year or so ago I bought a beatifull burgundy leather-bound complete macro/micropedia with yearbooks. It's the 15th edition (mid-80s). I paid a good bit of money for it ($300.00, I think) but, for my needs, it's well worth it. I'm 36, so I suppose I might have a connection to printed books that future generations may lack (thinking of the Star Trek movie in which the old-fashioned Kirk was sitting around reading a book, rather than living it, or whatever, on the holodeck). One of the hurdles of net-based 'pedias must leap: they can't be read while on the 'throne', at least not easily. When the equivalent of the Encycolpedia Britannica can fit on a hand-held device I'll be more interested in non-print versions.

    Second, I've not yet seen a software encyclopedia that could compare to the Britannica. Furthermore, while the Net has some fantastic sources of information there are gaps and it's occasionally difficult to find just that tidbit of data you're interested in. Usenet is one of the best sources of information on the Net. However, when seeking a definition or data to illuminate a passage in a book or an article in a magazine I don't care to wait for the turn-around time of Usenet, particularly if the Group in question is moderated. If you're a reader of non-fiction, particularly history, then a set of Britannica's is invaluable.

    For my money the Internet is the perfect complement to the Britannica, e.g. The Britannica provides basic information on Submarines, Battles ships and the Second World War but, should I desire more detail about U-Boats there's Uboat.Net and, if I want answers to questions re. the triple 16" turrets on the USS Alabama I post a question to
  • In other words, you will have to pay for content and the amount due is on a demand/supply basis (the most basic business model on earth).
    But the supply is effectivly unlimited. Once the information is generated the cost of distribution is virtually nothing (or certainly decreases significantly with demand).

    My name is not spam, it's patrick
  • The point is this: for every extra freedom that person X has, there is one less freedom that person Y has. This is logically necessary: e.g. if I am given the freedom to pick my nose in public, it mean you (or someone else) has lost the freedom to stop me to picking my nose in public.
    Coercion is not freedom. I would make a distinction between a freedom to do something and a "freedom" to force someone to not do something. Freedom of speech gives us the right to say things, if you disagree you can voice those opinons. This is very different from saying that my right to speech infringes on your right to gag me.

    I am not saying all things should be provided for free (far from it); however, if a group of people devote personal resources for the good of everyone and provide a free (in any aspect) alternative to what was a commercial enterprise, this is yet another form of competition that will only improve the quality of both products (or possible replace one depending upon the market)

    My name is not spam, it's patrick

  • So where's the quality control in these 'open' encyclopaedias?

    Where is the quality control in linux kernel development, in apache web server development, in the development of gcc?

    Given enough eyeballs, all errors are shallow.
  • EB barely gives lip service to the stuff they cover which makes it almost worthless for me. 4 paragraphs on a topic isn't comprehensive in the content end of things. Anyone with a good search engine can get more and better written reports for free.
  • Plus Ice T, who isn't in Britannica at all

    Errrr, come on - this is pure FUD. At least try the search [] before you post, and you'll find articles on

    The last of which mentiones Ice T in the second paragraph...

    Oh, and it gives you two external guides (The Rough Guide [] is my favourite) with history and discography.

    You are not going to promote Open Source / Open Documents / Community Efforts by being factually incorrect.

  • by cybaea ( 79975 ) <allane AT cybaea DOT com> on Thursday July 26, 2001 @06:54AM (#2192722) Homepage Journal
    no reference work started out comprehensive

    And what exactly are you basing that observation on? I have a facimille of the first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica and, while some of the articles are a bit shorter that we would expect in a modern volume (famously the complete entry for Woman runs: "the female of man. See Homo.") but it is comprehensive with few, if any, obvious omissions.

    Similarly, the French L'Encyclopédie was, with its original 28 and first edition 35 volumes in folio size, a remarkably comprehensive work.

    Indeed, I would argue that (commercial) encyclopaedias have a history of being very comprehensive from the first edition onwards. In this spirit, none of the free versions are anywhere close, not even beta.

    The point of an encyclopaedia is, indeed, to be comprehensive and also authoritative. I had a look at the "best of Wikipedia" [] pages, and while the writing was sometimes engaging, on these two counts the articles simply did not measure up.

    As an example, look at the article on Calendar []. On the first count, that of being comprehansive, it fails obviously by missing half of the articles to specific calendars it mentions at the bottom. (This may change over time.)

    On the second count, that of being authoritative, the Encyclopædia Britannica [] (subscription required, yadayada) runs to 17 double column pages in my printed edition. It mentions over 15 specific calendars, as opposed to the 6 of Wiki (3 of which has no content).

    And - I almost forgot! - the Wiki page is factually incorrect. A calendar does not measure time, a clock does. The printed Britannica definition "a calendar is a means of grouping days in ways convenient for regulating life and religious observances and for historical and scientific purposes" is much better.

    For the computer programmers out there, think of the calendar as the thing that translates time (time_t or whatever; an event in the Universe) into a date; a date having a legal or social meaning. In this context it is interesting that the calendar can change with eight to ten weeks' notice [].

    So I guess I'm not impressed yet. Still, it is early days and the project may grow.

  • Unless I've had a brain embolism, my memory is that when EB was first on the web, they were NOT FREE. They were charging for access (and their CD set was significantly more expensive than it is now).

    Then they announced free access, and their web site melted down. It stayed down for several weeks I believe, with a placeholder page announcing their triumphant return at some point.

    When it was restored, it was free, and since then there has been a steady increase in the number of ads on article pages including the oh-so-lovely x10 pop-ups.

    So their current switch to a subscription is not a unprecedented change, it is a return to the original EB charging for access.

    Personally, I don't have a problem with $5/month for EB access, if I needed it. EB articles are generally well-written, and it would cost me at least $3 to go to the library plus my time to see a 2 to 5 year old version of the EB. On the other hand, for most research purposes, my 18-year-old copy of EB still suffices.


  • by BenHmm ( 90784 ) <> on Thursday July 26, 2001 @02:19AM (#2192724) Homepage
    It's early, and I'm not at optimum caffeine level yet, but it strikes me that this hits it right on the head. and so - please all repeat after me:

    The freelibre philosophy, which works very well for software, is not universally appropriate.

    It does not follow that if someone/thing/company is non-freelibre, or non-freegratis that they are automatically evil/bad. Some people just prefer to be paid for their work/knowledge directly. People are different. Love the diversity. See rule the first.

    Empowerment is not Entitlement. Just because you are able to, does not mean it is right or clever that you should. Exercising your freedom to will in many cases take away someone elses freedom from. See rule the second.

    Freedom from is, in many cultures, more important than Freedom to. It is this fundamental difference in thinking that seperates Microsoft and the GNU/Linux community, Adobe and the Russians, the RIAA and Napster and so on and so on. See rules the first, second and third.

    If half of the time spent on this non-sensical freelibre jihad was spent actually working on the product, whatever it is, all this ra-ra-ra we-are-great-you're-non-free-you-suck would be redundant.
    and now, back to the coffee.

  • One might make the same argument about an open source operating system -- that no one will want to work on boring bits, so that it will never be really complete. And that does seem to be true to a certain extent, doesn't it? Certainly, problems that are of great interest to programmers get attention first, and the dull bits (like writing a spreadsheet app) take longer.
  • Sara,

    You misunderstand me.

    I'll readily concede several points in your article, because they are simply not relevant to the issue at hand. Is Britannica significantly more comprehensive than Nupedia? Yes!

    But I dispute the scholarliness, clarity, and authority of Britannica in many cases, and the reason for the serious deficiencies in Britannica is precisely that they do not have a proper blind peer review process. Errors creep in, and they don't have the best mechanisms for keeping them out.

    Is Britannica the best encyclopedia in existence? By a long shot. Can it be improved upon immeasurably? Certainly.

    What we're about is having an open process, run by volunteers. None-the-less, my primary point is this. Anyone who criticizes Nupedia by using the notion "How can I trust what some random jerk on the web says" should investigate our review process, and Britannica's review process. What you'll find is that the quality of Nupedia is unsurpassed.

    The downside, for Nupedia, has been speed of production. But these things take time. And the important thing is that since this is all *free* (libre, GNU FDL), it will never go away and never die so long as one person cares to continue the work.

  • by jwales ( 97533 ) on Thursday July 26, 2001 @08:24AM (#2192727) Homepage
    Moderators, please moderate this up so that people will stop asking the same questions over and over! :-) 1. Why should you trust the content in Nupedia, since it is a free encyclopedia? Because we have a staff of volunteer PhD peer reviewers who go over the content carefully! Our review process is vastly superior to that of Britannica. 2. Why doesn't Nupedia have the comprehensiveness of Britannica? Because we've just gotten started a year ago, that's why! Join us! Get involved! 3. Why should anyone care about "free content"? What's up with the GNU license? If you don't know the answers to these questions by now, why are you reading Slashdot? :-)
  • by jwales ( 97533 ) on Thursday July 26, 2001 @07:47AM (#2192728) Homepage
    You ask this question as if it is an unanswerable challenge. Nupedia [] has a comprehensive system of peer review. We have review boards made up of people with PhDs in their fields. We also have an "open review" step where anyone may post their comments. Even after an article is published, it's always open to revision. Spot an error? Fix it and send in a diff! The maintainers (the editors) of that section will review it and make the fix.

    Asking who is going to pay these editors and quality controllers is like asking who is going to pay the maintainers of free software. If GNU/Linux and all the free BSD variants didn't exist, you'd be justified in your skepticism.

    But we already know this will work.

    What about wikipedia []? Well, here you have to judge for yourself. The review process is open and eternally ongoing. Being less rigorous, the quality of the final product is lower than Nupedia. But if you look through it, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how good it really is.

  • by gargle ( 97883 ) on Thursday July 26, 2001 @04:41AM (#2192729) Homepage
    Now that Nupedia and Wikipedia have been advertised on Slashdot and Kuro5hin, we'll soon have the many Slashdotters and K5ers contributing scholarly, erudite articles. This will really make the quality of the articles go up. Hooray for Nupedia and Wikipedia! Hooray!
  • So where's the quality control in these 'open' encyclopaedias?

    You either didn't read the article, or you're experienced enough in the field of journals to see the flaw in the article's argument.

    "many Wikipedia articles so far are of surprisingly high quality."

    The article misses the point. "Surprisingly high quality" is what wins the Booker prize for fiction. In a reference work, you don't need a few great pieces, you need to avoid any number of bad ones. It's not the greatness that makes a useful encyclopedia, it's the avoidance of error.

  • do we really need an "open source" enclopedia?

    Yes. Definitely so.

    An open source encyclopedia has problems, certainly. It might not even qualify for the strict use of the term "encyclopedia", but I'd still hate to lose them.

    Here's a couple of "open source data repositories". See what you think:

    • Norman Yarvin's hand-selected Usenet Archive []
      Hand filtering of old Usenet that one guy thought was "useful". Idiosyncratic, unauthorative, and terribly useful. It's also quite nostalgic for the "good old days" of Usenet; names like John De Armond and Garry Coffman
    • Hitchiker's Guide []
      What started out as a very pure attempt at an "open source encyclopedia", but now has some serious issues over moderation and editorial control. Now it seems to be de-evolving into a chatroom
  • Not to be pedantic, but a spell checker wouldn't have helped there :)
  • When Microsoft was doing Encarta, they went to Brittanica and talked to them about doing a CD-ROM version. Brittanica wasn't interested. So Microsoft went ahead and did Encarta on their own, priced it far lower than Brittanica, and took over the encyclopedia business.

    A few years later, the Brittanica people went to see Bill Gates about a possible buyout. He told them they now had negative value, because their big outside sales force that sold print encyclopedias door to door was a liability, not an asset. That seems to have been a valid assesment.

    Since then, Brittanica has been looking for a revenue model. They tried bulk licensing for universities (Stanford used to have a site license), a free online service, and now a pay online service. Nothing worked. Brittanica has since laid off most of their staff.

    Brittanica's big problem was price. The print version lists at $1250. Encarta lists at $30. Brittanica faced the classic problem of a high-margin company faced with low-margin, high-volume competition. Very few companies make that transition successfully.

  • by JiveDonut ( 135491 ) on Thursday July 26, 2001 @12:35AM (#2192734) Homepage
    Are you being sarcastic? I can't tell, perhaps because it's 4:30 AM. Anyway, we'll assume you're being serious.

    Don't be ridiculous. I'm sure that thousands of hours of research and editing go into an encyclopedia such as Britannica. The authors and editors make this effort so you don't have to. What you are paying for is convenience and accuracy.

    If you want to take the time to go research everything yourself and not pay Britannica, that's fine. But if you want to find information on a ton of topics that you can count on to be well organized and accurate, go to an established encyclopedia such as Britannica.

    An encyclopedia isn't a scientific journal where you go to find newly discovered facts. It's a research tool.

  • I really resent this type of comment.

    You are part of Nupedia and you are biased in its favor. That's fair enough. You make comments that strongly support your views about Nupedia. That too is fair. But then you make wholly misleading claims like "Our review process is vastly superior to that of Britannica". This is wrong. But even if the claim was true, you would not know that it was, because you have not tested your process under the conditions in which it needs to be tested.

    Here's a comparison. Imagine you wrote a program to draw polygons. Just wrote--not even tested. Then you claimed that your programming-writing methodology was better than the one used by Adobe and Corel to develop their drawing programs. Such a claim is clueless.

    Nupedia has a handfull of short articles. It is as useful for reference as a polygon-only program is for drawing. The Britannica's treatment of numerous subjects is similar to the treatment in book length studies of those subjects. And Britannica maintains scholarliness, clarity, and authority. It is as useful for general reference as Adobe and Corel programs are for drawing.

    You do both Nupedia and yourself a disservice by stating such nonsense.

  • MODERATORS: Comment #10 is a troll.

    An encyclopaedia is just like any other (nonfiction) book, except that it covers more topics. You pay for a book on astronomy. Or a book on biochemistry. Or on Greek history. Etc. With an encyclopedia, you get all those books in one.

    The encyclopaedia Brittanica is truly scholarly. I once picked several topics at random, looked them up in other highly-regarded specialist sources, then looked them up in the Brittanica. (It was a project that took a few weeks.) The Brittancia was superb, presenting the knowledge clearly, concisely, and with great insights. Sometimes the Britannica was even more insightful than the specialist sources. And both the breadth and depth of coverage were excellent.

    The Britannica articles are not written by just anybody. The Britannica editors choose the articles' authors from among the leading researchers in their respective fields. So the erudite qualtiy of the articles is entirely expected.

  • Whereas wikipedia only returns 130 matches, including Egypt/Communications Egypt/Economy Egypt/Geography Egypt/Government Egypt/History Egypt/Military Egypt/People Egypt/Transnational issues Egypt/Transportation Plus Ice T, who isn't in Britannica at all.
  • It's not the greatness that makes a useful encyclopedia, it's the avoidance of error.
    Thats a spurious (and essentially unsupported) statement. Every encyclopedia contains errors and usually plenty of them, much like all programs of any size contain bugs. When I spot an error in Britannica (which is not as infrequent as you'd make out) if I'm *really* motivated I could write to them pointing it out, whereas I can correct wikipedia there and then (and have done). What makes encyclopedia's great is a combination of scope, and reliability, but not infallibility.
  • The thing about these Encyclopedias is that they are meant to be comprehensive.
    Thats a long term aim, but no reference work started out comprehensive. The early history of the Internet Movie Database shows what began as a small volunteer effort can grow beyond the imaginings of its progenitors. True, staff are paid now, but they weren't for most of its history.
    So far, there is simply no evidence (regardless of what predictions might be plausible) that these kind of free info repositories work.
    And none that they can't. So, you can either engage your mind in a (possibly doomed) but glorious project or be negative and sniping about it. Your call.
  • the first "Complete works of Shakespeare", was, I bet pretty comprehensive.
    Wow. You really have no idea what you're talking about, do you. Early Shakespeare folios were fantastically inaccurate. Not only were entire plays omitted, but texts often coming from copies made by audience members.

    Alternatively, go check the now-out-of-copyright public domain Britannica, or look at version 1 of the Jargon File, or those early cddb databases, and do a quick count of the errors you can spot immediately.

  • Bottom-line: the "open source" encyclopedias are noble ideas, but they'll never be accepted mainstream. They'll never be institutionalized the way that Britannica has and will continue to be.
    Hang about. If you're so keen on intellectual rigour, shouldn't you support crass, sweeping generalisations like that with some sort of cogent argument. Otherwise your just another technologist navel gazer [] passing a moments opinion off as reason.
  • Mea Culpa: I did this search [], which only gets external links, and they don't work in my browser anyway.
  • by gowen ( 141411 ) <> on Thursday July 26, 2001 @08:15AM (#2192743) Homepage Journal
    I have a facimille of the first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica and, while some of the articles are a bit shorter that we would expect in a modern volume ... it is comprehensive with few, if any, obvious omissions.
    Erm ... Bull. I have the 1911 version here. No reference to the modern Olympics (15 years, and 5 games, old), no music outside the western classical tradition, two references to baseball (over 70 years old at this point), neither giving any description of the game. No references to Chartism and its role in universal suffrage, to luddites, or anything that might be described as social history. No Babbage, or Lovelace, or the Wright brothers, ... Well, you get the picture.
    A calendar does not measure time, a clock does
  • by gowen ( 141411 ) <> on Thursday July 26, 2001 @08:52AM (#2192744) Homepage Journal
    an encyclopaedia must be semantically correct
    But you could argue semantics and say clocks don't measure time either, they measure some physical phenomena that (it is hoped) relies on time, and is regular in time (whatever that means. As soon as you start discussing such matters, you run into such conumdra, since it is so very hard to define what time is, that to argue whether calendars measure it is just pedantry.)
  • Freedom of speech gives us the right to say things, if you disagree you can voice those opinons. This is very different from saying that my right to speech infringes on your right to gag me.

    This sounds appealing, and I don't dispute there is a difference between speaking and gagging someone. The problem gagging someone is not the only thing that infringes on their ability to speak. Suppose we're both at a seminar, there is only 5 minutes left. For whatever reason, you are given these last 5 minutes to put your case across. Now it's your right to speak in these 5 minutes that infringes on my right to speak in them. This illustrates how talking about freedom, even when it is qualified as freedom of speech, doesn't make sense until you say to whom exactly the freedom is given.

  • Who loses when a cool new thing (press, photography, airplane, Internet) is invented?

    You're confusing freedom, in the sense of liberty, which concerns relations between people, and freedom in the sense of technology, which concerns relations between people and nature. E.g. you are not free to fly because someone wouldn't let you and you are not free to fly because the aeroplane has not been invented. I don't claim there is necessarily a loser in the second case.

    Life isn't zero sum.

    I don't claim that it is. What I claim is that saying X is better than Y because it is in some sense freer is nonsense, since for every freedom created, another is destroyed. This does not mean that very freedom is equally valuable, they are not. What it does mean, however, is that you need some principle to judge what is better. E.g. based on something other than freedom such as utility or fairness.

    Your argument reeks of the kind....

    This argument reeks of name-calling. If you actually have an argument, lets hear it (saying something looks/smells like something else is usually a bad one).

  • This is great news!

    I hope everyone boycotts Britannica (no one should even dare to expect to make money in this world, especially not more than I). And finds an alternative: me!

    I am going to release my own online encyclopedia. Now everyone in the world will get to hear my world views, and even believe them! This will be most

    It will take a little while since rewriting history is such a time consuming process.

    I've just started the first article. It is about me and called "King of the World".

    ;) ;)
  • by JimPooley ( 150814 ) on Thursday July 26, 2001 @12:37AM (#2192748) Homepage
    So where's the quality control in these 'open' encyclopaedias? They're only as good as the information they contain, and if you let any old fool write stuff for them without any editing or quality control then they're useless.

    And who's going to pay these editors and quality controllers?

    Sorry, I think I'll stick with established sources of information myself.

    Hacker: A criminal who breaks into computer systems
  • why not pay? We pay to our teachers, doctors and lawyers even to the cable guys, and they don't provide always original info.
    Goldurn it, I want a doctor who provides original info!
    "Hi Doc, I've got sore arm."
    "You've got hyperatropeemia!"
    "What's that?"
    "I don't know, I just made it up!"
  • Why on earth don't you think that there exist people out there that are willing to help other people? just because you don't want to do something for free (oooh... your time is valuable) doesn't mean that I won't do something like that.
    Yeah, like that nice kid answering legal questions on He really enjoyed helping out other people.
  • As I understood, they won't allow such a possibility, and for me pay around $5 for viewing single article seems too much. Therefore, their decision prevents users like me accessing Brinannica on line, which is not so good for both users and Britannica itself, because I think, that such users are majority of Britannica users.

    So maybe a per article payment would be better. A buck an article isn't unreasonable in my opinion. Your other option is go to the library....

  • So some of it sucks. How do you know?

    How is somebody looking up something he is unfamiliar with supposed to know? That is what you are paying for with Britannica.

  • Closed source plusses
    - meets deadlines

    You haven't worked in a closed source environment have you? Deadlines move all the time, and even then, it seldom makes it. What's the common figure, something like 80% of projects are late and over budget? How the heck is that "meets deadlines"?

  • The parallel that people are drawing with open source is weak. There is an easy way to check quality in software: use the program, read reviews, etc.., but with books it's different. With copyrighted work the reputation of the editor and author are at stake. In wikipedia who has even the vaguest idea of reliability of content?
  • did anyone manage to grab a copy of the k5 article before k5 was /.ed???
  • Great. As if k5 wasn't slow enough already recently but now it's been slashdotted. Now I'll never get my news from the trenches.
  • Life isn't zero sum. Who loses when a cool new thing (press, photography, airplane, Internet) is invented? A few at most. Who wins? Almost everybody else. Same with democracy, individual freedom and the rule of law -- they benefit mostly everyone except a few dozen would-be tyrants. I'd count the GPL and like-minded concepts in that too. Many win, a few lose.

    Your argument reeks of the kind of relativism people use to argue that China is actually a great place. These are the people who don't like freedom at all because they hope to be members of the Nomenklatura.

  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Thursday July 26, 2001 @05:55AM (#2192758) Journal
    I wonder how well the open source encyclopedia will function when dealing with controversial subjects. Some folks get rabid on certain points, and you can even get disputes of what are the facts.

    In the town where I went to High School, there was an English Edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. It was completely fascinating to read, often at complete variance with the western version of the same information. Although it was often the only source of detailed regional information like the politics and history of Estonia in the Middle Ages.

    In a similar vein, I can see Microsoft publicists contributing their take on the History of the Open Source movement. Obviously, there could be problems. You could have the History of Microsoft as well. Should MS be trusted or distrusted here as well?

    It comes down to what world view do you want to promote? and if it is open source who do you let in to write the articles? I can see the controversy in the writing of articles covering the history of the American Elections of 2000. The variety of Vested interests would have a blood bath over the details.

    Never mind those hot button issues near and dear to the open source community. It is one thing when you are dealing with code that implements widget X. You can see if it works or not. But when you get into areas outside of technology, it is not so simple.

  • First there will be a modest charge for web services.

    Then, in order to "keep costs for the customer low", advertisements will be reintroduced.

    Later, in an effort to close a new digital devide, the "Internet Tax" will start distributing funds to large mega-corps so that they are able to provide free content for "the poor".

  • As the web advertising market crumbles and formerly free sites become fee-based services, web folks gripe and scream about "freedom" and the demisde of the "indipendent Internet."

    But it all comes down to a little maxim that mothers tell their teenage daughters all over the world: Give your stuff away and no one will take you seriously. []

    Contrary to what we had previously believed, it seems that sales of T-shirts [] cannot sustain a staff of 100+ at full salary and benefits.

    Sure, Brittanica and Salon have only gone fee-based or semi-fee-based because otherwise they will probably go under. And, sure, they will both probably fail in this venture and go under anyway. But that isn't to say that it's a bad idea.

  • We all know that the reason the /. editor called the K5 article a "fabulous response" is that said response positively raves about the Open Content model.

    Since the goals of the Nu/Wiki-pedia project are to create comprehensive encyclopediae,and the article's exponential projections suggestion this will be should be attainable in a few years, I wonder what the Open Content world will have to say if at such a time these encyclopedias are something less then the comprehensive and authoritative resources that Brittanica is. Because there are SO many reasons why Open Content encyclopedias might fail:

    • There are objective standards by which to judge a piece of code : for instance, whether it works or not, or whether it is secure. There are no objective standards by which to judge a historical essay. How are you going to get a collaborative process to generate consensus on a document on, say, "West Bank Settlements/Colonies" ? Sure, you could fall back on the possibility of having human editors as Nupedia does, but this nullifies much of the collaborative strategy. And with exponential growth, you need an exponentially large number of editors. Will these editors rewrite the articles to make them 'correct' or 'consistent' ? If so, then you basically have an old-style encyclopedia at heart. And if so, who will pay them ? How will they be credentialed ?
    • When I pick up the Brittanica I know that experts have written the articles, and I trust their facts. I know there has been rigorous fact-checking and editing, and this is key to Brittanica's authority. What's the nupedia equivalent ? Am I going to trust an article I essentially pick up off the web ? Does anyone else trust articles they pick up off the web so completely ? Do /.'ers trust political "facts" posted on Usenet, on web-sites, or even here ? I know the Web has taught me nothing if not a great deal of skepticism.
    • The probability that some number of editors are going to be able to maintain such a large body of work submitted essentially anonymously by so many people with such varying viewpoints seems improbable, to say the least. Sure, they say, you can always back out changes created by vandals, but sit back and consider the logistics: who's going to back out changes made over hundreds of thousands of articles by tens of thousands of submitters ? Who's going to monitor them ? Who's going to decide what constituted vandalism ? Who's going to check the facts ?
    In short, while the idea is intriguing I highly doubt that this project is as plausible a project as any given Open-Source project. The latter has a finite number of contributors, working towards largely objective standards. Open Content encyclopedias do not. And if the latter fails to supercede paid-content encyclopedias, I wonder whether the "Open" community will be brave enough to face that fact fairly.
  • What an excellent article. Normally I take atrticles about websites written by a principal of that website with a grain of salt. This was an excellent piece. Presenting pros and cons in a way that really made sense.

    First, free content WILL succeed. I always chuckle when a new website comes out and a year later if it isn't loaded with content people say 'this sucks' or 'its a failure' Database driven sites are great - why? If you have the CPU power and storage - you can archive stuff forever (yes you can archive any website as it grows I know - but we're talking data driven sites) Think about it - if Nupedia continues to grow, even at a slow pace, but the aulity of articles is top notch - imagine the resource our children and grandchildren will have? That, to me, makes it well worth the effort and worthy of support.

    Finally, I think the Nupedia team has come up with an excellent structure. Wikipedia is like Nupedia's farm team - Lots of items get submitted, the top quality content gets noticed, refined, and moved to the big leagues on Nupedia. Though I'm not super familiar with the workings of their system, the Nupedia chalkboard seems like one step too many - why couldn't articles be developed on the Wiki side and then moved to Nupedia when they are ready? There may be valid reasons for the third step - but the posting didn't really go into much detail on that.

    All in all an excellent prooject and a great posting outlining the possibilities - course what they REALLY need to do is enter into an agreement with Everything2 and start getting potential NUpedia topics from there - I've found some excellent materials on E2 - it would be a great way to expand their 'farm system' :)

  • I have some encyclopdia on CD that came bundeled with an old PC from like '92 that blows that site away. Summary: Great concept (like linux) but not for the masses (like linux).

    And if you'd actually read my post - I said that the content was lacking - but why does everyone expect new free websites to instantly have tons of great content? The idea behind a user contributed website is to build something that will benefit future users! THe first version of Linux sucked too compared to toadys kernels - but thousands of people, instead of saying 'this bites' saw excellent potential and built Linux into what is is today - a robust stable OS that serves a lot of the Internet content you read today.

    Things like this take time and instead of complaining about how the content sucks, do somethign to improve it or move on - but don't fault the folks that care about this for trying their best.

  • actually, when you think about it, there is _a_lot_ of work done for free, not only in the computer business, but also in sports, community work etc.

    Why on earth don't you think that there exist people out there that are willing to help other people? just because you don't want to do something for free (oooh... your time is valuable) doesn't mean that I won't do something like that.

  • What about the controversial issues in these open encyclopedias - I don't mean Windows/Linux stuff, I am talking about the really controversial things, such as Middle East conflict, for example.

    Are projects like Wikipedia [] built to deal with it? Usenet-style wars [] on articles?

    Just don't tell me the regular users will decide what's right and wrong, it won't work.

  • Most of the content of an encyclopedia, IMHO, is static, or changes very slowly. I mean, how many articles about the life of Napoleon do we need?. Or about the development of number theory. Or about electromagnetism.

    I mean, that the moment one top-notch content piece about some more-or-less static area of knowledge is libre, it's enough. It doesn't matter that the project, the encyclopedia, site or whatever goes under. The content will stay, and be used by other projects. As Larry Sanger says, the key is the low cost of distribution. The parallelism with Open Source software is clear.

    Of course not all knowledge is static, and some is too specialised. But for a big chunk of it, the tide cannot be stopped, is a one-way only street. The structure of information distribution has changed, and that will change many things, not perhaps inmediately, but unavoidably.


  • by KelsoLundeen ( 454249 ) on Thursday July 26, 2001 @03:41AM (#2192795)
    "Suprisingly high quality" according to whom? According to some open source advocate? What the hell is this supposed to mean? This proof of something?

    I've had plenty of students who would claim that their papers are of surprisingly high quality. "My roomate thought so. And he's a senior!"

    Um, yeah. Whatever.

    Bottom-line: the "open source" encyclopedias are noble ideas, but they'll never be accepted mainstream. They'll never be institutionalized the way that Britannica has and will continue to be.

    And -- I don't see anyone writing about this -- bear in mind (just naming a few names off the top of my head) that Buckminster Fuller and Aaron Copland (among many, many others) have written and contributed articles to Britannica. This is part of what Britannica such an interesting, ongoing historical document. And this is part of what has "institutionalized" Britannica.

    The question we should be asking -- and one, again, that I see no one concerned about -- is this: do we really need an "open source" enclopedia?

    We might. I'm not sure. But then: why? Why do we need it? Do we need it because Britannica lacks quality content? Or do we need it because Britannica is charging five bucks a month and a couple people think: "Hmmmm. Monthly charge bad. Must start from scratch."

  • by Ulwarth ( 458420 ) on Thursday July 26, 2001 @12:22AM (#2192802) Homepage
    This looks like a very reasonable idea for generating true revenue from information. In particular, since they provide a "teaser" (the first few paragraphs of each entry) you can find out if it's something useful or not. And unlike a website which only covers a narrow range of topics, an encyclopedia is useful for just about any kind of general research.

    The issue that will hold people back is just the bother of registering and paying, when it's easier just to go back to Google and see if you can find it in an unrestricted site. (Microsoft Passport to the rescue? *shudder*)
  • by ThinWhiteDuke ( 464916 ) on Thursday July 26, 2001 @02:59AM (#2192808)

    Well, I could have posted this countless times before; this basically applies to most discussions about the respective strengths/weaknesses of open source (free) vs closed.

    Sanger's article is well written and makes a number of very good points but I couldn't shake an unnerving feeling:
    Why does he claim that he will put Britannica out of business?

    And more generally, I keep reading posts on /. or elsewhere claiming that Linux will kill MS, ***SQL will kill Oracle and so on. Though I recognize the benefits of these claims in motivating troops or getting momentum and coverage, I feel that they are immature and short-sighted.

    My understanding is that closed and open source are very different "methods of development" that yield very different products addressing very different needs. I am not a technologist (actually I'm more of a business guy) but from my experience, I think I can quickly sum up the plusses and minuses of each "method of development" :

    Open source plusses
    - robust
    - reliable
    - standard and adaptative
    - constantly improving

    Open source minusses
    - designed for coders
    - no respect of deadlines
    - never completed

    Closed source plusses
    - designed for users
    - meets deadlines

    Closed source minusses
    - unrelialable
    - hard to maintain / upgrade

    Of course, these are generalities and could (will) not apply to any specific situation. I could also add a few plusses or minusses to each method but you get the idea.

    I think that each method addresses a different segment of the market and I would not be surprised if in 10 years, both worlds coexist peacefully. Many people in the open source field are starting to realize that. A very interesting discussion about "Why Linux will never make it to the mass-market?" (or something along these lines) took place on /. the other day. Some guy essentially said that Linux would never reach mass-market acceptance before it was half as user-friendly as Win is; another one said that he didn't even care.

    Back to Nupedia and Wikipedia, Sanger makes a pretty convincing description of what these projects could become when (if) they reach critical mass, but I think he misses a point about what it takes to create a good encyclopedia.
    Writing a good encyclopedia is not only about getting the largest number of the best writers submitting the largest number of the best articles. It is also about coherence, completeness and absolute accuracy.
    Benevolent writers will offer articles on their pet subjects, but how do you find a writer for a specific article if nobody is voluntary? All articles will probably improve in quality over time, but at a given time won't lots of articles still be bug-ridden?

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that these projects are dommed or will never meet a significant success. I do think, though, that Nupedia and Wikipedia will eventually be dramatically different from Britannica and will fill dramatically different needs.

    Adopting this perspective, I think that open source advocates should commit less resources in religious wars and more in thinking about what needs they want to address and which market they are targetting.

    I will fight for the right to be right
  • Having worked for the OED for ten years and developed the prototypes for the OED Online, I can confirm the sad fact that publishing companies are in no mood to give away their content and are, indeed, only reluctantly involved with the world wide web (the first suggested OED Online prototype was working and suggested in 1994, but it took them till 2000 to launch a version with reduced functionality...). Unfortunately, it is also true that it takes a lot of money and many hours of serious scholarly effort to produce a major reference work. I am happy to report, however, that I have put the entire 10 volume, 10,000 page Century Dictionary (considered by many to be the greatest American dictionary ever produced) freely online in DjVu format. For those who might be interested, the url is [] and it includes headword lookup and full text search capability.

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.