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Britannica and Free Content

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the hope-this-link-doesn't-crush-kuro5hin.org dept.

The Almighty Buck 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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Re:Quality Control (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2192671)

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.

good riddance (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2192672)

My favorite part of britannica.com was the "dirty jokes" banner ad that popped up and caused my employer's censorware to sound alarms.

Britannica was originally a Pay site (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2192673)

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 : )

Exactly.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#2192674)

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..

Re:Dot coms getting real (3)

Masem (1171) | more than 13 years ago | (#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".

Re:Free Speech and Free Beer (1)

Jon Peterson (1443) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192678)

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.

Re:Encyclopaedic (3)

Jon Peterson (1443) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192679)

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 (www.bmj.com). 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.

Encyclopaedic (4)

Jon Peterson (1443) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192680)

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.

nupedia replacing Britannica - sure.... (2)

Sabalon (1684) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192683)

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.

Enough with the institutional amnesia! (2)

Effugas (2378) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192684)

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.


Re:Quality Control (1)

KFW (3689) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192685)

>>>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.


Re:Encyclopedia, school, etc... (2)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192686)

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

Re:Britannica, what? (1)

cah1 (5152) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192687)

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."


Cardinal Biggles (6685) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192688)

This is either a troll or one of those FIRST POST people who don't have time to read the article before posting.

Re:Encyclopedia, school, etc... (1)

pen (7191) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192689)

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. ;)


Re:way to go (3)

kuro5hin (8501) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192691)

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 [kuro5hin.org] cabal.

And Netscape will be your OS (1)

ergo98 (9391) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192692)

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!

Confused... (1)

The Dodger (10689) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192696)

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

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


OT: Troll (1)

maroberts (15852) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192699)

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.

submitted (1)

eddy (18759) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192700)

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.

Re:Quality Control (2)

Phill Hugo (22705) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192701)

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?

Re:Quality Control (2)

Phill Hugo (22705) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192702)

Can we have a spell checker in Slashdot ;)

"meats". I can't believe I did that.

Re:Quality Control (2)

Phill Hugo (22705) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192703)

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?

Forgive me for being stupid... (1)

Jon Chatow (25684) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192705)

...but the Encyclopaedia Brittanica has been available from eb.com for quite a long time on a subscription model, certainly a year or so longer than britannica.com. This I know, as my former school had (and, indeed, still has) a subscription. Perhaps they've decided to consolidate the two sites?

Re:Well that's just ridiculous.... (1)

Old Wolf (56093) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192710)

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.

Re:Pointless aggressivity? (1)

Old Wolf (56093) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192711)

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.

Re:Hooray! (1)

Old Wolf (56093) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192712)

I can't wait for the section on Beowulf clusters.

Re:Thanks for the link (1)

Old Wolf (56093) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192713)

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.

Re:K5 seems to be down.......... (1)

Old Wolf (56093) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192714)

The topic is online encyclopaedias. Therefore, comments about journalism site unavailability are offtopic.

Re:It is a normal evolution (1)

phurley (65499) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192717)

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

Re:It's all about freedom ... (1)

phurley (65499) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192718)

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

Re:Quality Control (2)

bwt (68845) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192719)

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.

Re: Ice T (2)

cybaea (79975) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192721)

Plus Ice T, who isn't in Britannica at all

Errrr, come on - this is pure FUD. At least try the search [britannica.com] 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 [britannica.com] is my favourite) with history and discography.

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

Re:Encyclopaedic (4)

cybaea (79975) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192722)

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" [wikipedia.com] 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 [wikipedia.com] . 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 [britannica.com] (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 [dtic.mil] .

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

Britannica Not Free, Then Free, Then Down, Then $ (1)

inicom (81356) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192723)

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.


Bravo! (4)

BenHmm (90784) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192724)

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.

Hooray! (4)

gargle (97883) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192729)

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!

Re:Quality Control (2)

dingbat_hp (98241) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192730)

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.

Re:Quality Control (2)

dingbat_hp (98241) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192731)

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 [yarchive.net]
    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 [h2g2.com]
    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

Re:Well that's just ridiculous.... (5)

JiveDonut (135491) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192734)

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.

Re:Well that's just ridiculous.... (2)

Sara Chan (138144) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192736)

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.

Re:nupedia replacing Britannica - sure.... (1)

gowen (141411) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192737)

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.

Re:Quality Control (2)

gowen (141411) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192738)

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.

Re:Encyclopaedic (2)

gowen (141411) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192739)

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.

Re:Encyclopaedic (2)

gowen (141411) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192740)

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.

Quality Control (3)

JimPooley (150814) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192748)

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

Re:Well that's just ridiculous.... (2)

beable (170564) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192749)

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!"

Re:Quality Control (2)

beable (170564) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192750)

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 askme.com. He really enjoyed helping out other people.

Re:Dot coms getting real (1)

Marty200 (170963) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192751)

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....

Re:Everything (1)

sqlrob (173498) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192752)

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.

Re:Pointless aggressivity? (1)

sqlrob (173498) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192753)

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"?

Re:Slashdotted? muahhahahaa (1)

brendan.b (175631) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192755)

did anyone manage to grab a copy of the k5 article before k5 was /.ed???

Open Source Info and Controversial Subjects (3)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192758)

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.

Re:Need better editing infratructure (1)

Espen Skoglund (204722) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192761)

Agree. This was one of the things that struck me too. The articles might be good, but they won't be great unless you're able to augment them with decent looking figures. Does anyone know of any macro/scripting like language like MetaPost, Fig, or the LaTeX picture environment for creating simple figures? Using something like embedded MetaPost in a HTML document will of course enable you to create arbitrary complex figures (which also will look great on paper). Using it, however, requires the author to get past a not too trivial threshold.

I guess there does exist a simpler ``package'' somewhere that achieves this. In the beginning one could simply embed the script in the HTML document, and as time passes by one could create a Java application (or whatever) to assist non-expert users in creating figures.

The slippery slope. (2)

Gannoc (210256) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192763)

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".

Do you mean "Free" ? (1)

DVega (211997) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192764)

"It's all about freedom (in the sense of free speech), but there are implications for freedom (in the sense of free beer)"

I think it's about time to create 2 new english words to represent Free (as in beer) and Free (as in speech). Many languajes have 2 words for these 2 meanings (e.g. French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Esperanto).

Some suggestions

  • Freer, Freech
  • Bree, Spree
  • Gratis, Libre


Of Price and Credibility (2)

tenzig_112 (213387) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192765)

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. [ridiculopathy.com]

Contrary to what we had previously believed, it seems that sales of T-shirts [ridiculopathy.com] 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.

best in Scotland (1)

JRiddell (216337) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192767)

Britannica never has been the same since they moved it out of Edinburgh's Hight Street, those pesky Americans. :)

What will failure mean for Open Content ? (2)

tmark (230091) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192771)

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.

Re:Kuro5hin Is Slashdotted (1)

crankie (243627) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192772)

Funnily enoguh, there have been a lot of posts/diaries on K5 recently discussing the fact that it's slowing down. The userbase has grown to the point whereby, at about 2-3pm GMT, the site is almost unusably slow.

There is a new server being installed and hopefully by then K5 will be up to the slashdot challenge.

Someone up there loves irony.

Free content CAN succeed and this is a great idea (2)

baptiste (256004) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192773)

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' :)

Re:Free content CAN succeed and this is a great id (2)

baptiste (256004) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192774)

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.

Re:Quality Control (1)

eXtro (258933) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192775)

Slashdot has checking through a multitude of eyes in the form of moderation and meta-moderation as well as through replies to comments. It's also horribly broken in a couple of ways. First, some trolls are moderated into oblivion where they belong but others are routinely moderated up, at least over the first few weeks or months of their existance, because they know how to play the system. Speak authoratively with a lot of impressive sounding words and in general people assume you know what you're talking about. Most of these people aren't bright or talented enough to keep it up over the long haul.

The second way that Slashdot moderation is broken is that unpopular but alternate viewpoints, equally valid or at least no more invalid than other viewpoints, are negatively moderated. Metamoderation can possibly fix this, but the same group who does the moderation does the metamoderation. Oops. A more insidious thing to do is to not moderate insightful but opposing viewpoints. There is no system of checks and balances against this.

Maybe this will be avoided, but I haven't seen anything in the comments or original article that really indicates that. There's a body of people that can roll back modifications, but if this body of people believe that "Commercial software: Pure evil." is a valid commentary then anything that doesn't support this viewpoint will be silenced.

An encyclopedia is a wide but shallow information source. It covers a lot of topics but not very deeply. The important thing from my point of view is for example, that an entry on Communism is written by an authority on the communistic ideal, its equally important that an entry on Democracy is written by an authority on the democratic ideal. Individual case studies of either form of government are seperate encyclopedia entries (but cross referenced if its a good information source) written by possibly different people.

I haven't even seen a paper encyclopedia that fits my ideal.

Whether a company goes out of business does not concern me. I really hope that a "Free" encyclopedia does work, that it does threaten Britanica. Providing cheap, high quality information to the masses is an admirable goal.

I believe in it enough to donate time to it, but it doesn't mean that I'm entirely optimistic that it will succeed.

Of course they want income, wouldn't you? (1)

tantrum (261762) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192776)

Encyclopedias are extremely expensive to write, and when you buy the great big paper edition you have to pay a fortune. I guess that the Internet edition was not developed without cost as well.
Britannica never said that they would keep the service free, did they? I seem to recall that they were saying that it would be free in the beginning, and after a few years they would either start charging, or live by income from advertisers (as most of you probably know, only a few sites are able to survive only with income from advertisers.)

I do not think that we will see a lot of free encyclopedias on the net, before we get some kind of open encyclopedia where the users post the information.
something like everything2.com [everything2.com] . H2G2 [bbc.co.uk] has got some potential as well, but it is probably to humorous.

There is probably a lot more encyclopedia projects going on, but I can not seem to recall any of them.

Re:Quality Control (1)

tantrum (261762) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192777)

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.
If you are referring to my post, both of the services I mentioned has got quality control. A supervisor have to accept each entry, and the poster has got to modify his entry until it seems apropriate to add it to the database.

I was trying to include something about quality control, but I guess I forgot it. Stupid me. ;)

Re:Quality Control (2)

tantrum (261762) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192778)

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.

Controversial Issues (2)

orlovm (263235) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192779)

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 [wikipedia.com] built to deal with it? Usenet-style wars [winternet.com] on articles?

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

Re:Need better editing infratructure (1)

Anml4ixoye (264762) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192780)

Actually, that is already being done.

Before I took my current job, I spent three months at a company called Link Systems International. Their job was to convert textbooks to be online. Mathematical textbooks, complete with charts, formulas, etc. And while it was challenging at first to figure out a good method, once we figured it out it was great.

I feel the biggest challenge of these projects is people who look at it and say it can't be done. Look at everything2, and at the two sites mentioned in the article. Those sites are capable of so much that it is unbelievable. My biggest chalenge was feeling like I could not contribute, that I wouldn't be able to fit in. It was fear of failing, of screwing up, of being humiliated for all the world to see. But once I got past that, and realized that as long as I posted on what I knew well, I love it.

Trying to create a new infrastructure is only going to add a level of complexity that is going to keep people out. It needs to be as easy as possible, which means using ways that people are already familiar with. Have a complicated formula with fractions and everything else? Create it as a gif, and have a way to add that, maybe as a link at the bottom of the entry.

In short, I think this is genius, and agree that we have the possibility to move this direction with a lot of things and blow a lot of the publishers out of the water. As long as we make it easy to use, and to contribute, and don't humiliate people for trying (or who need help), it will be amazing.

Re:K5 seems to be down.......... (1)

Neverrtfm (303783) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192781)

damn the guy before me, he beat me by 1 minute, now I'm gonna get modded redundant. (:-)

Re:K5 seems to be down.......... (1)

Neverrtfm (303783) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192782)

How the hell is pointing out that the linked story is offline (disregarding the fact that I posted redundantly cause someone else posted while I was writing my comment) offtopic? Now, this post is offtopic, but the parent was very much related to the story. Look, cracked out moderator, it's REDUNDANT, not OFFTOPIC.

Micropayments? (1)

seven89 (303868) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192783)

I don't know what mechanism Enc. Britannica is using to collect fees, but if it were possible to access their data with some micropayment scheme, it would occasionally be worth a buck or two to have some "authoritative" information on some topic. The further legitimizing of micropayments would benefit small scale content providers. That would work against those few sites that are large enough to survive on ad revenue.

The referenced K5 article was hardly a "fabulous response." It was mainly a long stream of fanciful conjecture.

P.S.: Everything2, [everything2.com] the only "free encyclopedia" I'm familiar with, is a great and wonderful thing, but there is plenty of room for things like it as well as things like Britannica. They really don't compete with each other.


Re:Unrelated, but WOOOW! (1)

bigbadwlf (304883) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192784)

So submit it. It's very interesting.

Re:way to go (1)

ShadeARG (306487) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192785)

"Due to Slashdotting, you are looking at a plain-HTML version of this story. Eventually, we will return it to normal service. Sorry about this." -- kuro5hin.org (26-Jul-2001, 0930 GMT)

I wonder if the slashdot effect [usgs.gov] will be considered a denial of service attack in the near future...

if(site.bandwidth < slashdot.effect) { site.is_awol(true); slashdot.victory++; }

High school research (1)

thejake316 (308289) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192786)

Imagine trying to cite wikipedia for your high school freshman reports. "The earth is one of the planets in our solar system. It is carried on the back of a blue cow, having horns 4000 in number1.

1 www.wikipedia.com/wiki/earth.html (edit) May 9, 2001 7:38 am by stoneco6969@jihad.muslim.org

And as Principal Skinner said, "Webster's dictionary defines laughter as the act of laughing."

It's a one-way only street (2)

OpenSourced (323149) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192788)

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.


Oh well... (1)

Uttles (324447) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192789)

I guess po folks like me will just have to be un-edumacated if they be chargin all kinds of dollas fo they site...

Re:Free content CAN succeed and this is a great id (1)

tundog (445786) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192791)

Are you kidding?!?! 2 Major problems with the article: 1. You only learn that the author is the web principle at the end and that's if you read the fine print. I had a feeling that the author was onto something until I found ou who it was. Oh yeah, I'm sure the guy just 'likes' write in the 3rd operson, that's it. In short: propaganda 2. In a world were the term 'web content' equates Time warner et al, the site is 'content' lacking! Content isn't just descriptive text (think colors). 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).

Re:Encyclopedia, school, etc... (1)

night_flyer (453866) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192792)

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.

Umm, no some of us are paying for someone to teach someone elses children... some of us dont have children


Information is still free (1)

night_flyer (453866) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192793)

Its called a library, Im pretty sure your town or city has one, it does require that you get away from your computer though...

again, another reason we dont need computers in school, its making our lazy kids lazier... we used to have to WORK to get a report done...


Re:Quality Control (1)

KelsoLundeen (454249) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192794)

I'm not opposed to open source data repositories. You misunderstand.

The usenet google, for example -- an *incredibly* valuable resource. Probably one of the top resources on the net. No question.

But an encyclopedia is different. It's different because it's not just a "data repository." You don't just dump data into an encyclopedia. Britannica, as I mentioned above, has a history. The history counts toward its usefulness. The history establishes the encyclopedia into a very specific social context. Its existence and past history work toward validating its continued presence and future usefulness.

Now, you could argue that the usenet archives, for example, operate under similar circumstances. They're useful -- and perhaps "valid" -- because they've proved their usefulness in both historical and day-to-day practical contexts.

If you said this -- and argued this way -- you'd be absolutely right. But DejaGoogle -- or whatever it's now called -- isn't the same sort of resource that an encyclopedia (for it to be useful) is.

This is a complex issue. A bunch of open sourcers deciding that the information is "surprisingly high quality" doesn't mean that its context is somehow magically established.

If I take black and white photographs, for example, and ardently practice Ansel Adams' "Zone System" -- visualing the finished image by exposing for a specific "zone" of gray in the scene, exposing for it, and then controlling my development process so that I can either add or decrease the contrast in the negative so that the finished image matches exactly my pre-visualization down to the whites, grays, and blacks -- I'm not necessarily making art. I'm following a technical process to achieve predictable results. But it may or may not be "art". I don't know. That's not for me to decide.

Same with the encyclopedia -- especially (in the case of nupedia) if there's only about 20 articles. You can't just decide, hey, we're following all the rules, therefore our resource is just as good as Britannica's and even better: we're free! (And then get someone at a Slashdot-like to website to write and call the content "surprisingly high quality.")

That's not to poo-poo the idea or to say that they're wasting their time. They're not wasting their time. It's a good idea. But to imply that it is now or will soon offer an alternative to the granddaddy (literally) of all reference works is just, well, absurd. Completely absurd.

It's like me deciding to write a dictionary. I decide there's 80,000 words in my dictionary. I have some fun with the definitions -- I'm a decent writer, so I give every definition a little "spin".

"It's a dictionary with attitude," I tell my friends. "And get this: it's surprisingly high quality! I mean, for chrissake, who wants to pay $1999 for the Oxford English Dictionary? You can have mine for free!"

Re:Quality Control (3)

KelsoLundeen (454249) | more than 13 years ago | (#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."

Thanks for the link (1)

absurd_spork (454513) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192796)

Thanks for the link to kuro5hin.org [kuro5hin.org] (which, by the way, is perfectly well reachable at the moment). It has again pointed out to me how preferable kuro5hin is over Slashdot: a far lower troll quota, no incompetent story submission/rejection crew, no bland US bias, and, most of all, the general impression that what you write is actually being read by someone.

Boy, this is going to cost me Karma.

i suppose they have to pay the bills... (1)

trash eighty (457611) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192797)

...like anyone else but of course with so much FREE content on the net i wonder if any fee-based site will flourish. a few times i have been confronted with a useful net service that wants my money... but as numerous free alternatives have always existed i have just moved on. britannia is very good though...

but my parents bought me the full set of books when i was a kid anyway so i don't need to pay ;)

Re:i suppose they have to pay the bills... (1)

trash eighty (457611) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192798)

once a year?

probably less but it looks good on the bookcase!

Need better editing infratructure (1)

j7953 (457666) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192799)

One thing that such efforts will really need in order to succeed is a better infrastructure for editing articles, and a better publishing method than just plain HTML. Just take a look at the formuals in Wikipedia's physics section. It's ok for simple things, but what happens when they come to integrals, or just square roots? Write sqrt(...)?

Where's TeX for the web? Yes, MathML is there, but what about good editors and rendering engines?

And formulas aren't the only problem. What about figures, charts, tables, multimedia content and all that stuff? Edit everything in sourcecode? Current web browsers have nothing but a plain text editors in web forms, unless you use annoying plugins. Of course, you can include images, but then all data except the visualization is lost.

Before these projects can really take off, a new infrastructure for content editing and viewing needs to take off. The technical infrastructure (HTTP, XML) exists and works, but the applications are still missing.

Re:Need better editing infratructure (1)

j7953 (457666) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192800)

Trying to create a new infrastructure is only going to add a level of complexity that is going to keep people out. It needs to be as easy as possible, which means using ways that people are already familiar with.

Well, yes, that was what I was trying to say. Have you taken a look at the MathML examples? I wouldn't want to write MathML in soucecode.

To an average user, I think editing source code is much more complex than having a good editor that suits the task (like a spreadsheet for charts). For formulas, LaTeX seems pretty good (at least better than visual editors where you have to switch between mouse and keyboard all the time), but you can't publish LaTeX on the web.

Have a complicated formula with fractions and everything else? Create it as a gif, and have a way to add that, maybe as a link at the bottom of the entry.

Then what if someone wants to print the article? If there were MathML, the formula could be rendered again, in a more suitable print resolution. Having images works for the web, but makes reuse for other media much harder. If the articles are to be usable and readable not just on the web, users must submit the actual content, not just an image. Also remember that images of formulas are not readable by people with visual disabilities.

Oh, and BTW how do users create the link? With current browsers, by adding appropriate markup in the source code of your article. This is not exactly user-friendly.

An encyclopedia on computer science might work very well with source code. But we're talking about a full encyclopedia here, with all kinds of other topics, and the people that are experts in those are often not computer experts in the way we are. If all you offer them is the text entry field that current browsers offer (like the comment entry field on Slashdot) many of them might not contribute.

Re:Need better editing infratructure (1)

j7953 (457666) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192801)

Trying to create a new infrastructure is only going to add a level of complexity that is going to keep people out. It needs to be as easy as possible, which means using ways that people are already familiar with.
Well, yes, that was what I was trying to say.

Note that I wanted to say it needs to be easy, not that a new infrastructure adds complexity (it shouldn't). I guess I should have quoted the second sentence only :)

Dot coms getting real (3)

Ulwarth (458420) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192802)

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*)

Everything (1)

marche U (459365) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192803)

This is the same model as Everything right? And hasn't that got over a million nodes now? And to be frank, although there's a lot of garbage on it, there's a lot of really cool stuff on it, both informative and amusing.

Money sucks.

Britannica, what? (1)

GdoL (460833) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192804)

I never remember to go to one of those, my first thought is always a search engine. It is more complete and with a bigger range of directions. It isn't a unique, fast response, but life never is.

Re:i suppose they have to pay the bills... (1)

GdoL (460833) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192805)

>but my parents bought me the full set of books when i was a kid anyway so i don't need to pay ;) ...and you probably use it once a year...

Re:Well that's just ridiculous.... (1)

GdoL (460833) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192806)

I think we should PAY, but probably they should think of a more competetive way of getting the money.
They do a great job, a needed one, so why not pay? We pay to our teachers, doctors and lawyers even to the cable guys, and they don't provide always original info.

Re:Britannica, what? (1)

GdoL (460833) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192807)

When you search tne net with google, or others like it, you get first what is most linked by others sites. So you already have a quality control before even your own. You can always compare the results, ask for more in newsgroups or the rights forum. Britannica is one of the ways of finding facts, but never should be the only one.

Pointless aggressivity? (4)

ThinWhiteDuke (464916) | more than 13 years ago | (#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

Re:Pointless aggressivity? (1)

GospelHead821 (466923) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192809)

If I understand the concept of WikiPedia and NuPedia correctly, it is that WikiPedia probably should be considered with some skepticism, for the very reasons you've suggested - that being the probability that any given article would be flawed at any given point in time.

However, as I see it, NuPedia ought to be a very reliable source of information. Because it represents only the information that has undergone the rigorous revision process of WikiPedia and the further requirements of the Chalkboard and NuPedia itself, the articles should at that point be as accurate and well-written as those of any other encyclopedia.

I agree with your assessment that the Wiki/Nu model is flawed in that there are topics which will remain without coverage because no volunteers step forward to treat them. In that respect, these open encyclopedias will remain incomplete when compared to payed-for content.

Does this necessarily mean that open encycolpedias will be inferior? Not at all! Maybe you won't be able to use NuPedia to pull up information on quantum tunneling or superstring theory, but it may prove invaluable for a student's report on evolution or on the life of Igor Stravinsky.

Or perhaps, as the author of the article predicted, it will become popular and attractive for specialists to write for such open sources of content. If that is the case, then it is altogether possible that NuPedia, or some similar model would be as complete or moreso than a commecial encyclopedia.

It is a normal evolution (1)

JavaPriest (467425) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192810)

...and in five years, paying for information will be the most normal thing in the world. Looking at today's evolution in the broadband television arena, the business model will be something like this:
On a normal day, you want to look up information on the Concorde. A content provider will charge you a little amount, say 10 cents. Then, a Concorde crashes. That day, and the weeks to follow, you will have to dig up considerably more for that same information (let's say 2 dollar).
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).

I was talking about TV, but what about the Internet? Well, I observe both media (Internet/TV) converging to each other, in a couple of years there will probably be no difference between them anymore. As for free content, only non-profit organizations or individuals will be providing them. But what about the thrustworthiness of their information?

Never mind that, I don't believe everything TV tells me either.

Well that's just ridiculous.... (1)

Meffan (469304) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192811)

How can these people justify charging for this stuff, they just went out and wrote down whatever they saw, and poached bits & bobs from other sources. Nothing in those 'cyclopedias is at all original , so I really don't believe they've got a leg to stand on...

Charging people to see what other people (Not the authors, remember) have actually discovered, smacks of lunacy to me.

I think I'll start charging people for reading their newspapers, seeing as how I'm broke this week :-]

Re:Well that's just ridiculous.... (1)

Meffan (469304) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192812)

Well, yes....Not being serious really, that was just a weak attempt at humour. It's early here (9:30 GMT when I posted, you must be US eastern seaboard)

It's just that I laugh whenever I think of the encyclopedia, because a couple of my friends bought an old set (Circa 1970 - They're students & couldn't afford a new set), and to read it is fantastic - Computers referred to as "Automatic electronic calculators that may one day revolutionize the world" and so on.

Now I just got trollslapped so hard my nose bled...

Re:Dot coms getting real (1)

jshainsky (469913) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192813)

Correct, when I first heard of it, I found it reasonable too. But they decided to charge, IMHO, in wrong way. They want users to pay $50/year for the information. That's acceptable for users who constantly use Britannica and therefore get the needed information relatively cheap. But for users like me, who use Britannica rarely (for example, 5-10 times per year) it would be nice to have possibility to pay per view of article (I think $0.2-0.3 would be reasonable price). 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.

Unfortunate (1)

RalphieBoy23 (471052) | more than 13 years ago | (#2192815)

Britannica used to be a great resource.
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