Joho the Blog » [2b2k] 14 reasons why the Britannica failed on paper

[2b2k] 14 reasons why the Britannica failed on paper

In the straight-up match between paper and Web, the Encyclopedia Britannica lost. This was as close to a sure thing as we get outside of the realm of macro physics and Meryl Streep movies.

  1. The EB couldn’t cover enough: 65,000 topics compared to the almost 4M in the English version of Wikipedia.

  2. Topics had to be consistently shrunk or discarded to make room for new information. E.g., the 1911 entry on Oliver Goldsmith was written by no less than Thomas Macaulay, but with each edition, it got shorter and shorter. EB was thus in the business of throwing out knowledge as much as it was in the business of adding knowledge.

  3. Topics were confined to rectangles of text. This is of course often a helpful way of dividing up the world, but it is also essentially false. The “see also’s” and the attempts at synthetic indexes and outlines (Propædi) helped, but they were still highly limited, and cumbersome to use.

  4. All the links were broken.

  5. It was expensive to purchase.

  6. If you or your family did not purchase it, using it required a trip to another part of town where it was available only during library hours.

  7. It was very slow to update — 15 editions since 1768 — even with its “continuous revision” policy.

  8. Purchasers were stuck with an artifact that continuously became wronger.

  9. Purchasers were stuck with an artifact that continuously became less current.

  10. It chose topics based on agendas and discussions that were not made public.

  11. You could not see the process by which articles were written and revised, much less the reasoning behind those edits.

  12. It was opaque about changes and errors.

  13. There were no ways for readers to contribute or participate. For example, underlining in it or even correcting errors via marginalia would get you thrown out of the library. It thus crippled the growth of knowledge through social and networked means.

  14. It was copyrighted, making it difficult for its content to be used maximally.

Every one of the above is directly or indirectly a consequence of the fact that the EB was a paper product.

Paper doesn’t scale.

Paper-based knowledge can’t scale.

The Net scales.

The Net scales knowledge.

 


I should probably say something nice about the Britannica:

  1. Extremely smart, very dedicated people worked on it.

  2. It provided a socially safe base for certain sorts of knowledge claims.

  3. Owning it signaled that one cared about knowledge, and it’s good for our culture for us to be signaling that sort of thing.

 


The inestimably smart and wise Matthew Battles has an excellent post on the topic (which I hesitate to recommend only because he refers to “Too Big to Know” overly generously).

55 Responses to “[2b2k] 14 reasons why the Britannica failed on paper”

  1. I added #11.

  2. Wikipedia *is* copyrighted. It is not in the public domain. (But yes, i understand your point.)

  3. Good point. To be clear, WP is available under a generous Creative Commons license: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Text_of_Creative_Commons_Attribution-ShareAlike_3.0_Unported_License

  4. The 1911 Britannica is Public Domain, and many of its articles were included in Wikipedia early on, for example:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Henry_Grey%2C_3rd_Earl_Grey&diff=475889522&oldid=2732498

  5. All good points, David. i do sometimes think people should be spared having to watch the sausage get made (no. 11). I also note that it did run photos and other illustrations, or at least my 15th edition (ca. 1985) did.

    I’d like to add one more positive thing: it was a useful filter as to what was considered important to know over time. The changes in an encyclopedia tell us something useful. Even that it could get ‘wronger’ showed that thinking was being revised by events, or new facts, or social norms.

  6. I’m just about to dump my 1972 edition into the recycling bin. Might I regret this in 10 years when these things are collectible?

  7. Even this near-Luddite has to agree on almost every count. Especially with the ultra-limited hours our libraries are open, and the low inventory here. The Fitzgerald comment re: the collection’s relevance as a historical artifact– the accepted, mainstream view– also hits home.

    An anecdote: for kids of my generation, the encyclopedia was a major resource for plumbing mysteries of sex. Albeit not a very informative or colorful source! The “good parts” of certain books were far more gratifying, if not necessarily accurate. But I hate to think what kids today are finding on the net way before they have the emotional equipment to deal with it. Sorry to be so predictable.

  8. My 1911 EB is:

    1: Worth a lot of money
    2: The sum of Edwardian knowledge. It’s a valuable historical reference for any scholar.
    3: Beautiful

    We don’t live in an either/or world. Keep and use them all ……..

  9. What’s a happy coincidence. I was just reading “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture” by Andrew Keen, when I read your post.

    Among other things, Keen is (was) trying to tell us that WP is a pile of crap while EB is the tower of wisdom…

    Well, I hope he will find this post, these comments and will revise his views…

    ——————————
    I very much appreciate (though do not share) views of many pessimists about the Web, for example, some thoughts of Nicolas Carr (The Shallows).

    Yet, it is very hard for me to have such appreciation to most of Keen’s views.

    And what he wrote about WP vs. EB was particularly poisoned with elitism of the worst kind …

  10. I lump Wikipedia in with the rest of the Web in my saying, “There’s a lot of information on the Web. Some of it’s right.”

  11. @Steve – a couple of days ago I visited “Library Pub” in Edinburg. The idea is to drink beer with your friends and among (mostly old) books. True is, I was more interested in that books, coming mostly from the begining of XX century. Voluminous books about all sorts of matters that, as I undestood, were of interest to enlightened Edinburgh University students…

    I spent time browsing through them, reading passages …

    Do you know what I came to? Something like “There is a lot of information in this books. A little of it is still valid. Only some is still true….”

  12. Adding another thought to WP vs EB case:

    I still remember what “kind of” knowledge can be transmitted in Encyclopedias of the traditional (EB-like) genre.

    However, in my mind I will always have “Great Soviet Encyclopedia” that stood in my uncle’s library…

    50+ tomes of … mostly lies, distorted views, false history…
    Even in those time (1970-ties) my uncle and father told me that they knew it was corrupt – and they taught me how to extract some grains of truth from it – mostly from between the lines…

    This “encyclopedia” was such, because it had the goal:

    “To develop in children’s minds the Communist morality, ideology, and Soviet patriotism; to inspire unshakable love toward the Soviet fatherland, the Communist party, and its leaders; to propagate Bolshevik vigilance …”

    Now, I’m not here to say EB had such agenda though of different position. No.

    But I say the simple thing – the chance, the danger we will have such monstrous distortions like in GSE are set almost to zero in WP. And not so, in EB and similar projects…

  13. It was a bad business decision. They should have done one that was pre-announced as ‘the last paper edition’, I think they would have gotten a lot of sales.

  14. [...] Joho the Blog » [2b2k] 14 reasons why the Britannica failed on paper – via http://www.bookcafe.net/blog/blog.cfm?id=1530 [...]

  15. Mirek – the extreme politicization of Wikipedia for anti-SOPA lobbying sadly refutes your idea. Now, disclaimer, I oppose SOPA – but Wikipedia went all-out with “monstrous distortions” there for outright political reasons, it happened. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your politics are not politics. There were likely people who thought the Great Soviet Encyclopedia was the correct viewpoint too.

  16. It does happen occasionally that I agree with Seth, and this is one of those times :) I don’t know about the specific SOPA example, but if you’re a Creationist, you are unlikely to be satisfied by Wikipedia’s treatment of evolution. If you’re French, you won’t agree with the US WP’s history of aeronautics. Wikipedia works because there is a baseline homogeneity of beliefs.

    I don’t take that as a criticism, but as a condition for
    “getting on the same page.” And, it seems to me, that WP is generally more self-aware about this, and has more successful mechanisms for trying to be fair and “neutral” than many traditional sources of knowledge.

  17. [...] Die Encyclopaedia Britannica wird es zukünftig nur noch online geben, verkündet der Verlag. Jetzt stehen die 32 Bände also direkt neben Wikipedia. Papier und das Web, ein ungleicher Wettstreit, meint David Weinberger: “Paper doesn’t scale. Paper-based knowledge can’t scale. The Net scales. The Net scales knowledge.” Auch seine 14 Gründe und die Kommentare lohnen es, kurz vorbeizuschauen. David Weinberger, Joho the Blog, 20. März 2012 [...]

  18. Seth, David — I know. Yes I do know that Wikipedia can get crazy and biased. And it certainly is on some specific matters.

    On the other side of the coin — it can’t satisfy sides of disputes like that between creationists and atheists. Nothing can. And never will.

    Nevertheless, it seems to me that you guys, who were born and grown and were eductated in free world, can not just comprehend the true monstrous proportions of all encyclopedias created with some TRUE political and ideological. It is not about this or that entry or matter (that can go biased everywhere). It is about the huge, large bias, where almost EVERYTHING (take flowers and classification of plants) could have strong ideological smell, and where only this “authority” only these “members” of the elite, the wise — could edit and correct.

    What I say, contrary to Keen and many others, is that THE WAY Wikipedia is created and maintained guarantees we will not go into such monstrosities on the large scale.

    It is exactly as David said, there are “mechanisms for trying to be fair and “neutral” than many traditional sources of knowledge.” Kudos :-)

    BTW, the authors of GSE practiced the way of amending the paper books:

    „Following the arrest and punishment of the infamous Lavrentiy Beria, the notorious head of the NKVD, in 1953 the encyclopedia—ostensibly in response to overwhelming public demand—mailed subscribers to the second edition a letter from the editor instructing them to cut out and destroy the three-page article on Beria and paste in its place enclosed replacement pages expanding the adjacent articles on F. W. Bergholz (an 18th-century courtier), the Bering Sea, and Bishop Berkeley.”

    LOL

  19. And on this I agree with Mirek. While every source is skewed, biased, or (my preferred word) situated, it’s important (imo) to acknowledge differences in degree that constitute differences in type. To say that WP is no more truthful than The Great Soviet Encyclopedia because both have points of view would to be like saying Einstein’s paper on relativity is no more truthful than your crazy uncle’s blog post about light as brain bugs… or like saying Wikipedia’s article on Soviet Agricultural History is no more true than was the GSE’s.

    Only a committed relativist would reduce WP to the GSE.

    In fact, ask we can this question about the EB and WP since to a large degree they share ideas about what constitutes accuracy, completeness, fairness, and the utility of an encyclopedia article. Which one better represents the truth? That argument could go either way — I think WP would come out ahead overall, but the data might prove me wrong — but I’m extremely confident that the GSE would come out waaaay behind either of them.

    So, we should not let the true statement that all human expressions of knowledge express a point of view overwhelm the fact that some expressions are more fact-based than others, especially within the same domain (e.g., encyclopedias).

  20. One last virtue of paper, irrelevant to 99.9% of the world’s population: you can use the paper version on shabbos.

    The shift to e-books will create significant issues for Orthodox Jews as time goes on.

  21. Mirek, I believe I understand what you were saying, but I strongly disagree. The key here is “… And not so, in EB and similar projects” and “that THE WAY Wikipedia is created and maintained …”. I would say you’re going down the path of net-evangelism, where the projects to get rah-yay-cheer praise (Wikipedia!) are held to somehow be intrinsically more virtuous and resistant to corruption than boo-hiss-oldthink disdain (EB) – often simply by assertion (e.g. for a while there was the phrase “the self-correcting bogosphere”, which is like “the accuracy-checked mass media”). This is not about creationism vs. atheism, or garden-variety perspective differences. It’s about the fallacy of that net-evangelism, shown in an an utterly spectacular manner in the SOPA politicization, where Wikipedia was turned into an propaganda organ. I believe you don’t see this because that was your politics. But, objectively, it was amazing how easy it was to make Wikipedia a mouthpiece for a Party Line. Sure, it’s not like the Soviet Union, because we’re not living in the Soviet Union. But the process itself showed how it would work. Lower-level admins who wanted to rise in the hierarchy did what the higher-ups wanted, dissenters were marginalized, critics attacked, etc. I’m not making a silly moral equivalence, i.e. of course nobody was literally sent to the Gulag, so let’s not waste time over that – but the idea that “It Can’t Happen Here”, as the phrase goes, failed rather badly in a way that made it clear it could also fail in far worse.

    David – I suspect you misread me a little, because I can’t imagine you’d agree – in public – with the above :-).

  22. [...] Why Britannica failed on paper by @dweinberger Paper doesn’t scale. Paper-based knowledge can’t scale. The Net scales. The Net scales knowledge. [...]

  23. Britannica printed for 244 years. I don’t exactly see that as “failing”

  24. Mirek – Here’s a simple way to show what I mean. If in editing Wikipedia,
    1) “Pro-Party” edits could be used as evidence that one was a good loyal Party member
    2) “Anti-Party” edits got one sent to prison labor
    3) Reporting people for #2 was also evidence that one was a good loyal Party member
    Then Wikipedia would start looking like the Great Soviet Encyclopedia in a hurry – all in an emergent, non-”elite”, way.

  25. [...] understand the move from paper to digital for both accessibility, power, and cost, but in his blog post David Weinberger, author of Too Big To Know and Everything is Miscellaneous provides a nicely detailed list of the [...]

  26. Sorry for some delay in my answers.

    Seth. If your 1-2-3 were happening, even on small scale at WP, it certainly would start …
    But, to my best knowledge it never did.

    With GSE – it was like that from the beginning till its end (I wouldn’t be surprised to find some traces of that specific aura in today’s big, government sponsored Encyclopedias …

    We can’t be surprised at the reaction of WP authors at SOPA. I don’t think it was so much about politics – it was rather existential reaction. Even if exaggerated – SOPA, ACTA were really perceived as the major threats to ecosystems like WP. This explains the reaction, not any “politicization” Seth…

    About EB – I still hold my EB account and was paying the subscriptions for years. Until I discovered how far is EB behind. I still have my community account there but any time I look for something, I’m just repulsed by mostly Google adds…

    Finally, on a very pragmatic and practical level — I make a lot with SW (Semantic Web) in my business. If I look into projects like dbpedia or productontology.org (run by my friend and mentor Martin Hepp) or forthcoming Wikidata – I honestly can’t comprehend why WP is getting sometimes the bad press…

  27. Mirek, wasn’t your claim that Wikipedia has some sort of intrinsic resistance (“the chance, the danger we will have such”) against “monstrous distortions ” which is not possessed by EB and all “similar projects”, in the context of a Soviet-like unfree society? Obviously this can’t be tested in a free society. But I just pointed out how it could work for non-elite projects in theory, and that was borne out as close as we could get in action with the SOPA politicization.

    The “perception” was manufacture by propaganda. It makes as a much sense as saying “Capitalism and private property were really perceived as the major threats to ecosystems like communal farms”. I’m sure there were many people in the Soviet Union who sincerely did believe along those lines. Or inversely, people in the US who have the perception that single-payer health care means government “death panels”. You might as well say ‘We can’t be surprised at the reaction of many people to single-payer health care. I don’t think it was so much about politics – it was rather existential reaction. Even if exaggerated – single-payer was really perceived as the major threats to not being euthanized by Federal bureaucrats”.

    I should disclaim again that I oppose SOPA. But some of the arguments against it were basically the same as “death panels” just translated to websites (“If SOPA passes, the Evil Ones will be able to kill any website, like the beloved Wikipedia, it’ll be legalizing murder of those derided as too costly to the profits of the killers”.).

  28. Seth, yes, I dare to claim that WP has some intrinsic resistance against mass-scale distortions.

    Nonetheless I admit it may be vulnerable to abuse on small scale.

    Like all the Web we inhabit today !
    Like the societies we live in….

  29. Another advantage of WP – at least for German speaking people like me – it is also available in German. The EB is not. To properly understand it, I need a dictionary. Where do I find a good translation? Online! So, I am already online. And I can access WP where ever I am with my smart phone. This is from my point the main advantage. If I have a question for which I need an answer – now – I check the German WP.

  30. Seth, I’m not sure if you’re saying that (a) there is no conceivable editorial infrastructure that makes a source more resistant tof bias than was the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, or (b) Wikipedia’s particular editorial infrastructure does not make it more resistant to bias than was the GSE. Or perhaps you’re saying some (c) that I’m not getting.

    If you’re saying (a), then we can stop right now because you’re making an argument that closes off all argument, since you’re saying all belief is essentially and indistinguishably corrupt. And, you are in the position of maintaining that the GSE is as truthful as the EB, which strikes me as absurd.

    If you’re saying (b), then you obviously need more evidence than the one SOPA article (which I still haven’t read, but I trust your evaluation of it). Yes, WP can get things wrong. But:

    (i) There are reasons to think that WP’s editorial process is well-designed to be relatively fair, usually accurate, and more open to contrary points of view than most other media in our environment. The transparency of its discussions, its insistence on NPOV as a goal (even if asymptotic), its rules regarding the civility of discussion (not always followed), its push over the past few years to cite sources — all these should ameliorate (not eliminate) the inevitability of human and social bias.

    (ii) To make your point, I believe you’d need a study that looked at the bias and inaccuracies in WP compared to other sources. (Of course, if you believe (a), then you have no way of doing that comparison.)

    – David

  31. David, that’s a fascinating reply from a meta-perspective. I probably shouldn’t detail why I find it fascinating, out of self-preservation :-(. I should just clarify I’m saying (b).

    Note, in passing, an assertion along the lines of “there is no conceivable editorial infrastructure” that is particularly resistant to political interference (again, much broader than what I claim) is by no means equivalent to “the GSE is as truthful as the EB”. It’s saying that if truth exists objectively (yes, what-is-truth, take it as a given for the sake of discussion), and political interference is applied against it subjectively (similar assumption), the results are going to be pretty much the same no matter what infrastructure is used. This is certainly an arguable proposition (within limits), but once more, not what I’m claiming.

    Umm, I wasn’t talking about “the one SOPA article”. I was talking about the event inaccurately called a “blackout” where EVERY SINGLE PAGE – I’ll say again – EVERY SINGLE PAGE – of Wikipedia was redirected to a propaganda piece lobbying against SOPA, said propaganda which bluntly was about as truthful as a Soviet Union political statement.

    That was amazing. And it’s bothered me in terms of ends-vs-means. But pro- or con- that copyright politics, it should be clear it was a massive politicization of Wikipedia itself. Which pretty definitely refutes any claim of “intrinsic resistance against mass-scale distortions.” which could stand against the sort of pressures that produced the GSE.

    And if you think WP’s editorial process is well-designed for anything except generating argument – I invite you to actually try to deal with it sometime when you’re on the other side of an incorrect but popular position held by a mob.

  32. Seth, I just can’t connect the dots. You say you are against SOPA. Assumed. You must have this position for a reason.
    I believe your reason, as my reason and millions of others, is in the treat SOPA brings for free speech. WP is about free speech, even if that is mob’s voice (which I disagree with), you can’t say it is not free.

    Now, the blackout was to show what, in reality, SOPA could mean. As I said before – it was more existential than political. So why you call this very act, the act of some self-defense political? How can you say the statement displayed at the blackout time was “as truthful as a Soviet Union political statement”. That is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps you did not experience what it (i.e. Soviet system) was in real life.

    See I was 30 when we defeated communism, Soviet system and all the propaganda here.
    So I very well remember, deep in the marrow of my bones, what “Soviet Union political statement”s were about. How deep and wide can one go with falsification of almost all truths.

    And from this experience, I must tell you that your statement that the action of WP against SOPA is “propaganda” or politicization is one of the most strange statement I ever heard.

    It does not suffice to be in free world to express free speech. There are numerous examples of institutions and media that are in free world but do not practice the freedom of speech. WP is not in their garden. Also because of its design and specific editorial process.

  33. Mirek, I oppose SOPA because I’m on the open-Internet side of the copyright wars and I think it was a bad bill in many respects – for example, too little due-process, horrible interference with DNS, anti-circumvention issues which are dear to my heart. However, this did not mean anything negative said about it was thus true. Just as in theory someone might oppose the Obama health-care reforms, but think “death panels” were nonsense. Imagine an argument that the Obama health-care reforms are bad government interference in health-care, “death panels” are bad government interference in health care, THEREFORE, “death panels” thus “show what, in reality, [Obama] could mean”. And “it was more existential than political” showing people didn’t want government interfering in their health care.

    Even the Wikimedia General Counsel admitted deep in a long statement that Wikipedia was not going to be affected by the SOPA take-down aspects. It was not self-defense – remember, every country which goes to war claims self-defense, and at least half of them must be lying. And please, “as truthful as a Soviet Union political statement” is a perfectly good way to describe such “monstrous distortions” – it’s not saying Wikimedia is the Soviet Union, it’s about a particular “Party Line” missive.

    Maybe that is the strangest statements you’ve heard – but then you obviously haven’t heard what some of the people who favor SOPA have said about Wikipedia’s actions there.

  34. Yipes, missing end-emphasis tag

  35. For purposes of this discussion I think we ought to stipulate that the page WP put up about SOPA was slanted and poorly argued. I didn’t see it, but my point is that it doesn’t matter.

    So?

    Seth, you can claim that “every single page” of
    WP was on that day propagandistic, but you need to mention that every page pointed to a single page. So, we’re talking about one page. You don’t get to accumulate evidence that way. That’d be like me claiming the NYT was wrong millions of time because a single error was in millions of copies they printed that day. Alternatively, we could decide to talk about WP today, not on the one highly exceptional day.

    You write: “it should be clear it was a massive politicization of Wikipedia itself. Which pretty definitely refutes any claim of “intrinsic resistance against mass-scale distortions.” which could stand against the sort of pressures that produced the GSE.”

    Yes, it was a massive politicization of Wikipedia itself…but not of the existing content of WP’s articles, which is what we’re talking about. And on this point I find your argument completely unconvincing. The articles are far closer to the truth (to use a phrase I don’t really want to have an argument about) than those in the GSE, and the process by which those articles arrive is far far far far far far far far far far far more likely to produce articles closer to the truth than the processes of the GSE. Mirek has some standing here.

    Given that we’re talking about degrees of closeness to the truth of the 3.9M articles and not about the single post (which we’re stipulating was propagandistic), you seem to me, Seth, to be defending an indefensible claim.

  36. David, I know you’re a busy person, but I suspect you’re reading too rapidly or distractedly and missing the flow of argument (this is hardly an Internet-specific problem, but I do think the Internet provides more opportunities for it).

    For example – “but you need to mention that every page pointed to a single page”. I said exactly that – “was redirected”.

    Mirek’s claimed – “the chance, the danger we will have such monstrous distortions like in GSE are set almost to zero in WP. And not so, in EB and similar projects” and “WP has some intrinsic resistance against mass-scale distortions”

    Now, this can only be fully tested if there’s some sort of coup d’etat in the US that makes it like the Soviet Union. My rebuttal is under those conditions, both theory, and practice, with examples of politicization in real situations on Wikipedia, refute that net-evangelism fantasy. Again, this is not about garden-variety perspective differences, it’s about whether WP or EB would be better at resisting some sort of directive from a hypothetical Party Ideology Committee (where ignoring it might mean prison labor or death).

    I’m not saying that Wikipedia’s articles are like the GSE now. I’m saying that IF there was a Soviet Union like environment similar to that which produced the GSE, THEN Wikipedia would fare no better at resistance to politicization than EB (and I believe Mirek is saying it would resist better).

    And I’m saying look no further than the SOPA propaganda event to see how easily Wikipedia is turned into Party Line dissemination. The key part there is more “how easily” the entire platform was turned over to a propagandization proces, than “SOPA” per se. If it’s that easy for copyright politics, a hypothetical authoritarian government will have no problem.

  37. Obviously I understood what you were saying about the redirect, Seth. Yet you seemed to be implying that because “every page” of WP redirected to the SOPA post, this refuted my reminder that you were pointing to a single instance of WP propaganda. So, my point remains: Pointing to a single instance of a propagandistic article (which was actually a post, not an article) does not provide meaningful support for your contention that WP is as susceptible to propaganda as GSE was. One page out of 4m is hardly evidence of anything. (And here’s where you say that it was representative of WP itself, and here’s where I say that it’s not representative of the 4M articles, etc.)

    But it’s clear to me that you and Mirek are actually arguing different points. Mirek was saying (I believe) that given the old GSE editorial process and the existing WP process, WP is far less likely to publish propaganda.Your claim, Seth, seems to be that under other circumstances — a Soviet gov’t takes over, for example — WP’s editorial processes would fold like a cheap card table. When Mirek says WP’s processes are “resistant” to propaganda, he is talking about those processes in the current environment. When you deny WP’s processes are resistant, Seth, you are imagining what WP would have done if it had been under the old Soviet regime.

    To explore if you’re right, Seth, we could look at what WP looks like when it has been written under authoritarian regimes. Chinese WP? Is there an Iranian WP written by people in Iran? It could well be that WP’s processes only work in a relatively open democracy, and that there is no meaningful difference among all editorial processes; they all may fold like cheap card tables under totalitarian regimes.

    But that of course does not mean that all editorial processes are equal when under a democracy. I still believe that Mirek is right in his sense: WP’s editorial processes are more likely than most other such processes to result in pages that are more fair, more neutral, and more up to date than the traditional processes (i.e., compared to EB, not GSE).

  38. David, I’d say “One page out of 4m” is massive evidence of politicization ability when all 4m are made to point to that one page! I’m not sure why we’re apparently talking past each other here. If the US government forced all newspapers to contain nothing but the president’s speech on a day, in favor of a war, I don’t think you’d argue that it was just one speech thus that wouldn’t be much of a news politicization. That is, it’s like you’re saying that wouldn’t provide meaningful support about the power of the government to control the news, since none of the newspaper articles written before that day or after that day were interfered with. I think maybe we’re hung up on what such a massive power display means in terms of induction vs deduction (i.e. if the President ordered someone assassinated because of a supposed link to terrorism, does that prove anyone can be ordered assassinated on flimsy evidence, or we can’t derive anything because it was just one case?).

    A statement of contrast “given the old GSE editorial process and the existing WP process, WP is far less likely to publish propaganda.” would be utterly trivial. The GSE editorial process is roughly the relevant political officer of the government reviews the articles for compliance with the ideological requirements. Be repeatedly out of compliance, and you go to Siberia, literally. This is the stuff that’s used as slurs in the US, but was for real in the Soviet Union, i.e. intellectual commissars, purity committee, “political correctness”, etc, backed up by the police state. I assume Mirek was referencing it in e.g. “you guys, who were born and grown and were eductated in free world, can not just comprehend the true monstrous proportions of all encyclopedias created with some TRUE political and ideological.” and the infamous Soviet revisionism “BTW, the authors of GSE practiced the way of amending the paper books”

    You seem to really want to be arguing Wikipedia is better than EB, with all the net-evangelism stock assertions. That’s a different argument, which I also think is very wrong, but not was I was refuting above. And hence why I suggest actually experiencing Wikipedia’s mob, which is not smart at all, but rather slavishly devoted to the idea that truth is what you read in the newspapers.

  39. David, Seth,

    Yes, what I’ve said was the claim about positive effect WP editorial process brings in the current setting, as compared to EB one.

    However, last David’s comment here made me inventing the following thought experiment :-) :

    We are in soviet-like non-free society. This society has its GSE which, as time passes, becomes always outdated on the very day of its publication. So the editor, under a blessing from ruling party allows for thousands of experts from different areas of the knowledge to add and to amend the copies of GSE on the level of local libraries. And – they agree to do so without the need of authors identity to be disclosed. And – they allow amendments to amendments and left the authority over these amendments to another anonymous experts.

    And you know what? With almost certainty, the GSE becomes better, the most stupid and false entries get amended and it no longer can be a propaganda arm for the ruling party.

    I’m 100% sure about that. More, I lived for about 20 years here in Poland, here in Central Europe (with many of my friends in countries like Czech-Slovakia), excatly between 1970 and 1989 where something like that happend. That was the time where you could read the truth about, well, everything, from politics, through culture to philosophy and sciences almost only on so called “bibu?a” (bibulous or blotting paper). There were hundreds of authors from all wings of political scene, sometimes brave enough to disclose thir names (like Czech’s Vacla Havel – particularly admired here, or Adam Michnik or, in later period, Wa??sa himself), most often – anonymous…

    And I claim that if Iranian authority or China’s ruling party would install something like that today, with anonymous authors – their GSE, should it exist, will be LESS political and less poisoned than authoritarian, elite-driven GSE something…

    I could probably go deeper with this, but the space here, and my time today does not allow me to continue this interesting discussion.

    However, to finish it let me point you to the following “places” :

    Bibu?a, Adam Michnik, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%C3%A1clav_Havel"Vaclav Havel

    Guess why? Thanks to WP editorial process we can read and know about all three. On EB, we have only one entry (the most famous of course).

    Now, what was a sort of irony for me here, was that I really did not understand what “death panel” was in Seth comment (sorry was too busy recently to follow US politics).
    However thanks to WP and its excellent process I now know: here.

    :-)

    Thanks David, Thanks Seth, it was a privilege to me to participate in this exciting discussion. Have to go now…

  40. sorry, not all links are OK in the previous post. So, David, if you could correct (amend :-)) them – that would be great !

  41. and the diacritics seems to be badly renderd by “?”. I ment “Bibula” and “Walesa” respectively.

  42. Your claim that paper and paper based knowledge can’t scale is blatantly false and shows breathtaking ignorance with regard to the information revolution that came about due to the printing press. I agree the web is superior to paper with respect to disseminating information and encyclopedias, but don’t forget that the vast majority of all technical breakthroughs and discoveries were made before the web was around, and probably couldn’t have happened without paper and books.

  43. [...] David Weinberger [...]

  44. [...] [2b2k] 13 reasons why the Britannica failed on paper- David Weinberger, March 20, 2012 [...]

  45. [...] out of print in 2012, after a 244 year print run. In the straight-up match between paper and Web, the Encyclopedia Britannica lost. Big [...]

  46. [...] out of print in 2012, after a 244 year print run. In the straight-up match between paper and Web, the Encyclopedia Britannica lost. Big [...]

  47. top post thanks for this

  48. [...] out of print in 2012, after a 244 year print run. In the straight-up match between paper and Web, the Encyclopedia Britannica lost. Big time. The EB couldn?t cover enough: 65,000 topics compared to the almost 4M in the English [...]

  49. [...] [2b2k] 13 reasons why the Britannica failed on paper DAVID WEINBERGER  |  TUESDAY, MARCH 20, 2012 [...]

  50. [...] [2b2k] 13 reasons why the Britannica failed on paper DAVID WEINBERGER  |  TUESDAY, MARCH 20, 2012 [...]

  51. [...] [2b2k] 13 reasons why the Britannica failed on paper DAVID WEINBERGER  |  TUESDAY, MARCH 20, 2012 [...]

  52. [...] [2b2k] 13 reasons why the Britannica failed on paper [...]

  53. [...] understand the move from paper to digital for reasons of accessibility, power, and cost, but in his blog post David Weinberger, author of Too Big To Know and Everything is Miscellaneous provides a nicely detailed list of the [...]

  54. [...] [2b2k] 13 reasons why the Britannica failed on paper DAVID WEINBERGER |  TUESDAY, MARCH 20, 2012 [...]

  55. [...] David Weinberger [...]

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