britannica ends free access.
July 30, 2001 2:29 AM   Subscribe

britannica ends free access. You have to pay $5/month for complete entries, etc., now (or $50/year). Knew it would happen, still too bad.
posted by aflakete (15 comments total)
And has Britannica paid off Google to ensure that old articles aren't cached? Hmm.
posted by holgate at 5:21 AM on July 30, 2001

Good one, holgate. Apparently not quite yet.
posted by lagado at 5:43 AM on July 30, 2001

I don't see a problem with it. The main use of encyclopedias is for reports. An encyclopedia set would cost a parent several hundred dollars.
posted by brucec at 6:54 AM on July 30, 2001

I don't really see how it's "too bad" either -- nice to have it free, but I presume that they aren't in the business of giving away the information. The question is, for me: are the reports of enough value to an individual or a family to pay $5/month? Encyclopedias are curious things: I would hardly want to do away with them, but they are generally only suitable for scratching the surface of the subject, and often (esp. on matters of history, I've found) they can be quite misleading.

Yet they serve an important function, particularly in the context of the Net: they organize information, mitigating against the vastness of data points that anybody doing library-type research on anything is now faced with. So, my question: does something like a Britannica still function for us? Or are we better off looking to projects like this to find definitions, summaries, brief introductions and the like?
posted by BT at 7:24 AM on July 30, 2001

"several hundred dollars" up to a grand or more now is it not? a Poll, ones favorite encyclopedia. (Diderot day)
posted by clavdivs at 7:24 AM on July 30, 2001

so... are there any decent online encyclopedias that have free access?
posted by dagnyscott at 8:25 AM on July 30, 2001

My stepdad scrimped and saved so that he could buy us a 1978 World Book encyclopedia. Flash forward about twenty years when I walked into a Kmart and bought a $2 package of individually wrapped cheese slices and, attached to the top, was a free bonus encyclopedia on CD.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:43 AM on July 30, 2001

> Flash forward about twenty years when I ... bought a
> $2 package of individually wrapped cheese slices [with]
> a free bonus encyclopedia on CD.

Yeah, but it was the Encyclopedia of Cheese.
posted by pracowity at 8:50 AM on July 30, 2001

Hey, there's a lot of cheese in the world.
posted by darukaru at 9:19 AM on July 30, 2001

so... are there any decent online encyclopedias that have free access?

Bartleby has the Columbia Encyclopedia online. I think their site is pretty.
posted by frenetic at 11:35 AM on July 30, 2001

This is the same company that snottily refused for years to put their encyclopedia on CD-ROM, like all the other companies had. Then came the series of TV ads with the gangly teenager spouting enthusiasm about all the joys of having the EB around the house. Said campaign apparently backfired, because then came the CD-ROMs.

I mean, when you stop to think of it -- the content of their books is all about us, our history, our culture, our common world -- they make their money by selling us what belongs to us -- like the law book companies (hmmmm... should I really have to *pay* to learn the law which I'm legally required to obey? how *do* you get that franchise?) -- like the government *selling* pictures and data from publicly funded space missions -- is it really going to kill them to *pay something back to the human community* for all the decades of lush profits which they and their academic editors have enjoyed?

On the other hand, I really ought to get to my public library and support it more....

Of course they shuddered when they heard that "information wants to be free". So naturally what they really, really want is to keep a 100 percent proprietary ($$$) hold on authoritative articles about us. Eventually the Internet may replace the need for one-stop sources of authoritative articles... especially once micropayments are (finally) implemented. Finger-in-the-dike-type-behavior is only natchul, but maybe they should read the writing on that wall....
posted by Twang at 2:53 PM on July 30, 2001

Britannica also changed their main text font recently too, from a nice, stern, authority-laden serif to a happy, trippy, soft, sans serif. (Trebuchet MS?) I don't like it.

I'm also a little sore that the links I have to Britannica content now don't work. Well, I do work at a university, they're sure to subscribe soon.
posted by mstillwell at 5:13 PM on July 30, 2001

I only say it's too bad because something like this should be free, at least to libraries/students. Though I would never use AOL, this seems like the kind of thing that a "premium service provider" (or at least one catering to occasional and less experienced users) should offer free as a perk. I suppose libraries and schools will subscribe anyway.

Thanks for the link to everything2, bt, seems like a good idea, at first glance.
posted by aflakete at 5:38 PM on July 30, 2001

aflakete (assuming anyone's still reading this thread-grown-cold), I agree with you when you put it like that: public institutions and communities (read: us) should be working on making authoritative and usefully organized information free. It would be great if AOL and others saw that as a public obligation, but I won't hold my breath.

Encyclopedias have lots of faults (the chief one being the too-easily maintained "authoritative" status to which Twang alludes), but they do organize information, by dint of tradition and editor's preference. On the Net there's been great work done making a lot of information available, but organizing some of it into navigable territory is a big task. I guess that while online encyclopedias are free, some chunks of organization are there, and that's great. But since I don't really expect a for-profit publisher in the currently benighted book-publishing biz to keep giving away the inventory (which, as I said before, is overrated anyway), I'm keenly interested in models of getting that same info organized in ways supportable by nonprofit effort. I threw out everything2 because it seems like one method, but there must be others.

Not least MeFi, of course. And now I think I'll shut my yap.
posted by BT at 9:41 PM on July 30, 2001

BT -- I would think AOl et al would see it as a marketing tool in the form of a public service, and it fits in with their "We're all the Internet you need" ethos. Of course all of this will probably be arcane soon (already?), as twang suggests. Maybe we just need search engines, providing they give us the info we need. In a more ideal world, the Library of Congress or whatever would have a network set up just for collating info researchers need, something like perhaps, but with levels of complexity and detail from casual to advanced/graduate.
posted by aflakete at 11:39 PM on July 30, 2001

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