Forethought vs. Afterthought

Recently, The New York Times, once a bastion of paper publishing, joined the paper vs. online encyclopedia smackdown. Start Writing the Eulogies for Print Encyclopedias, wrote reporter Noam Cohen.

The print encyclopedia – like that set of The Encyclopedia Brittanica taking up space on your bookshelves – is on its way out. EB sales peaked nearly two decades ago, before Microsoft’s first computer-based encyclopedia, Encarta, showed up. Today, sales are just 10% of what they once were. The only folks now buying encyclopedias by the truckload are schools and libraries.

The market makes sense. Why purchase 32 volumes instantly out of date when you can go online and find numerous encyclopedias, lot of current and valuable information, for free? It’s a principle bigger than the Encyclopedia of Life, bigger than Wikipedia. And its an idea older than the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which has been online since way back in 1995. Cities all over the world are similarly channeling their encyclopedic urges. The latest may be the city of Melbourne, Australia, which is in the process of creating an online version of their own encyclopedia.

We at the Sixth Square wish them all luck. And we wish ourselves luck, too. Its only a matter of time before encyclopedists in the City of Brotherly Love embrace the internet as something more than an afterthought.

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