Twenty years ago today, Encyclopaedia Britannica announced that they would be taking their whole, massive compendium of knowledge and placing it on the internet for all to see. The text will be embedded with 'hyperlinks' that apparently allow any part of the encyclopaedia to link to any other part. Users will have to use a new program called 'Mosaic' to navigate their way around - a 'web browser' only just recently invented at the National Centre for Supercomputer Applications. Who knows, maybe this kind of thing will catch on... This is actually the second attempt to get the EB online - a previous attempt had ended all the way back in 1985 when the EB could not agree on delivery costs with its technology provider. But this time, they're all ready to go! The only thing they haven't figured out yet is exactly how they're going to make money from it. Will they licence it to universities with pricing based on how many students they have? Will they charge on a reference-by-reference basis? Who knows? Surely the technology will make many exciting monetisation methods possible.
Of course, the idea that someone might just say 'sod that, we'll create our own crowdsourced encyclopaedia and make it free to everyone' hasn't occurred to anyone yet, least of all to the people who are actually going to be doing it in a few years time. Twenty years down the road, I can certainly access the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online - I just have to navigate to the right place, give my library card number and I'm in. But are there any hyperlinks in this blog post to Britannica content? No. Of course not.
It's the dawn of the internet. People know something is coming. But they have no idea what it's going to be, as you can see in this off-air clip from January 1994 that you've probably already laughed at a few times:
Here's an article from the New York Times on the EB announcement, which is just utterly charming in its innocence.