Thursday, March 15, 2012

Britannica Bows:

New technologies are uncompromisingly cruel to the old technologies they replace. It’s particularly painful to see computers doing things ten times better than print matter, and there’s no stopping them.

The Britannica company has bowed to the inevitable and given up on its printed edition. In the past, most printed encyclopedias gained important revenue from door-to-door hard-sell salesman who offered parents a dream of books that would raise them and their children to a new level. Most such families today expect their home computer or smart phone to do that, so I suspect this hard-sell market for books is gone.

But for Britannica, it gets worse. The Company inadvertently made its own excellent case for switching to an online format years ago. Do you remember the comparison between Britannica and Wikipedia, that claimed Wikipedia was as good or better an encyclopedia?

Britannica responded with a detailed rebuttal to show that the analysis was wrong. The most common theme in their rebuttal was that the analysis incorrectly asserted valuable information was missing from Britannica; in fact, the Britannica encyclopedia contained that information, but in a different place. In order to find such information, you needed to know where Britannica’s expert editors had decided to put it, or – and Britannica’s rebuttal did not mention this, but it screamed between the lines – you needed hyperlinks or a search engine to find what you needed to know.

Printed books do not handle hyperlinks and search engines very well. End of printed encylopedias.

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