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After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the Presses (mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com)
399 points by trustfundbaby on Mar 13, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 127 comments

It is easy to disparage the Encyclopedia Britannica from a modern perspective - out-of-step, overpriced, outmaneuvered by competitors - but there is a great sadness here at the demise of something that represented an effort by western scholars to "capture the world's knowledge." Imagine assembling a "A" team of scholars and scientists, getting them to make substantial, substantive contributions in each of their respective areas of expertise, and publishing the results under the guidance of a top editorial board. The results echoed in the western world at the highest levels for no less than two centuries, culminating in a famous 1911 edition that was widely regarded as the pinnacle in assembled human knowledge to that time - something to be marveled at. For years, collectors paid a great premium to buy the 1911 edition, just for that reason. Even in the period leading up to the 1960s, the EB was a staple in most every western home where parents valued education and academic achievement for their kids. Whole hordes of door-to-door salesmen supported their families very comfortably just by selling this particular product.

So, yes, the EB became kind of laughable with its clumsy marketing efforts and awkward efforts to adapt to modern technology in the past couple of decades, but be kind to its memory. It was one of the great attempts in all history to try to do what many dream of doing today through the internet and the advantages of the digital age: limited by the resources of that day, for sure, but an amazing achievement nonetheless. There is something special that has died here and, if only for old time's sake, we can mourn its passing.

> there is a great sadness here at the demise of something that represented an effort by western scholars to "capture the world's knowledge."

Actually the original goal wasn't to capture the world's knowledge, it was to spread the enlightenment idea that man could learn about the world through reason. If anything deciding that they would be better off just generically capturing knowledge is what killed them.

I think you've just touched upon one the most fundamental of reasons why organisations fail to adapt to social and technological change: losing sight of the original mission.

The same could be said about all those that are currently struggling with the changing times, from journalism, the music industry to democracy itself.

Let's call it "The History Channel Effect".

Spot on, but until the 'Facebook' classes engage with the established world (establishment), things will be built in a clumsy manner. Wikipedia is not a source of knowledge; it is collective wisdom, and we all know that you cannot make decisions by committee (hello Congress).

If there's a decision I want to die: I send it to committee for a slow, painful death. Sometimes it will take years of doing nothing before anyone notices we solved the prob elm the way the opposition wanted.

I think the most notable aspect of the 1911 edition - and every edition before and since - is that each is still around, distinct and readable. I don't yet know whether people will be able to reference a '2011 edition' of Wikipedia in a hundred years time. I'm aware of various archival projects, but unless they receive continued support, we could very easily be at risk of losing vast checkpoints in the history of humankind. The written word on paper and stone has been proven to last hundreds of years in general and thousands in rarer cases. Magnetic and electronic storage is yet to prove itself in that respect.

Well, download a dump of Wikipedia and be done with it. When you say "still around", you should know that digital bits have the potential to be around forever while paper books require a lot of efforts to keep around just a couple of decades.


I have an encyclopedia that's now 120 (or so) at home and I don't read it anymore because I'm too affraid to damage it. It's sad because it's gold mine of stereotypes and good words on blacks and gays.

I think your point regarding "checkpoints" is more interesting but still falls moot because Wikipedia uses versionning. If you really cared that much about digital data you would do what you are doing with your book: keeping it.

Well, they have that potential as long as the copyright holders won't go out of business, consumers stop viewing content as disposable goods and hence keep copies... and the FBI stops closing sharing sites. Now seriously, you're wrong. I've got a book from 1640 and looks fine: as long as they're printed on acid free paper they should last for centuries. Check your digital media after two decades... Hard drives/floppies from 1992 are mostly gone, CD/DVDs won't last that long because of decomposition of dye. Backup tapes, good luck with that. Now, go check which sites from the 90s keep their old files (thank God for the Internet Archive). People take for granted that every bit will stay forever, that's delusional. We have to keep moving them, if everybody stops copying a content it will be lost in less than 50 years. Now, if you think that every book with stereotypes should be discarded, that's sad. We have the responsibility to preserve history, and the moral duty to challenge what we consider wrong with our reason. To wipe it off, that's censorship and a recurrent disease of totalitarian mindsets.

No matter the quality of the paper, it will eventually decay. If you can still read your book from 1640 that's really great but realistically how common is that? There are a lot of environmental factors that affect paper duration and in many areas of the world, a decade is already very long for paper (have worked with an NGO based in Thailand that has 15 years of archives; the first 5 years are hardly readable)

As I said, digital data has the potential to exist forever. Digital data is independent from the media. A media is mostly cheap and disposable.

> Now, if you think that every book with stereotypes should be discarded, that's sad.

I certainly didn't mean that (cf. "gold mine").

> We have the responsibility to preserve history, and the moral duty to challenge what we consider wrong with our reason.

My point exactly. Which is why my comment invited the op to get a data dump and archive it properly. We all know that paper is sensible and would be careful for storage. We need to build and apply a similar set of precautions to store our digital data.

> To wipe it off, that's censorship and a recurrent disease of totalitarian mindsets.

Definitely OT.

"My" book isn't particularly resilient, it's just the oldest one I've got at home. It was covered in mud, maybe that's why it was the only one not stolen from a very old family house of ours. After all that abuse, it still works, and as a passive device, has needed no energy to keep its contents for 370 years without any change in format or computing platform able to read it every other decade or so. Try any decent library, very old books use to be in the basement, you'd be amazed. It's a bit embarrassing having to remind you that at least before the 1990s people used old books. Most of the Archives have survived without any special care for centuries (this one is a great example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo_de_Indias). Of course, they didn't use toner neither chlorine bleached paper.

> We all know that paper is sensible (...)

"My point exactly".

Digital data has the potential, yes, but unless you take continuous action, it suffers from many of the same environmental factors that affects storage of paper, and it is far more prone to losing content from minor errors.

On another forum I follow, someone has spent weeks trying to piece together data from a single 880KB Amiga formatted floppy from 20 years ago...

The reality is that we are notoriously bad at safeguarding digital data. Tons of data has no real backups.

The potential doesn't help us when it doesn't match reality.

> CD/DVDs won't last that long because of decomposition of dye.

That's burned CD/DVDs. Pressed ones from the 1980s usually still work. Some early production runs had problems with the aluminum layer not being properly sealed and oxidizing, but they definitely have the potential to last many decades if Not centuries.

This I have thought of for a long time. By doing everything electronically we (or the future generations) are at risk of losing everything. Discounting the useful knowledge, we would be losing sentimental things.

I think it is sad the EB is stopping presses. I think they should continue, if only they could find a way to print it in a way the would reduce its cost considerably. Acquisitive cost, more than anything, is what is killing them.

Anybody in the world can download a fresh dump of wikipedia every second of every day.

I would think that many thousands of people are doing this every single day right now.

archive.org probably keeps almost a monthly archive on every wikipedia article that has ever existed.

One of my friends had a housefire last year. Lost hundreds of books, letters, notes from old classes, you name it.

Not a single document from his gmail archive or dropbox folder was lost.

If I want to keep something safe, paper definitely isn't my preferred medium.

It is sad indeed, especially since it was proper factual information properly researched by people paid to do so. But in reality, I, like most people, rarely pick up an encyclopaedia. It's easier when having an argument at the pub to just pull out my phone and check on Wikipedia.

But, just as I was sad to hear that Kodak is filing for bankruptcy, this is more due to nostalgia. Businesses need to keep moving with the times and the way people consume products and services in these fast changing modern times.

Unfortunately for Encyclopedia Britannica they do not have enough income unlike the Hollywood lobbyists to pay the protection money.

I doubt they were as altruistic as you describe. They probably viewed it as a good business investment. When you consider the elevated prices they pushed these books out at, and the fact that their online website is festered with ads, it's pretty clear that this is a firm that is primarily interested in the bottom line.

"Let's make a big book with all the stuff in it so people don't have to buy a whole bunch of books." Old people were hilarious.

Imagine how was it like googling in 1993... There was life before the internet, pal.

> Only 8,000 sets of the 2010 edition have been sold, and the remaining 4,000 have been stored in a warehouse until they can be purchased.

I suspect it won't take them very long to sell those copies after this announcement.

I thought the same thing, and I'm a little surprised they didn't do a larger print run for the last edition.

It's interesting how gradual history can seem, even when we're in the middle of huge changes. Online sources of information just kept getting better, too slowly to really notice, and print encyclopedias seemed less and less relevant, but it wasn't until today that this really hit me. The Encyclopaedia Britannica is no longer being printed. That's kind of shocking, though in retrospect it seems almost inevitable.

Indeed history is gradual, but the thing that shocks me about this is that in 3,000 years when our successors look back, is this the period they're going to think our society ended?

Is their society going to be digging through the buried remains of silicon valley and saying "their civilization seemed to disappear when they started mass producing these 3.5" and 2.5" boxes containing sheets of metal.

It seems far fetched, but when all our data is digital, how long before we have a "burning of the library of Alexandria" moment. Thankfully all the companies ripping wikipedia articles and serving them with adverts are actually helping avoid a moment like this. Multiple-redundancy is likely the only method to prevent huge amounts of information from being lost.

Redundancy is easier than ever. To use your example of Wikipedia, there are a few sites around the world that mirror the periodic data dumps from Wikipedia, and if you feel like donating about 7.7 GB to the preservation of history, there are torrents:


On that note, this is probably the best general discussion I've seen of archiving our digital data:


The scenario where paper seems to have a serious advantage over digital is when people disappear or lose interest in maintaining digital copies for a few decades. Paper just sits, relatively inert, in libraries or boxes in peoples attics. Meanwhile, finding a reader for the Jazz disk with your thesis has become impossible.

This is an argument for large-scale backups. If you're already maintaining around 100 TB of assorted backup data, the extra effort of preserving another megabyte of data is negligible, even if you don't consciously care about that particular megabyte.

My thesis is in Dropbox, and I emailed it to my GMail address. Both companies seem likely to faithfully back up my thesis for the indefinite future, because it would literally be more effort for them not to back it up. I also have it on a USB drive somewhere, but I forgot where I put it. Incidentally, I also made a printed copy, but I have no idea where it is.

I did GMail-myself backups before Dropbox was around, and now have stuff on a Time Machine backup as well. But the networked backups are dependent on Google and Dropbox actively maintaining their servers for me, which it makes sense for them to do, but it's hard to depend on. If Google lost all traces of me today, that would be fine because I have a local backup, but it would be no big deal to them because I'm not a paying customer. As far as I know, they don't even have a legal obligation to maintain my data. If I have a photo or text I want to be available in 30 years, I think that printing it out and sticking on a bookshelf is much more reliable than depending on a nebulous third party or trusting that I won't inadvertently lose a set of backups.

Back in the day, it was a great product. My family had an edition endorsed (in the first pages) by Queen Elizabeth II and Richard Nixon, and I can't calculate how many hours I spent leafing through the pages. I guess that's been replaced by Wikipedia's "Random article" link, but with EB you never got crap about Pokemon.

Interesting how lacking that article is compared to it's Wikipedia Brethren.

There was huge value in thumbing through these as a child. We could never afford the set, but I had used copies of individual volumes and I spent many, many hours reading random topics. You just don't get that kind of discovery in an online version. Maybe you could, but you don't.

Seriously? YOU don't? You've obviously never experienced the Wikipedia death spiral: 30 browser tabs open all on unrelated Wikipedia pages. It was dangerously close to an addiction for me at one point and the amount of random crap I now know it irritates me I'm still so poor at pub quizes. There's probably some Godwin's Law equivalent where once you've opened a tab relating to Hitler or the Nazis, having started off on an article about Bengal Tigers, you know it's time for bed.

The problem is that you're selecting the topics. The value of a physical encyclopedia is that they've selected the topics and you're browsing them at random.

Half the time, that leads to auto-generated stub articles about small towns in the middle of nowhere.

So just hit it again until it leads to something interesting.

Someone should implement a "Random Article" link that would select only from a Encyclopedia Britannica-esque subset of Wikipedia.

http://toolserver.org/~erwin85/randomarticle.php?lang=en&... selects randomly from their list of Good articles, which is the nearest thing I'm aware of, though still not quite what you're describing.

I agree - I have a lot of nostalgia over this, as we had a complete set of the 1921 edition - reading though that to see just how much the world had changed (and this would have been in the 80's) was fascinating.

I recall reading a story (couldn't find it just now) about how Bill Gates tried unsuccessfully to license the Britannica content to create his digital encyclopedia product. Instead, Microsoft cobbled together assets themselves and built Encarta (1993).

Microsoft proceeded to trounce the print Encyclopedia business by creating a better product that severely undercut the traditional players.

Here we are, 2012, finally Britannica is dead. That took longer than expected.

I used both products while growing up and I think that Encarta sucked. It was in no way a competitor to Encyclopedia Brittanica.

I read in a book ("Blown to Bits") that one of the reasons why Brittanica flopped was because the sales people did not understand what they were selling. They thought that what they were selling was knowledge.

But most of the customers bought the books to assuage parental guilt, that they were doing enough by their children. Once the computer came around people stopped buying encyclopedia's so that "Johnny would do well in school," and bought computers instead.

Encyclopedia Brittanica did end up becoming a victim of changing technology, but in the short term at least, not in the direct way as is assumed.

One thing I remember about Encarta back when the Pentium 75mHz was king, If you copied a passage of text and pasted it into MS word, it automatically generated a footnote entry. To this day I've never seen any other software do that. (Not saying there isn't any, I've just not seen it)

There was (is?) some software called PC Study Bible that did/does that.

and if you copy and pasted an image, it would appear black.

I think Wikipedia is what trounced Britannica (and, earlier, Encarta, which is no longer being sold even online), and that Wikipedia is much more a descendant of Britannica than it is of Encarta.

I recall Encarta as the first CD that came with my CD-ROM back then it was 2x read speed.

I was extremely amazed how entire encyclopedia full of content with pictures, sounds and charts that I could most likely never read from start to end can fit into one single disc of a palm size.

History goes on... can you actually imagine in next 250 years what will replace Wikipedia? Imagine this: "After 250 years, Wikipedia shuts down its remaining servers due to lack of traffic".

What will replace Wikipedia? Something which generates that data automatically from the "citations". I imagine Wolfram Alpha, Freebase, DBpedia, Cyc, TrueKnowledge and more all channeled into a single interface.

+1. did not know any of those.. learnt so much today trueknowledge is amazing, thanks!!

> Instead, Microsoft cobbled together assets themselves and built Encarta (1993).

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funk_%26_Wagnalls , Microsoft licensed Funk and Wagnalls.

At least they had the good sense not to form the Encyclopaedia Industry Association of America (EIAA)--an organization whose charter would have been to sue random Wikipedia users.

Why not move to an on-demand printing model, I wonder? I can understand not devoting a large amounts of resources towards typesetting and storing new editions, but it does seem (at least from the comments here, and anecdotally elsewhere) that people enjoy older editions as objects d'art. There might very well be a market for selling, eg, "new" 1912 editions if you can avoid the warehousing overhead and ship them direct.

Licensing opportunity, perhaps?

It's too bad Encyclopaedia Britannica won't collaborate with Wikipedia. The company could bring their authors, reviewers, content, and experience from a sinking ship to an information platform that is successful but could be even better.

"About half a million households pay a $70 annual fee that includes access to the full database of articles, videos, original documents and access to mobile applications." That's $35 million a year, which is not as good as the best year of the print version (which would have $150 million in sales if I'm figuring correctly), but is still not too shabby.

Books don't need a cadre of software engineers pushing out updates for iOS + every Android device, video transcoding licenses, account servicing, servers, an 800-number staffed with tech support...

The book model was far better.

Do you have any actual stats to back that up?

Software doesn't need to be printed in 32 large, luxurious volumes and sold by a cadre of door-to-door salesmen.

And who would pay for those authors, reviewers, content, and experience? Those Britannica contributors interested in contributing to Wikipedia can certainly do so--and I assume there are some who are. But I'm also sure that many contributed to Britannica because they were paid and, for better or worse, there's no model to monetizing Wikipedia contributions.

I can't imagine professional authors and reviewers putting up with Wikipedia's culture and political bullshit for long.

$1,400 to buy it in book form. That may be part of the reason it's not being printed anymore.

32 volumes x ~$45 a piece. Seems to make sense. They're hard cover and very beautiful, can be used as a decorative piece as well.

The cost of a 2 million dollar yacht may also be justified, but that still explains why not more than a few thousand are sold a year.

Low sales isn't interesting in itself -- the Golden Ring of retail is a low volume/immense markup business. 244 years of history should also hint at the fact that pricing isn't the issue.

No, it simply hints that pricing wasn't always an issue, not that it isn't an issue.

The quick way to find out is - if they could make a good profit selling the entire set for $x where $x < $current, would they still be doing it? The answer is yes.

The reason the price used to work and doesn't now is that digital equivilents are not only (subjectively) better/easier/etc. - they're also cheaper.

I wonder if selling the most popular Wikipedia articles in printed form for around $100 would have a market.

It's already being done. I stumble across books like that in Amazon from time to time. The reviews usually give it away.

Search for wikipedia on amazon, and restrict the search to paperback books, and click past the first page or two, and you get an endless stream of books composed of Wikipedia entries.

Well damn. Now I feel I need to go out and buy a copy, so I don't get sent all the way back to the stone age in the event of a massive solar flare or nuclear war or zombie apocalypse.

In the novel Lucifer's Hammer one of the main characters built his personal library around that sort of "whit if" scenario. Books like "Way Things Work" vol I and II. texts on primitive pharmacology, how to make insulin, etc. And he did use his stash of books (well hidden) to barter his way into joining a community that was trying to rebuild it's corner of the world.

So yeah, EB would be useful as well.

I wonder what technologies and goods would a survivor be able to recreate based on Britannica alone.

That sounds like a gameshow pitch in the making.

I recommend the 1968 or so, EB editions if you are looking for an older one. The 1972 or 1973 was the last of the classic style ones, after that they went with Micropedia/Macropedia etc. which is not what you want.

The articles are well written, and if covering pre-20th century history, literature, or other topics, should still be excellent introductions.

I think the copy at my parents' house is about 1968. I remember when I was young and we got it. I guess I'll have to duke it out with my sister for who gets it!

Right after I read this article, I read the wikipedia article on Encyclopedias. I didn't actually know a lot about them.

Edit: Typo.

Looks like Britannica got flushed down the public toilet:


What a pity. I wonder if they'll return to publishing when it becomes cheaper to print iPad-like devices in the near future?

I personally believe that EB had a place in the world. For example, I'd happily pay a few thousand Euro's/$/Pounds for "the complete, historical Encyclopaedia Britannica" that contains every single release of EB back to the beginning. The context of historical discovery that would provide would be amazing.

Of course, it'd have to be digital.

(Disclaimer: I collect old dictionaries for the same reason: culture context as things change over the decades..)

Sad, but inevitable. I owned a copy growing up and it was an invaluable source of information. I remember flipping through the volumes and marveling at how much information I had at my fingertips. For whatever reason my computer has never given me that same feeling of awe and wonder. There's just something about staring at a bookshelf filled with those tomes of knowledge that triggers my thirst for information.

I never really coveted EB but I promised myself that the moment I strike it rich with my startup I will order the print edition of the Oxford English Dictionary: the 20 volume 2nd edition set is just $995 (http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/?view=usa&ci=01986...).

You can get the complete EB on the iPad for $1.99 per month.

I'd just like to note that, as with the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary, the fact that the publisher is no longer going to print future editions does not accurately predict that future editions will be unobtainable in print format.

You just won't be able to get them on Amazon, for 4-figures.

If you don't feel or understand the sadness others express in regards to this announcement, pretend it's hundreds of years in the future and you hear that Wikipedia is finally shutting down, having become an irrelevant artifact of the past.

Yet $1400 is a reasonable price... There is a distinctive pleasure in reading a printed encyclopaedia that convenient on-line browsing can't fulfil. Old Macropaedia editions are still useful, I prefer their summaries about physics than those of Wikipedia for instance. I'd love that everything in this world were digitalized, but it's not yet and maybe it will never be. Despite the efforts of many people there are huge amounts of relevant knowledge available on paper only, it makes me sad to realise that this obvious fact -and all those sources- are almost forgotten now.

I never used EB (I had a set of World Book Encyclopedias) but the thought is the same...it is a weird sense of finality that comes with knowing something you grew up with that was so oddly reliable is fading away due to technology that provides things it doesn't (fast iterations on rapidly changing data) but lacks others now possibly perceived as less valuable or assumed without testing the veracity (perceived up front accuracy/fact-checking).

How in the hell is this just now happening if ENCARTA was discontinued over three years ago?

Seems like this should have taken place ten years ago or more.

There was still some demand for the printed books, and apparently it was enough to generate some profit. They really are beautiful-looking books. You couldn't decorate your study with Encarta.

On a related note, according to Wikipedia (!): "Microsoft had originally approached Encyclopædia Britannica, the gold standard of encyclopedias for over a century, in the 1980s, but it declined, believing its print media sales would be hurt; however, the Benton Foundation was forced to sell Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. at below book value in 1996 when the print sales could no longer compete with Encarta..."


8000 sold in 2010 at $1395 is more than $11 million in revenue. Even if the cost is high, presumably they still made a profit on it until quite recently too since they kept printing them.

This is a fantastic example of a company embracing technology (or more generally newer forms of business) and not holding on to the "old way" of doing business.

The fact that their printed volumes account for a negligible amount of their revenue shows that this wasn't even a spur of the moment decision, they saw the writing on the wall a long time ago and planned accordingly.

It's a terrible example (or perhaps a "fantastic" example of a company avoiding reality for eons). The writing has been on the wall for EB for at least 15 years, in fact there was even a book written about it:


How do we know they're even going to make money now?

"About 85 percent of revenues come from selling curriculum products in subjects like math, science and the English language; the remainder comes from subscriptions to the Web site, the company said."

They weren't avoiding reality. It looks like they've planned this years ago, but kept printing encyclopaedias while they were still profitable.

Let's say after the year 2015, demand for non-tablets will begin to reduce by 50% per year. Does that mean companies should stop making non-tablets in the year 2015? For some, maybe. What if several competitors has already exited the market (as had happened here), should you exit too? If your competitors left that means although while the pie has gotten smaller, you're getting a larger slice of it. Stay while it's profitable.

Hopefully the electronic edition will keep going for the foreseeable future; replacing its effect ourselves would be a real pain. Wikipedia just does not replace it; Wikipedia aims to presents consensus of sources on the web (even when it is broadly acknowledged that consensus is wrong), EB aims to present correctness.

I still have my grandfather's 1911 set, which I am trying to still cherish after recently discovering that the whole thing is now on the internet.

My affection for physical objects like books and CDs (and I have acquired a LOT of them) has become increasingly anachronistic, even just over the last five years.

That's a real shame. I guess I had better look around to see if I can get one. There's still nothing comparable to an encyclopedia for being able to browse interesting topics that are reliable.

Its sad to see, and in another way a little scary. I sure hope we have enough dinosaurs to burn to keep the Internet running. Long live "The Cloud".

I'm sure more carbon is being used in cutting down the trees to turn into paper, and then shipping all of that paper to customers.

Actually chainsaws are pretty efficient.

I say there is no way more "carbon" is used shipping a few thousand books than powering the entire internet.

you think it's more efficient to ship everyone an entire set of encyclopedias than to keep wikipedia's servers running?

“Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now. The Web site is continuously updated, it’s much more expansive and it has multimedia.”

The future is clearly http://www.britannica.com

The future is so clearly not britannica.com. That site doesn't even work without javascript, and where the heck is the "Edit" button?

I think it's ridiculous in this day and age for people to expect webpages to work without JS.

Web applications, maybe. But content which is primarily text? I like my text not to be Turing-complete, thank you.

Oh, really...

In an age,

* where the Internet can be seen on ever increasing number of diverse devices

* where every day people discover that every additional layer of software complexity adds security vulnerabilities

* where the default installation of even many existing heavily used browsers, for both personal and business, have everything except html and stylesheets disabled, especially for new sites

* where some/many people may wish to choose to use your site in its most bare form possible, including command line users

* etc.

you choose to ignore all of these usage scenarios by not even having a graceful fallback for your site?

Thankfully, most web administrators and developers are not as short-sighted as you, even most start-ups!

One more thing: if a new site, even one that has been heavilty recommended to me, does not provide even basic information without scripting or has a horrible front-page with a default NoScript Firefox installation, I treat it as I would a spam site and I immediately desist from using the site and ignore the link.

You will not waste my time with lack of basic Web competence and awareness.

First of all, calm down.

I think people disabling JS for security should be willing to accept the downfalls.

"where the default installation of even many existing heavily used browsers, for both personal and business, have everything except html and stylesheets disabled, especially for new sites"

I don't know what you're talking about here. I've never seen a default install of any browser (on a desktop) except IE in Windows server have JS off by default

"where some/many people may wish to choose to use your site in its most bare form possible, including command line users"

I will grant command line users should be accommodated where they will be expected to be a large proportion of your users (linux install instructions, for example) otherwise, give me a break. Why should I take my time working for .01% of users using a command line.

Now, I don't think this means that people should be using JS when it's not necessary, like if your page is mostly text. But all of the use cases you cite are a small minority of the users of most sites.

While I agree with your position on a non-JS fallback, I cannot even remember the last time I installed a browser on any machine (OS X, Windows, Linux) where Javascript was not turned on and enabled "out of the box". The smartphones I've used (iPhone and a galaxy S) also both have JS "out of the box", so the parents comment isn't far from the truth in my opinion.

Citable facts published by someone reputable are extremely important. Wikipedia is very much not that. britannica.com could very well be a citation for a wikipedia article but never the other way around.

I really don't think there is a place for traditional encyclopedias anymore, digital or hardcopy.

Of course we still want and need curated collections of information. But I fail to see the value of large collections of information that say a tiny bit about everything. I think the real value comes from knowledgable experts curating information about their niche. Which in my experience is not at all what traditional encyclopedias were (I'm 24).

Ultimately that's not going to be as important as Wikipedia having stolen the mindshare - it is now the place people go to in order to look things up. It's all very well Britannica claiming to be more citable, but in practice Wikipedia wins because it has far more articles with more detail in them. If the fact you want to cite is not on britannica.com, you can't cite it from there.

Fail at step 1 because I cannot even get to the site (and more importantly, neither can Google), because Britannica does not understand how the web works ...

11 years after the web ate their expensive lunch meetings, they still don't get the web.

Google has parsed and indexed info thru JS for a while now. [1]

[1] http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4159807.htm

Interesting that we now think "The website is broken" because google can't index it... rather than "Google is broken" ?

I remember reading somewhere google executes javascript as part of its crawling...

http://www.google.com/search?q=site:britannica.com gives about ~1.5M results.

They have interesting robots.txt, though:


I would recommend them to hire a web designer.

Not that I think the future is britannica.com is the future either, but not working without javascript is unlikely to be the thing that stops them (or any site, really) from succeeding.

I just tried it without JavaScript. It works. It's not pretty, but it's fully functional as far as I can tell. They basically have two different UIs — if you have JavaScript, you get a modern UI, and if you don't, you get a simpler UI that's optimized for a very primitive browser (e.g. those old phone browsers that could only do 32KB per page or whatever it was). Seems fair enough. If you really can't get on there, you might want to check your connection or something.

But hypothetically, even if it were completely JavaScript-dependent, the trend is clearly toward sites that involve more JavaScript, not less, so I don't see why that would preclude being "the future."

> ... and where the heck is the "Edit" button?

Huh, I just pulled up five articles at random and they all had edit buttons. Granted, it doesn't let you edit the main article, but you can create your own version of one or send a suggestion/correction to the editor.

The World Book Encyclopedia will live on!

Raise your hand if you thought they had already stopped printing it.

/me raises his hand

It's weird, but I kinda wouldn't mind having a set of the last Encyclopaedia Britannica. The zenith of 244 years of tradition, an emblem of the transition of our knowledge to an online space, and still very functional in a quaint way...

> It's weird, but I kinda wouldn't mind having a set of the last Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Yeah, that idea is only nice to ponder, not to implement. I had a 32 volume set of Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funk_%26_Wagnalls ). They are so heavy! Every time I moved ... the horror ... I'm glad I donated all of them.

I had a 1957 set for nearly 20 years until I gave it to a neighbor in 2004 when I was relocating. He still has it.

It has the Atlas and the dedicated bookcase.

For anything up until the 20th century (e.g. the ancient and medieval worlds), it was probably as good as or better than the current edition - something has to be cut to cover Steve Jobs, the Space Shuttle and the George's Bush.

I will probably find myself another set, but I don't care if it is particularly recent. I can always use Wikipedia if I want to study Pokemon.

Not to mention they're just Gorgeous. I had a set I picked up at a thrift store just for the look - Wikipedia's faster, but damn, Britannica had Gravitas.

I would be willing to bet that a 2011 edition of the EB will still be readable by your great-grandchildren but any hard-drives you bequeath them won't.

The poetry in your comment is making me want one too, really bad...

Slight nit-pick, but I doubt that the 2010 edition is the zenith. Not sure which is, but I would expect it to be from somewhere before the internet started making it redundant.

The article says they have 4000 out of the 12000 that they printed of the 2010 edition still sitting in a warehouse. Maybe they'll give you a discount.

I wonder what it would be worth in 40 years?

I have some old sets of books over 100 years old. They're still fairly worthless.

Yep, there goes $1500~

Found a set on Amazon for 1K. And $4 s&h?!

We've talked about picking up an encyclopedia before... this kicked it into existence.

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