Saturday, September 02, 2006

Encyclopaedia Britannica is Seeking Blogger Support

I received this e-mail yesterday from Rodney Waldoff of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It partially reads:

Hello Miland.

You don't know me, but I wear the "community czar" hat at Encyclopaedia Britannica. My role is to develop tools and content that help experts like you reach, engage, and enlighten your audience. I've been following your World History Blog for a little while now, and wanted to reach out to you for a few reasons:

(1) At Britannica, we believe in the value of high quality content and in the importance of bloggers like you who create it. That's why I'd like to offer you a free subscription to Encyclopaedia BritannicaOnline.

2) As a service to your readers, the full text of every article you link to will be available to your readers for free, even those that normally require a subscription. Our reasoning is that it makes senseto allow bloggers and web authors to fully reference our content when it helps them express an opinion or enlighten their audience.

I would feel flattered but I also got this e-mail for another blog I keep under a different name. It appears as though the Britannica sent this e-mail out to lots of bloggers. As such, this appears to be an attempt by this encyclopedia to get links and recognition as a quality resource by the blogging community.

This makes sense. Wikipedia is currently the encyclopedia of choice for most bloggers. I frequently link there. Why shouldn't I? The content has proven to be reliable and it is free. I often edit there myself. I have consulted the print edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica many times in writing posts but I do not link to the Encyclopaedia Britannica website as my visitors can not read the content without buying a subscription. I will now link to the Britannica when appropriate.

I applaud this effort by the Britannica. However, I do not think they are moving far enough in this Web 2.0 world. Here are two suggestions:

1. Make all of the content of the Britannica available for free to search engine spiders and human visitors. If they want their content to be used, referenced, linked to, and found in search engine results they need to have it out there to read. I may link to them but my visitors will get frustrated when they leave the approved link made available by this program and hit a firewall demanding money. I predict they will then visit Wikipedia...

I realize that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is a business and needs to make money. However, there are ways to monetize a website and still make money without charging a subscription fee. Have they never heard of Google Adsense?

2. They need to make the encyclopedia more up-to-date. For example, compare the Wikipedia article on Wake Island with the Encyclopaedia Britannica version. It is easy to see which is more current. Super Typhoon Ioke hit the island a few days ago. It is the second most historical event in the island's history after the Second World War. Wikipedia has this in the article already, why doesn't Britannica? (And no, I did not make this edit at Wikipedia.)

I expect accuracy and wide coverage in an encyclopedia but I also expect currency. The old print cycle of waiting a year or two to update does not work on the web. If I have to wait, I will find another source.

Maybe the Britannica can open up it's content for editing to some users? I am not envisioning the Wikipedia model. I realize that is not the best route for the Britannica as Wikipedia has already beat them to this and it might not work for their reputation. However, is some access for some people worth considering? What would happen if the Britannica allowed bona fide academics access to articles? They could still have a verification process to assure quality but could be certain that almost all edits were worthwhile. Maybe the product would not be as responsive as Wikipedia to current events but it would not be as far behind as it is now either.

Maybe free online content coupled with a large number of active academics editing the Britannica could provide a counter to the wildly successful impact of Wikipedia?

A few days ago I was working with a doctoral student. She is finishing up her dissertation and I advised her to use a Wikipedia link. I even showed her how to cite it in APA format. I then called her dissertation advisor and urged her to allow this. Her advisor agreed. When this student graduates and begins teaching, I bet she allows her students to cite Wikipedia in papers. The times have changed. Can the Britannica keep up?

Friday, September 01, 2006

History Carnival #38

History Carnival #38. The newest edition of the History Carnival is now up. The host is Jonathan Dresner at Frog in a Well: Japan. As always, there are lots of good history blog posts the read. It should keep you busy all weekend long.

The next edition of the History Carnival will be hosted at Cliopatria on September 15th. You can use the carnival submission form to send in suggestions. Submit early and often.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

American Jewish Committee Archives

American Jewish Committee Archives. I am pleased to pass on this excellent site which I discovered the other day. It has a ton of primary source material relating to Jewish-American history. This includes audio and video clips.

This site includes forty films ranging from human relation cartoons of the 1950s to Destiny's Tot, an exploration of the psychological roots of prejudice staring Robert Duval. It also has The House I live In where Frank Sinatra convinces a group of neighborhood youngsters to stop discriminating against other children in the neighborhood. In addition, there are sixteen broadcasts from American radio relating to the site topic.

There is also an oral history collection the features audio conversations with Jewish athletes, comedians, Nobel prize winning writers, and political leaders. Interviews include: Bella Abzug, George Burns, Gerson Cohen, Abba Eban, Hank Greenberg, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, Golda Meir, Arthur Miller, Molly Picon, Neil Simon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Rosalyn Yalow.

From the site:

Founded in 1906, in response to the Kishinev pogroms in Russia, the American Jewish Committee soon became a leader in combating bigotry and extremism, promoting civil rights and interreligious understanding, advocating for Jewish security worldwide, and defending the State of Israel. Because of our direct involvement, both nationally and internationally, in a host of key issues, our archives contain a rich, varied, and extensive collection of materials.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

John Titor, Fake Time Traveller

In 2000/2001, someone claiming to be a time traveller began posting to several message forums on the Web. The poster went by the name of John Titor and claimed to be a time traveller from the year 2036. He posted numerous times and made a variety of claims that would be verifiable in only a few short years.

John Titor loaded pictures of his time machine as well as a cutaway diagram of the device. He answered questions about the future and told his life story as someone who grew up in the early 21st century. His predictions for the future were grim. He claimed that a civil war would engulf the USA starting in 2004. He predicted a Third World War in 2015 that will kill 3 billion people. During this war, Washington D.C. will be destroyed, China will annex Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, and Australia will repel a Chinese invasion. Most American cities are going to be destroyed and it is the rural areas of America which will survive and rebuild the nation. Universities take on a greater role in American life.

Thankfully, John Titor has now been proven a fraud. No civil war began in the USA in 2004. In late summer 2006, it is fairly easy to dismiss this claim. As the alleged time traveller has already failed in his first major prediction, it is a fair assumption that the rest will not happen either. There may be a Third World War someday, but John Titor likely has not predicted the timing or course of events of it. I guess his proponents can claim that John Titor was not a fraud and that he must have visited the past from a different alternate timeline. However, as I am only interested in the timeline I am living in, I am going to dismiss Titor.

John Titor was a major phenomenom in time travel and paranormal circles until his predictions failed to come true in 2004. As I hinted at above, some have even came up with theories that he was real despite the false predictions. I guess the lesson here is if you want to make up claims of being a time traveller, pretend to be from the far future. In this way, you can claim a lack of knowledge of 21st century history and make grand predictions of the far future with no chance of being proven a fraud.

Here are some sites on John Titor:

Wikipedia on John Titor
The Original Forum where John Titor posted
Cryptic Universe

Update 7 August 2008: Joh Titor, Proven Hoax - Yes Virginia, there were a 2008 Summer Olympic Games.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

History of Nepal

History of Nepal. This is a brief history of the Asian nation of Nepal. Nepal has a very unique flag for a nation state. It also has seen considerable unrest in recent years.

The Encyclopædia Britannica notes, "Officially Kingdom of Nepal , Nepali Nepal Adhirajya country of Asia, lying along the southern slopes of the Himalayan mountain ranges. It is a landlocked country located between India to the east, south, and west and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China to the north. Its territory, which has an area of 56,827 square miles (147,181 square kilometres), extends roughly 500 miles (800 kilometres) from east to west and 90 to 150 miles from north to south. The capital is Kathmandu."

From the site:

Modern Nepal was created in the latter half of the 18th century when Prithvi Narayan Shah, the ruler of the small principality of Gorkha, formed a unified country from a number of independent hill states. The country was frequently called the Gorkha Kingdom, the source of the term "Gurkha" used for Nepali soldiers.

After 1800, the heirs of Prithvi Narayan Shah proved unable to maintain firm political control over Nepal. A period of internal turmoil followed, heightened by Nepal's defeat in a war with the British from 1814 to 1816. Stability was restored after 1846 when the Rana family gained power, entrenched itself through hereditary prime ministers, and reduced the monarch to a figurehead. The Rana regime, a tightly centralized autocracy, pursued a policy of isolating Nepal from external influences. This policy helped Nepal maintain its national independence during the colonial era, but it also impeded the country's economic development.

In 1950, King Tribhuvan, a direct descendant of Prithvi Narayan Shah, fled his "palace prison" to newly independent India, touching off an armed revolt against the Rana administration. This allowed the return of the Shah family to power and, eventually, the appointment of a non-Rana as prime minister. A period of quasiconstitutional rule followed, during which the monarch, assisted by the leaders of fledgling political parties, governed the country. During the 1950s, efforts were made to frame a constitution for Nepal that would establish a representative form of government, based on a British model.

Monday, August 28, 2006

It's real life CSI for dinosaur detectives

It's real life CSI for dinosaur detective. This article at CNN caught my eye. I almost did not include it here as it is not about history directly. It instead deals with scientists studying pre-history dinosaurs. Still, I think I can justify a link to this page here on the basis of pre-history.

The article deals with scientists working in the field trying to uncover dinosaur bones in Montana. The researchers are good at identifying dinosaur species from bone fragments. They also look for signs of breaks that have healed and for signs of disease. Literally, the field work is similar to the work done by forensic experts who examine human remains.

Also, the research can only be done is some areas of the world. The article notes, "Even though dinosaurs lived all over the world, their fossilized remains can only be found in places where the right age rock is exposed at the surface of the ground. In the United States that includes parts of Utah, Wyoming and Montana. Take Michigan, for example. Even though Michigan had dinosaurs at one time, the right age rock isn't there anymore. The rocks exposed to the ground are 300 million years old -- too old for dinosaurs."

Here are some other sites I found on this topic:

Dino Land - Interviews with paleontologists, news on recent fossil finds, virtual tours of famous fossil sites and museums, and a tribute to the greatest dinosaur discoveries of the century.

Dinosauria On-Line - A tool for researching dinosaurs. Contains the Journal of Dinosaur Paleontology, a collection of essays and e-mail discussions whose topics range from what Archaeopteryx used its wings for, to evolution.

Debates about Dinosaurs - Summaries of major debates in dinosaur paleontology, including dinosaur metabolism, the connection between dinosaurs and birds, and the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction.

Dinosaur Interplanetary Gazette - Articles, recent fossil discoveries and other dinosaur news from the last 245 million years.