Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Britannica’s New Site

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

More Participation and Collaboration from Experts and Readers

Encyclopaedia Britannica is about to launch a new initiative that we’re very enthusiastic about. The main thrust of this initiative is to promote greater participation by both our expert contributors and readers. Both groups will be invited to play a larger role in expanding, improving, and maintaining the information we publish on the Web under the Encyclopaedia Britannica name as well as in sharing content they create with other Britannica visitors. A complete redesign, editing tools, and incentive programs will give expert contributors and users the means to take part in the further improvement of Encyclopaedia Britannica and in the creation and publication of their own work.

These efforts not only will improve the scope and quality of Encyclopaedia Britannica, but they’ll also allow expert contributors and readers to supplement this content with their own. The result will be a place with broader and more relevant coverage for information seekers and a welcoming community for scholars, experts, and lay contributors.

The planning of this service is almost finished, and we’ve been working on its implementation for a few months now. We are far enough along in the process to tell you about it today and invite your comments. Here are its main features. (We’ve also included thumbnail images of select features from the new site. Click to enlarge them if you’d like to get an idea of what each feature will look like.)

The Britannica Online site will become the hub of a new online community that will welcome and engage thousands of scholars and experts with whom we already have relationships. Encyclopaedia Britannica has long been written by a community of scholars from all over the world, and this distinguished group of people has always been one of our greatest assets. Today it is possible to increase the strength and size of this community online and to provide its members with incentives to become involved with Britannica on a more sustained and consistent basis.

To elicit their participation in our new online community of scholars, we will provide our contributors with a reward system and a rich online home that will enable them to promote themselves, their work, and their services; allow them to showcase and publish their various works-in-progress in front of the Britannica audience; and help them find and interact with colleagues around the world. In this way our online community of scholars not only will be able to interact with our editors and content in a more effective manner; they will also be able to share directly with Britannica’s visitors content that they may have created outside Encyclopaedia Britannica and will allow those visitors to suggest changes and additions to that content.

As part of our longstanding tradition, engaging a prominent community of scholars will continue to be a key requirement. With this new site and initiatives we will be able to recruit new members beyond our current contributor base, through recommendations from existing contributors, applications from expert communities, and by inviting select members of our user community.

Readers and users will also be invited into an online community where they can work and publish at Britannica’s site under their own names. Interested users will be able to prepare articles, essays, and multimedia presentations on subjects in which they’re interested. Britannica will help them with research and publishing tools and by allowing them to easily use text and non-text material from Encyclopaedia Britannica in their work. We will publish the final products on our site for the benefit of all readers, with all due attribution and credit to the people who created them. The authors will have the option of collaborating with others on their work, but each author will retain control of his or her own work.

Encyclopaedia Britannica will continue to form the core base of knowledge and information on the site, though the material created by contributors and the user community, which each member will control and be credited for, will be published alongside the encyclopedia. Encyclopaedia Britannica itself will continue to be edited according to the most rigorous standards and will bear the imprimatur “Britannica Checked” to distinguish it from material on the site for which Britannica editors are not responsible.

However, our new editing tools, user interface and reward system will facilitate and motivate expert contributors and readers alike to suggest text changes, updates, photos, videos, bibliographies, Web links and other reference materials and improvements to Encyclopaedia Britannica itself. All such suggestions will be considered by editors, and if they’re found to have merit they’ll be fact-checked and vetted before they’re published. Anyone whose contributions are accepted for publication will be credited in detailed article-history pages in the encyclopedia.

Two things we believe distinguish this effort from other projects of online collaboration are (1) the active involvement of the expert contributors with whom we already have relationships; and (2) the fact that all contributions to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s core content will continue to be checked and vetted by our expert editorial staff before they’re published.

ebs21.pngIn this way we aim to leverage the power of the Internet to integrate the work of many people in a common project and on a large scale, but without relinquishing the editorial oversight that makes Britannica’s content trustworthy.

The Britannica Online Web site has been redesigned to prepare for the introduction of these new features, and while the redesigned site is not finished, we would like to give you a glimpse of it now and invite your thoughts and feedback. You can preview the new site, which is still in beta testing, at A portion of the people who visit Britannica Online today are being routed to this site and are using it now; soon it will replace our current site at entirely, and the new features we have described above will be introduced in the weeks and months ahead.

[Please see comments related to this post by Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.]

Britannica Sites Win Codie Awards

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

homeimageAt a gala reception in San Francisco Tuesday night, two Britannica Web sites each received one of the most sought-after honors in the digital publishing business.  I hope you won’t mind if I crow about it just a bit. 

The host of the event was the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA); the honors bestowed: the Codie Awards, which “celebrate achievement and vision in software, education technology and digital content.”

That night, Britannica Online School Edition, our K-12 school site, was named “Best Education Reference or Search Service,” while our blog (the main one, not the one you’re reading now), took the top spot in the “Best Corporate Blog” category.

Naturally, we’re thrilled.

You can see a list of all of this year’s Codie Award winners here.  And if you haven’t been to the Britannica Blog, please take a look.

Hail to the Chief

Monday, May 19th, 2008

“The nation’s founders originally intended the presidency to be a narrowly restricted institution,” says the Encyclopaedia Britannica about the highest political office in the United States.

Those founders would, to say the least, be surprised if they could see what has happened to the presidency since then.

The office, whose occupant the article goes on to say is “arguably the most powerful elected official in the world,” has undergone significant changes since George Washington took the oath in 1789.  Today, as Americans prepare to elect the country’s 44th chief executive, you can get extensive background on the presidency and its history from Britannica, and, if you have a Web site of your own, provide those same resources to your readers with links to Britannica’s material. 


You can link from your own site to any of these features, or download this widget, with a collection of Britannica articles on the presidency, and post it on your site.  Your visitors will be able to click on the links and access the articles in their entirety.  

A Man for All Seasons

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

April would have been a good time to talk about Shakespeare, it being the month both of his birth and death, but, alas, April’s lease has expired. Fortunately, however, the Bard is never out of season, so for those of you who want to delve into the life and work of the great playwright and poet or read up on him in preparation for summer stock, here goes.

Britannica has an extensive article on Shakespeare that covers his life and work and place in literary history. It also takes up the intriguing question of whether Shakespeare actually wrote his own plays, a hot topic among these days. Principal contributors to the article Shakespeare scholars John Russell Brown, Terence John Bew Spencer, and David Bevington.

We also have a The Encyclopaedia Britannica Guide to Shakespeare, a special multimedia site devoted entirely to Shakespeare and his work. It has additional articles and audio and video clips of performances.

And, of course, this widget that you can put on your own site, which has links to Britannica’s coverage of Shakespeare and related topics.
On the Web:

The Shakespeare Authorship Page. These folks believe Shakespeare really wrote Shakespeare.

The Electronic Text Center. Various editions available in digital form.

Shakespeare Resource Center. Large collection of links to Shakespeare material around the Web.

Folger Shakespeare Library. Washington, D.C.-based center for research on the Bard and his times.

Poetry? Yes, Poetry

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

You might not know it unless you tripped over the news by accident, but April is National Poetry Month in the United States. So before the celebration ends at midnight tonight, let’s tip our hat to that wonderful but under-appreciated form of literature that so enriches the people who choose to make it part of their lives.

One of the great things about streaming video on the Web is that if you can’t make it to poetry readings in person you can see and hear readings at places like Favorite Poem Project. . . . If you’d like to cultivate a love of poetry in your kids but are afraid they’ll just run away from it, try Giggle Poetry, which will meet them more than halfway. . . . Want the latest news from across the poetic world, as it were?  Try the Poetry Foundation and its house organ, Poetry magazine.  If there is any such thing as a poetry portal, these sites are it. . . . If you’d just like to find something to read, check out the Poetry Archives. . . . The Museum of American Poetics seems to have some edgy stuff on its site, and while for me its pages took awhile to load you may decide it’s worth the wait.

Of course Britannica has an extensive article on poetry, which you are welcome to read and link to if you have a Web site.  And if your interest in the form extends beyond April, or you simply want to add some class and culture to your site, you can download and post the widget above, which has a collection of Britannica articles on poetry and poets.

WebShare Initiative Announced

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Today we officially announced the Britannica WebShare program.  Regular visitors to this site know all about it, but here’s the press release all the same.

Britannica Opens Site for Free Access to Web Publishers, Linking

CHICAGO, April 29, 2008—Bloggers, webmasters, online journalists and anyone else who publishes regularly on the Internet can now get free subscriptions to Britannica Online (

Anyone interested in participating in Britannica’s new WebShare initiative can apply for a free subscription at or get more information at

The free subscriptions are part of Britannica’s effort to increase awareness and use of its extensive information resources, which include articles written by many top scholars, some of them Nobel laureates.

“It’s good business for us and a benefit to people who publish on the Net,” said Britannica president Jorge Cauz. “The level of professionalism among Web publishers has really improved, and we want to recognize that by giving access to the people who are shaping the conversations about the issues of the day. Britannica belongs in the middle of those conversations.”

In addition to the free subscriptions, Web publishers can also bring the value of Britannica’s content to their own sites by linking to any articles they find relevant to the topics they’re writing about.

Access to much of the site, including full-text entries from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, normally requires a paid subscription. There’s an exception to that rule, however: When a Web site links to a Britannica article Web surfers who click on that link get the article in its entirety.

“This means that when you’re writing something for the Web, whether it’s about Tibet, the U.S. presidential election, global warming or the Peace of Westphalia, you can give your readers additional information about the topic just by pointing them to the appropriate Britannica articles,” said Cauz. “If an article normally requires a subscription to access it, your readers will get it anyway, even if they’re not subscribers.

“Bloggers, journalists, and Web sites link all the time, of course, but they may not realize they have the option of pointing to Britannica articles. So let me be clear: they do.”

Cauz said that Web publishers can link to as many Britannica articles as they like.

The company also plans to provide special tools, such as widgets and clusters of topical articles related to current events that will make it easy for online publishers to find and use Britannica material on their sites.

The public is also invited to follow Britannica’s Twitter stream, a daily “tweet” featuring a link to a Britannica article pertinent to the news of the day. This feature, at, requires a free account.

Additional features designed to facilitate the use of Britannica content around the Web will be introduced in the months ahead.

Interested writers and publishers can go to for more. The site has instructions, a registration form, currently available topic clusters, eligibility guidelines, and a Britannica-written blog to keep visitors up to date on the program and how it is being used. The social media version of this release is available at

About Encyclopaedia Britannica
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. is a leader in reference and education publishing whose products can be found in many media, from the Internet to cell phones to books. A pioneer in electronic publishing since the early 1980s, the company also still publishes the 32-volume Encyclopaedia Britannica, along with services such as Britannica Online School Edition and new printed products, which are available online at The company makes its headquarters in Chicago.

# # #

Tom Panelas
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

Shel Holtz
Holtz Communication + Technology

News from Mother Earth & the Machine

Friday, April 25th, 2008

Earth Day was Tuesday, but according to our friend and blogger Gregory McNamee, it’s still Earth Day Week, which I take to mean we’re still allowed to discuss the condition of the planet we live on.  Before that license expires, I invite you to read this article on global warming (also Earth Day itself) and grab this widget with Britannica articles on the environment for your own site if your interest in the subject extends beyond this week. 

Want more? In what he calls an Earth Week Coda to his previous post, Greg calls attention to the Times of London’s list of “The Top 50 Eco Blogs.”

Now for something completely different:

This has nothing to do with the WebShare program, though it’s pretty cool and, as it happens, Michael Wesch, who produced it along with his students at Kansas State University, is a Britannica advisor.

What do you make of it all?

“The Roof of the World”

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008


According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Tibet is an “historic region and autonomous region of China that is often called ‘the roof of the world.’”

A picturesque description, but how did Tibet come to be in the middle of a firestorm of controversy over the 2008 Olympics?  And why have Tibetan monks clashed with Chinese security forces in the streets of the capital?

After declaring its independence from China following the Chinese revolution of 1911-12, “Tibet functioned as an independent government until 1951 and defended its frontier against China in occasional fighting as late as 1931,” the encyclopedia goes on to say. “In 1949, however, the ‘liberation’ of Tibet was heralded, and in October 1950 the Chinese invaded eastern Tibet, overwhelming the poorly equipped Tibetan troops. An appeal by the Dalai Lama to the United Nations was denied, and support from India and Britain was not forthcoming. A Tibetan delegation summoned to China in 1951 had to sign a treaty dictated by the conquerors. It professed to guarantee Tibetan autonomy and religion but also allowed the establishment at Lhasa of Chinese civil and military headquarters.”

There is much more to the story, of course, and you can read the entire article or download the above Britannica widget on Tibet to your Web site or blog. It has this article and a number of others, all of which are available to visitors of any site that hosts the widget. While you’re at it consider grabbing the widgets on China, Buddhism, or the Olympics.

Widgets: One Size Fits All

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

At the risk of prattling on endlessly about our widgets, let me add one more thing that may not be obvious: they scale in size—downward if necessary.

Here on our site they look wide because that’s their default size, but you can post them in the narrow side columns of most blogs, and they will adjust to the size of the column.   Here’s an example of one that appears in a Blogger blog, in a side column of average width for those sites. 

In this situation there do seem to be some display problems when the widget is viewed in Internet Explorer 6.  The widget can look chopped in certain environments.  We’re trying to fix the problem.


Here Comes Everybody*

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Thanks to a post on the A-list blog TechCrunch late Friday night, Britannica’s WebShare program is getting a lot of attention this weekend.  We’ve been swamped with requests for free subscriptions, and we’re processing them as quickly as we can.  We do look at each one, so the screening process is not entirely programmatic, but no one should have to wait more than about 24 hours (3-4 business days; please see update below) between applying for a free sub at our registration page and receiving an answer from us. 

The majority of the people who have applied so far, by the way, have qualified and are receiving subscriptions. 

If you have any problems with or questions about your subscription or the registration process, please send us an e-mail about it.  (Update: Please also write to us if you’ve applied for a subscription and haven’t heard back from us in 36 hours a week or longer.)

Many people have noticed and commented on our widgets.  We only have a few posted here right now, but many more are on the way, and we’ll get them up here as quickly as we can.  Please come back.   

NB: One issue I’ve noticed with some of our widgets is that under some circumstances they may not display properly in Internet Explorer 6.  (Okay, “issue” is a euphemism; problem is the right word.).  We’re looking into this and would welcome any reports about your own experience. Thanks.

* Apologies to Clay Shirky.

Update (4/25): I may have overpromised about the 24-hour turnarond.  We’re getting a lot of applications, and since they go through some screening by human beings, it’s taking time.  In general we will try to respond to applicants within two business days, though right now, while we’re getting a surge of applications, it may take a bit longer.  Please be patient; we’ll get to you.  Thanks.