Internet AS Encyclopedia

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Oct 30, 1993, 6:27:33 PM10/30/93
The following message has generated some discussion on the new Interpedia mailing list. ( to subscribe send a mail message consisting of the word "subscribe" to ) I'm posting it here in the hope of attracting more interest in this subject. --------------------------------------------------------------- At present the Internet is terribly disorganized and hard to use. There is an urgent need for an overriding metaphor, some sort of unifying organizational technique. Consider what computers were like before desktops and spreadsheets and other organizational metaphors were invented. Computers used to be entirely beyond the comprehension of even well educated people. Now many people use them quite happily, thanks to metaphors which make them comprehensible. An Internet Encyclopedia or Interpedia as suggested by Rick Gates could just what is needed. Here are some ideas for how it could work and what it could look like. First of all, we can't please everybody with a single access method, so we need multiple entry points: alphabetical, hierarchical like the current USENET newsgroup structure, and hypertext. But the Internet is international, so we also need entry points for people whose preferred language is not English: French, Swahili etc. Let's try a specific example. Suppose you want information about an arbitrary subject -- what are the steps you might take? First, you pick the any keyword that comes into your mind, and you ask for the alphabetical access. E.g. you type "organ". The Interpedia responds with a list of possibilities such as: musical instrument part of body administrative body journal of a society ... You want to see something about a journal so you pick "journal of a society" and immediately see a short default article on such journals. Once you've looked at this short abstract, you have a number of choices. You can: -- ask to see the default in-depth article -- choose between a range of competing articles from different viewpoints -- pick hypertext links to go to related topics -- examine one (or more!) hierarchical indices to see where this topics fits and what other topics may be of interest -- enter the relevant newsgroup for e-mail discussions of such journals -- enter a MUD appropriate to this, e.g. a MUD for writers and editors -- enter a room in an irc where people are discussing them -- search online databases, bibliographies etc. on this specific topic -- add your own comments to any of the articles -- search the notes and references provided by article writers -- find other people interested in this topic and chat with them -- contribute your own articles on this subject -- subscribe to some journal that becomes of interest to you -- even pay for your subscription by electronic funds transfer. It is important to have authoritative articles for people who merely want accurate information in a compact, traditional form like any ordinary encyclopaedia. That's what the default articles are for. Default articles are selected by some kind of voting process by committee, more or less the way newsgroup FAQs are produced now. Rather than discussing an Internet Encyclopedia, perhaps what we really should be talking about is the Internet as an encyclopedia. ^^ The possibilities are extraordinary. Robert Neville Doug Wilson or
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