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Bureaucrats with 'Tude

The IRS tries to lighten up. It's a bit of a strain.

Revolution 2.0

Esther Dyson wants to redesign the digital world -- or at least get the brainstorming started.

News You Can't Use

The art of the parody is alive and well.

A Prairie Home-Page Companion

Don't know what socks to wear? Ask Garrison Keillor.

The Witch's Voice

Coming out of the broom closet.

Chess on the Net

An online community where those with the best moves always mate.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
October 29, 1997

Encyclopedia Britannica's Internet Guide "The Encyclopedia Britannica could be reduced to the volume of a matchbox," Vannevar Bush wrote in 1945, in his now-famous Atlantic article, "As We May Think." Bush's vision essentially became reality in the 1990s, when the editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica (EB) rolled out a CD-ROM version of their product and made the EB available (for a price) on the Internet. With the recent launch of Encyclopedia Britannica's Internet Guide the EB editors are now living up to another of Bush's predictions: "There will be a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record."

The twenty-five editors of the EB guide have selected 65,000 sites according to criteria that include depth, utility of information, credentials of authors and publishers, ease of navigation, and frequency of revision. Each site is placed into one of fourteen categories, all of which are then divided into sub-categories that are organized in an extended outline. The result is an index that is more detailed in terms of categorization than anything Encyclopedia Britannica's Internet GuideYahoo!, Lycos, Infoseek, Magellan, or Excite has to offer. The EB editors' descriptions of the sites they have chosen -- especially those that have been given "Recommended," "Exceptional," or "Best of the Web" status -- also tend to be more in-depth than those found on other Web guides. One feels a certain confidence when browsing the EB guide; the distinct emphasis on the selection of quality sites is a breath of fresh air at a time when Web directories often produce an abundance of irrelevant pages and broken links.

Imposing a sense of order on the chaotically increasing content of the Internet is a daunting (and perhaps quixotic) goal. The fact that the Encyclopedia Britannica sees a future in taking on such a formidable challenge must be heartening for a great many people, especially those who are new to the Web. Others may object that the very zeitgeist of the Net resists such efforts, instead encouraging people to make their own judgments without the "help" of pedigreed experts. Luckily, the Internet is large. There's room for both views.

Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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