Monday, March 19, 2012

The encyclopedia or wiki, the text or the e-book ?

Its been just a few days since I appeared for a job at amazon, and as usual I went about reading a lot about the company. One interesting product of theirs which specially captured my interest was kindle, the e-book reader which enable users to shop for, download, browse, and read e-books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, and other digital content. Look at the contents in bold once again. A few years ago, we were so used to the hard copies of these. An amazing sale of the amazon kindle made me think twice about the digitization of all the information around us today. It has occurred so rapidly that we could never sit back and admire it. So what ? Whats new then ? Here it is..

The encyclopedia called Britannica has decided to stop the release of its printed versions. Its going completely digital now.

And this makes me think of the future of libraries. What will be the most important  sources of information in future? I can already see a trend in my friends. People seeking knowledge no longer visit libraries, they no longer refer the Encyclopedia placed at a shelf in the library. Wikipedia and co I think has brought about this change. The online tool and e-content is so comfortably accessible, maintained and updated which probably beats the feeling of having a book in your hand !!

To many, it would be a shocking news, and I can understand that for I too love the feeling of  having a printed book in my hand as opposed reading an e-book. But, in life the only thing thats constant is "the change". And I think we are moving towards an age where most (if not all) of the information will only be available in the digital form !!  The printed pages of  Britannica have been a great companion to many for over 244 years and so this change will surely bring sadness to some. But with the tremendous rate at which digitization  is taking place it’s an inevitable move in this golden age of Internet and technology. If you are a Britannica fan and not the print form itself, nothing is going to change. Its only going to get better, at least in terms of regular updation. Jorge Cauz, the president of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. put it like this -
 it [the digital form] is now a better tool since the website is updated on a regular basis and is integrated with multimedia. Their online offerings are more expansive which will make it even more convenient when doing researches.

Lets now look at the other side of the story. With this move, is it justified enough say that wikipedia is going to rule the world of information soon ? Thats probably debatable !!

The wikipedia contents can be very easily changed into a nonsense. Though generally not the case, its still possible. Add to that the censhorships, Is wikipedia really as reliable as an encyclopedia ?? Not exactly, but studies have shown that its not far behind. For more on this comparison, you may look at a report on the comparison between wikipedia and Britannica. To me it appears that Wikipedia is a definitely a good starting point for an introduction into any topic, to say the least. If you still doubt the credibility of the contents at wikipedia, it does provide you with links to outside sources. It also saves a lot of time compared to going through a gazillion Google hits for something useful. All these references on wikipedia are mostly excellent ones.

Five years ago, I lived with my uncle. When he got up in the morning in winter, my aunt used to place a cup of coffee and the "Times of India" newspaper near him. As soon as he got up he would pick up the two and then start with his normal routine. For some reason though, I started dreaming of it for myself :P but in my case I guess  it will be a little  different to say the least, for I have already stopped the subscription of Times of India (the newspaper) and moved to the e-version. Whats your take though ? Do you think the feeling of having a text in hand will be obsolete soon ?