Gripes about CD encyclopaedias

April 2000, English revision 28.08.04

A very special example for the opposition between browse and search approach (mentioned earlier, #2) is the opposition between alphabetically arranged encyclopaedias/ dictionaries on one hand, and systematically arranged / categorized encyclopaedias on the other. These two basic forms of knowledge-imparting assign very different weight to overview-knowledge or thinking in interrelationships. While usually learning theories emphasize that new knowledge needs to be knottet into foreknowledge and that the path to knowledge is closely connected to its content, the alphabetical encyclopaedias are tuned to purposefully deliver small morsels of knowledge, paying little attention to context.

This behaviour can still be observed even after the practical compulsion of the sort order of the print version no longer applies: with the first half-hearted attempts to hyperlink CD versions.

  • None of the CD encyclopaedias I know now (April 2000) leverage the fact that some concepts are much easier to explain through the context of their hyperonyms, antonyms, roles within a category than by isolated articles, moreover, that many concepts, in principal, are sufficiently explained by their mere position within a hierarchically arranged facts tree.
  • Nowhere I found an attempt to sort the mass of index words into a systematical classification, even in the Encyclopaedia Britannica which (before 2002) offered a deep hierarchy with its Propaedia, the mapping of articles onto this tree was implemented so half-hartedly that it was not usable.
  • A hierarchy among special details, less important interrelationships, and central basic concepts (as it were, a knowledge backbone) is nowhere visible.
  • The chance to deploy referring links less sparingly because they are considerably easier to follow on a cd than by skimming numerous volumes of an encyclopaedia, is not taken.
  • Reference links are often not revised when deriving from the print version. Rather, they are obviously generated automatically, which lead to the effect that, in the Meyer Online (switched off now), two surprising opponents fought against each other in the Thirty Years War: the Ligue (the Arabic one), and the Union (the Christlich-Demokratische, i. e.. German party CDU).

PS (2004): Today’s versions often offer dynamically generated context links which improve the impressiveness of the network but do not improve orientation.

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