The Idea of Reference

Written by Sam Vaknin

Continued from page 1

Classic works of reference - from Diderot torepparttar Encarta - offered a series of advantages to their users:

1. Authority - Works of reference are authored by experts in their fields and peer-reviewed. This ensures both objectivity and accuracy.

2. Accessibility - Huge amounts of material were assembled under one "roof". This abolishedrepparttar 108517 need to scour numerous sources of variable quality to obtainrepparttar 108518 data one needed.

3. Organization - This pile of knowledge was organized in a convenient and recognizable manner (alphabetically or by subject)

Moreover, authoring an encyclopaedia was such a daunting and expensive task that only states, academic institutions, or well-funded businesses were able to produce them. At any given period there was a dearth of reliable encyclopaedias, which exercised a monopoly onrepparttar 108519 dissemination of knowledge. Competitors were few and far between. The price of these tomes was, therefore, always exorbitant but people paid it to secure education for their children and a fount of knowledge at home. Hencerepparttar 108520 long gone phenomenon of "door to door encyclopaedia salesmen" and instalment plans.

Yet, all these advantages were eroded to fine dust byrepparttar 108521 Internet. The web offers a plethora of highly authoritative information authored and released byrepparttar 108522 leading names in every field of human knowledge and endeavour. The Internet, is, in effect, an encyclopaedia - far more detailed, far more authoritative, and far more comprehensive that any encyclopaedia can ever hope to be. The web is also fully accessible and fully searchable. What it lacks in organization it compensates in breadth and depth and recently emergent subject portals (directories such as Yahoo! or The Open Directory) have becomerepparttar 108523 indices ofrepparttar 108524 Internet. The aforementioned anti-competition barriers to entry are gone: web publishing is cheap and immediate. Technologies such as web communities, chat, and e-mail enable massive collaborative efforts. And, most important,repparttar 108525 bulk ofrepparttar 108526 Internet is free. Users pay onlyrepparttar 108527 communication costs.

The long-heralded transition from free content to fee-based information may reviverepparttar 108528 fortunes of online reference vendors. But as long asrepparttar 108529 Internet - with its 2,000,000,000 (!) visible pages (and 5 times as many pages in its databases) - is free, encyclopaedias have little by way of a competitive advantage.

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and

Visit Sam's Web site at

A Brief History of the Book - Part I

Written by Sam Vaknin

Continued from page 1

The truth, as always, is somewhere in mid-ground between derision and fawning.

The e-book retains one innovation ofrepparttar parchment -repparttar 108516 hypertext. Early Jewish and Christian texts as well as Roman legal scholarship were inscribed or, later, printed, with numerous inter-textual links. The Talmud, for instance, comprises a main text (the Mishna) surrounded by references to scholarly interpretations (exegesis).

Whether on papyrus, vellum, paper, or PDA - all books are portable. The book is like a perpetuum mobile. It disseminates its content virally, by being circulated, and is not diminished or altered inrepparttar 108517 process. Though physically eroded, it can be copied faithfully. It is permanent and, subject to faithful replication, immutable.

Admittedly, e-texts are device-dependent (e-book readers or computer drives). They are format-specific. Changes in technology - both in hardware and in software - render many e-books unreadable. And portability is hampered by battery life, lighting conditions, orrepparttar 108518 availability of appropriate infrastructure (e.g., of electricity).

The printing press technology shatteredrepparttar 108519 content monopoly. In 50 years (1450-1500),repparttar 108520 number of books in Europe swelled from a few thousand to more than 9 million. And, as McLuhan noted, it shiftedrepparttar 108521 emphasis fromrepparttar 108522 oral mode of content distribution (i.e., "communication") torepparttar 108523 visual mode.

E-books are onlyrepparttar 108524 latest application of age-old principles to new "content-containers". Every such transmutation yields a surge in content creation and dissemination. The incunabula -repparttar 108525 first printed books - made knowledge accessible (sometimes inrepparttar 108526 vernacular) to scholars and laymen alike and liberated books fromrepparttar 108527 tyranny of monastic scriptoria and "libraries".

E-books are promising to dorepparttar 108528 same.

Inrepparttar 108529 foreseeable future, "Book ATMs" placed in remote corners ofrepparttar 108530 Earth would be able to print on demand (POD) any book selected from publishing backlists and front lists comprising millions of titles. Vanity publishers and self-publishing allow authors to overcome editorial barriers to entry and to bring out their work affordably.

The Internet isrepparttar 108531 ideal e-book distribution channel. It threatensrepparttar 108532 monopoly ofrepparttar 108533 big publishing houses. Ironically, early publishers rebelled againstrepparttar 108534 knowledge monopoly ofrepparttar 108535 Church. The industry flourished in non-theocratic societies such asrepparttar 108536 Netherlands and England - and languished where religion reigned (the Islamic world, and Medieval Europe).

With e-books, content is once more a collaborative effort, as it has been well intorepparttar 108537 Middle Ages. Knowledge, information, and narratives were once generated throughrepparttar 108538 interactions of authors and audience (remember Socrates). Interactive e-books, multimedia, discussion lists, and collective authorship efforts restore this great tradition.

Authors are againrepparttar 108539 publishers and marketers of their work as they have been well intorepparttar 108540 19th century when many books debuted as serialized pamphlets in daily papers or magazines or were sold by subscription. Serialized e-books hark back to these intervallic traditions. E-books may also help restorerepparttar 108541 balance between best-sellers and midlist authors and between fiction and non-fiction. E-books are best suited to cater to neglected niche markets.


Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory, Suite101 and

Visit Sam's Web site at

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