On a whim, I decided to pit MSN’s online version of the Encarta “encyclopedia” (part of MSN Learning and Research) against the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia available through Bartleby. The differences couldn’t be more stark.
A search for “Abelard and Heloise” on MSN turned up a few results, most accessible only to MSN subscribers. But the first result, this page, is free to all. It’s got a pretty painting of the two lovers (no information about the painting or its artist is given) and a one-paragraph, bowdlerized version of the story: “The 12th-century scholar Peter Abelard was one of the most famous theologians and philosophers of his time. In 1117 he began tutoring H
I have no idea what I’m talking about, but isn’t Bartleby’s content mostly in the public domain? I think of it as a tiny, tidy subset of Project Gutenberg, though I’m sure that’s not true at all. It does rock, though.
Also, this got blogged all over the place a couple of months ago, but I keep forgetting about it. Have you participated in the Distributed Proofreaders project ( http://texts01.archive.org/dp/ )? It’s so, so cool and makes it possible for anybody with decent eyesight to help add stuff to Project Gutenberg.
The pages I’ve done have all been from books I’d never heard of–a nineteenth-century Christian novel, some poetry in Italian. While the texts weren’t all that interesting, the technology of DP is fascinating and the underlying idea is so important that I kept trying to do just one more page. It’s kind of addictive.