Overheard on CNN.com: As information shifts from print to digital, will it stand test of time?
After 244 years, Encyclopedia Britannica will cease production of its iconic multi-volume book sets.
March 14th, 2012
09:08 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: As information shifts from print to digital, will it stand test of time?

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer be producing its printed multi-volume sets, opting instead for a more digital approach. Readers debated whether this development is great, realistic or sad. Or something else.

Encyclopedia Britannica to stop printing books

We asked on Twitter and the CNN iReport Facebook page what our readers' favorite entries and volumes are. Some, like @badru75, told us they were feeling a bit sad.

[tweet https://twitter.com/#!/badru75/status/179969262692220929/%5D

Another Twitter user, @Maxine28, still keeps hard-bound books and said one can't always find needed information on the internet.

[tweet https://twitter.com/#!/Maxine28/status/180067582513119233]

We heard lots of stories from our readers on Facebook as well. One of them told us about favorite topics to seek.

Uruakpa God'swill Uche wrote in a comment that her favorite entry is from the 1959 edition, Vol. 21, p. 306-7. The section talks about the accomplishments of humans in the scope of nature.

"I think that the information age will continue to de-emphasize bulky, hard-copy volumes, going forward. They're unwieldy, tiresome, clumsy and unsustainable; ungreen. Nimble, smart, soft copies on thumb drives, CD-ROM, and the like, are the future. You can then print what pages you want at home for personal consumption, mindful of the carbon footprint implications of every A4 sheet of paper you use. And I'm terribly glad of the very commendable foresight and courage of the EB board in taking the bull by the horns and belling the cat in this regard. Oh, and I fancy the idea of carrying all the EB volumes ever published on a CD-ROM in my shirt pocket."

Other Facebook commenters were less enthusiastic.

Elfrida Valentia Sinaga: "Boooooo! This is bad news! Digital encyclopedias are worse than digital books!"

Zea Nozea: "I am going to miss those collection of World Books prior to computer ... reading research from a to z. :("

Steph Vélez: "This is just sad. I'm really worried about our future generations who will never know the greatness of looking things up on an encyclopedia ... sigh."

Over in the comments section of the CNNMoney story, some readers had fond memories of their encyclopedia-fueled educational exploits as children.

ActivistJudg: "I copied a nine-page paper on Shakespeare directly from a 1967 copy of Encyclopedia Britannica in 1994 for an 11th grade European history course and got a B+. The teacher questioned many of my facts, but I couldn't very well point her to the source information since plagiarism is generally frowned upon. So I took the B. Thanks, EB!"

Guest: "Even as a college instructor, I had to laugh. In elementary school, I thought writing a report was copying from the encyclopedia and switching the words around. We had World Book, not EB, but it was still the same. I learned a little since then. A lot of current plagiarists would probably be better off copying from a printed encyclopedia (or other print-only source.) I have access to Google (shhhh, don't tell! I don't think they know this, judging by their COMPLETE and TOTAL surprise when I present them with a printout of the page they copied after googling a sentence.) But if they copied from a book that was not online... it would be a cold day in Hades before I actually found the original. There are THOUSANDS of books on philosophy, and I don't have that kind of time. Luckily, just about everything is online these days. :)"

Other readers feared that for everything we gain in expedience, we may also lose plenty in permanence.

RatDiem: "Electronic storage media is ephemeral in comparison to books. DVDs for example break down in time, some say in as little as 10-15 years or less, though this may be exaggerated. But there is still the problem of having the proper reader and software to interpret the encoding decades or even hundreds of years from now, which seems highly problematic at best. In comparison we have tens of thousands of printed books still extant from the 1500s and manuscripts and papyrus literally thousands of years old."

Lorenzoid: "I argued that in response to another article some time ago, and was way outvoted by other commenters who maintain that someone will always copy the old knowledge onto the newest media. It has been said that continual improvements in storage technology will soon enable all the books ever written to be stored in something the size of, say, a book. Maybe. I am still skeptical."

RatDiem: "A copy of a copy of a copy is not the same as the original. There are transcription errors of all sorts that get introduced into the process as well as intentional culling of material and modifications of text to conform with prevailing religious, intellectual, political and social mores. From a historical perspective it is very important to have access to original editions of seminal works. As an example of the complexities of this, consider the difficulties biblical academics have had with the New Testament and how our understanding of it has changed through the years in response to the discoveries at Qumran amongst others."

One reader noted how things change over time.

Phillip Wynn: "As an intellectual historian, I have a comment and a question for you guys. I found the print EB, esp. early on and in the 19th cent., a valuable resource for tracing the history of ideas. Their very 'out-of-datedness' is what made them valuable. I worry that in our rush to be "up-to-date" we're doing a disservice to future historians. So my question is, do you know if the online EB archives its articles by date, so that we'll be able in the future to access 'out-of-date' articles?"

njsokalski: "I completely agree with you. History is about what things were like in the past. Sure, we may have written down celebrity deaths, oil spills, war status, and other things, but we will never write down everything like this. Electronic media are rarely something that we keep, except for certain documents like certain reports, essays, and maybe a few professional business letters. But even those could be lost in a second if your hard drive crashed, and historians probably won't go looking through the home computers of people, so that's almost irrelevant anymore."

Wikipedia came up in the discussion. Readers talked about whether it replaces traditional encyclopedias.

TommyNIK: "I'm not surprised. Even the online version is quite lame compared to Wikipedia ... don't laugh. Wikipedia, as long as you check the references and notes on the article, is highly accurate and reliable. I was a long-time subscriber to EB and all the yearbooks. So it is indeed the end of an era. EB will go the way of the USPS."

SupraPwn: "I think it's good that they're moving to the future. However, I also think that printed materials and other hard copies are very valuable. Online encyclopedias with their data on servers aren't as future-proof."

This reader was optimistic.

EvilGenious7: "I can see Encyclopedia Britannica still thriving despite Google and Wikipedia. When it comes to citing your work, EB is seen as much more accurate and respectable than the latter. Google and Wikipedia are a free-for-all, and should only be treated as a way to start an information hunt."

Enjoy this post? Come visit CNN iReport on Facebook and Twitter to continue the conversation. Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. lawd

    we'll see

    March 15, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • ParaIIax

      It doesn't take a genius to realize this is a bad idea.

      March 16, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ...2084... It's Comming

    See the movie or read the book 1984 and you will see why this is a Bad Idea!!

    March 16, 2012 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
  3. FedUp2

    It's easy to foresee a day when everything becomes digital, and then a dark age where an Anonymous type group successfully wipes all the data. The world of the future may have to be rebuilt from scratch several times, with huge gaps and errors along the way, so that what's in those books we are seeing go away now, might not match the data that survives.

    March 16, 2012 at 2:18 am | Report abuse |
  4. Emperor Norton

    Is it too much to ask that you guys try to restrict yourselves to quoting comments that were written by adults? Maxine28's tweet is actively painful to read.

    March 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • nsaidi

      Point taken, but this post was in part an experiment. Thank you.

      March 16, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. RE

    Will digital stand the test of time? I guess it's like asking if iReport can stand up against actual reporting?

    March 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. roye

    Who cares if an edition stands the test of time, the information is out of date so quickly. As fast as our knoweledge is growing, we require a real time information source.

    March 16, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. grunpy

    Yay more pay for me running the systems that info will be stored on

    March 16, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Charlie

    If there's a market for printed encyclopediae, someone will print them. If there becomes a market for buggy whips, they'll make those too.

    March 18, 2012 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
  9. sala

    How you do that? How?

    March 18, 2012 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
  10. Zipwizard

    There are other ways to keep things permanent. We can learn to store it in crystals...that last 1000's of years. Even still, an ancient civilization...even with the brat storage...can only pass knowledge for about 25,000. And that requires storing in rock plus hardened crystals. Another way to store it is in outer space...in a far out orbit...as a time capsule. If there was an
    ancient civilization in range if our solar system...there should be a time capsule in orbit around either our system or theirs...and it is probably data stored in crystals.

    March 18, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. upit romania

    At University of Pitesti, Romania, a candidate for president, making a management plan is copied from the Internet is it or not plagiarism? how we solve it? thank you – a group of teachers

    March 25, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
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