The Encyclopaedia metaphor again

I posted a blog post way back in September about why I like browsing references books and in particular my concise Encyclopaedia.

I was thinking last night when looking the Encyclopaedia up again that the reason I like it better than the web as a reference guide in certain circumstances is not because it’s necessarily more accurate (I think the jury is still out on the accuracy of Wikipedia versus an Encyclopaedia), nor is it because it’s richer, nor is it because I like reading it in print rather than on screen, the main reason is because of the random things that come up whilst I’m hunting for the thing I’m looking up.

For example last night my Encyclopeadia journey started out with a hunt for the Apocolypse (which is quite interesting in itself because all the major religions seem to agree that there will be one) but I ended up looking at an ethnic reference map of the world, in between those I found out what Saint Basil is associated with and various other random factoids. What I’m saying is that there is perhaps more of a need for something equally random on the web. Google’s “I’m feeling lucky” is a little bit like that but usually far too good these days at getting an accurate answer without taking you to random places first. Really it’s just the fact that with the book open certain things leap out at you because they’re on the same page or have pretty pictures etc. and you end up learning something bizarre. I’ve no idea why this appeals to me but it does!

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About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

2 Responses to The Encyclopaedia metaphor again

  1. Jo says:

    I kind of know what you mean – there is something quite nice about flicking through a book and seeing what comes up – but isn’t that what hyperlinks are for? I mean, more often than not, when I read a wikipedia article (or a blog, or a news report, or pretty much anything online) I end up clicking on various different links and before you know it I’ve spent ages looking at a number of things that probably have little to do with where I started out. But maybe there is a difference between coming across a bit of blue text that you could click on if you wanted to, and actually going through pages of information and pictures to find what you were looking for?

  2. willwoods says:

    Hi Jo,
    Yes I think you’re right and I do go on hyperlinking learning journeys too! – I just find that they tend to be less informative most of the time (i.e. I usually end up at some commercial site selling me car insurance or sports good, this is OK but doesn’t teach me much other than the fact that they are 20% cheaper than the competition!) – This isn’t always true of course and sometimes I do find a wealth of interesting material but it’s usually when I have a search term for someone or something I want to find out about and then I stumble across other people related to the person or thing who do interesting work too, i.e. it’s not a free flowing experience as I’m making quite a few choices up front.

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