TITLE: Nupedia: the Free Encyclopedia

ACCESS: http://www.nupedia.com

Software produced under the GNU General Documentation License is called "open source," meaning that the source code behind it is freely available and modifiable provided that the user references the original producer in the derivative code. The GNU open source concept has come to web publishing in Nupedia. Nupedia aims to become "the world's largest international, peer-reviewed encyclopedia." At the moment, however, the main page is dominated by a plea for participants.

Nupedia's editorial process is open; becoming a member (through free online registration) allows one to see articles in one of seven stages of development. When articles reach the sixth stage of "open copyediting" the general public is free to comment on them, and until that point a peer-review process is in place. Nupedia editors usually possess a Ph.D., but the author's or peer reviewers' primary qualification is an interest in the subject.

Nupedia's search mechanism is rudimentary. At the present time, only keyword searching is available; a searcher cannot use Boolean operators and must search for one word at a time. Links to subject and alphabetical lists lead to a sample page and a list of twenty "newest articles." Because articles appear in short and long versions, search results are misleading. At the time of this review, a search on "music" retrieved five articles but only three unique subjects. Keywords are not highlighted in search results.

It was difficult for the reviewers to determine the number of articles currently available in Nupedia; it appears as though the twenty newest articles are in fact the total content. 332 articles are in preparation in the members-only "Article Production Area." However, only officially approved articles are searchable.

Nupedia's completed articles contain elements that other online encyclopedias would be wise to imitate, such as mouse-over pronunciation guides and pop-up box links to footnotes within articles. Also, biographical information is readily available for an article's author and for members of the subject group that approved the article.

The project editor, Dr. Larry Sanger, believes that Nupedia will someday rival Britannica Online but Britannica subscribers should not view the current version of Nupedia as an alternative. Instead of considering Nupedia as an extensive resource at this time, academic librarians might view it as a new method of disseminating information. Additionally, librarians and faculty may want to consider participating in this unique venture.

Heidi Senior senior@up.edu, and Carolyn Piatz, piatz@up.edu
University of Portland

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