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Copyright © 1998, MCB UP Limited
The unregulated character of the Internet, reflected in this acknowledgement of fluidity, also means that there is no certainty that information obtained from it is sound. A welcome initiative has been taken by the publishers of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to form a list of sites that has been examined and approved by their experts. Access to this list is free of charge (unlike access tothe on-line version of the Encyclopaedia itself) at the site http://www.ebig.com/, where "ebig" stands for "Encyclopaedia Britannica Internet Guide".
The new site is enthusiastically welcomed in the Internet Tourbus for 2 July 1998. As reported there, the number of sites included in the list is 65,000, and I found this number repeated in the section on "ratings" at the site itself, though in the "Introduction" section it was said to be over 75,000. Presumably the "Introduction" section had just been updated at the time of my visit to the site. About 15 percent of the sites are rated as "recommended" and less than 1 percent as "exceptional", and a total of about 40 sites are classed as "best of the web".
The Britannica site can be used in either of two ways. It is possible simply toinput a keyword or combination of keywords (with use of AND and OR to delimit the field of interest) and simply to wait for responses. Alternatively, attention can be restricted by choosing one of 16 topic headings. In either case, the user can choose to receive responses from the AltaVista search engine if theBritannica search is unsuccessful. The AltaVista search is not restricted tothe 65,000 or 75,000 sites approved by the Britannica team.
The general idea is attractive, and in view of the unregulated character of the net it fills a long-felt need. However, the response when I submitted the single keyword "cybernetics" was not particularly encouraging. Six sites were indicated, of which the first referred to a Master's program at the University of California in Los Angeles and two referred to recent, interesting publications in the field. Another two referred to separate descriptions of the same exhibition of cybernetic sculpture, and another only merited description as "cybernetic" because it uses the Internet, and is in fact an information source for enthusiasts for the game of darts. However, the submission of a single keyword in this way, with no restriction of topic area, must be seen as a very crude test of the system, which I certainly plan to use again.
Among the notes on use of the Britannica facility there is discussion of parental control of children's use of the Internet. Software allowing such control is mentioned, as well as literature reviewing the problem. The Britannica sites are selected for soundness and relevance but of course their coverage is comprehensive and there may be material that some parents consider unsuitable, and when the breakthrough is made to an AltaVista search, literally anything may turn up.
There is, though, a strong argument for believing that there is little cause for concern when the Internet is explored as a family activity. Readers of Kybernetes who have families are unlikely to experience difficulties.