Saturday, December 25, 2010

A paradox

Today I was reading from the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I noticed a message at the top of the page:

"Open access to the SEP is made possible by a world-wide funding initiative. Please read how you can help keep the encyclopedia free."

I confess I didn't read how I could help keep it free. I assume it is the same way I can keep Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, free, or my local channel of the Public Broadcasting System free: send them money.

I know most of you already think I am pretty dense, so exposing my quandary to you doesn't bother me. It is this:

If I send these people money, that means I am paying. If I am paying, then it isn't free anymore. At least not to me. So how have I helped keep it free by sending money to them?

Here I will also confess that I have never sent in any money to any of these folks over the past decade and it is still free to me. It is only not free to the suckers supporters who send them money.

This is also the season where brother Wales over at Wikipedia reaps his annual income as well with the same message: "Help keep it free by sending me money." Or something to that effect.

I should probably also tell you that I don't give a damn if any of these "purist" sites run adverts in their sidebars; PBS already does run commerical messages, though they lie and say they don't. Of course, they also say if we send them money then they will run quality programming, and they don't. Not unless you consider constant fund-raising with reruns and 30 year old endless bombardments of Are You Being Served? quality programming.

Maybe you can tell me how, by sending these people money, I will be doing my part to keep it free? Free for ME, I mean.


  1. "Are You Being Served?"
    You can keep that for free!

    I am amazed by American sites. Almost all of them ask for money upfront, a non British way of doing things, yet when I switch on an American radio offering almost immediately they ask for money. These things need to be paid for but this is a bit much.

    There again adverts are so annoying whether on radio,TV or website. Mind you I got 76 pence through my Amazon account!

  2. Donate generously to keep Grit-in-the-Gears free!

    And then there are the previously free newspapers, magazines, etc that suddenly require you to sign in, that ask you for your credit card details, in order to let you access their site for a while, before the paywall becomes live. Like the Times, and you know? I'm not the only one who says "to hell with that", and ceases visiting.
    I've also noticed more sites with some story, pics, "read more", and that "read more" click sends you to an intermediate site first.
    I'm assuming that this is to expose you to more advertising. As I use Adblock whilst browsing, I remain blissfully unaware of most of those adverts.
    Any blog or website that pulls such stunts gets deleted from my bookmarks.
    Jimmy Wales' Wikipedia is a site hosting factoids of doubtful provenance. He's welcome to put it behind a paywall. I won't weep.

  3. I do support Wikipedia and a few other sites. I respect sites that work under voluntary donations as I do a charity that I can choose to support.

    If I believe in what they're doing (and how they're doing it), I contribute.

  4. @Adullamite - These old tv shows are free. They will remain free as long as they are paid for. Send money so they may remain free. :) Of course I was not meaning to suggest the British would ask people for money like the crass Americans. :).

    @Soubriquet - Wikipedia is now (humbly) touting itself as greater than the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica. And now you come along and try to cast doubts on Wikipedia's total pure accuracy. Shame! Wikipedia was spawned by Bomis, the "guide" to all things sexual and pornographic, so how you could not trust Bomis-Jimmy's Wikipedia is beyond me.

    Of course, if you don't believe me, you can look up Bomis on Wikipedia. They are honest if sometimes inaccurate. :)

    @Jeff King - I only regret it had to be my innocent blog that had to publish this. :)

    @Stephanie Barr - It is so very hard for me to believe you missed the point of this post by so much. In fact, I don't think you did. However, I am nothing if not hard-headed, sooooo....

    "If you send in money for something, it ain't free."

    That doesn't make it wrong for you to send money. It only nmeans it is not free anymore for the donors.. It is an oxymoron for someone to ask people to send money in order to keep it free. That is the point of this post.

    Thank you for sending money

    Incidentally, do you think Jimmy Wales is lying when he says he has almost reached his goal of $15 million donated since his latest attempt started? I wonder if he will make it all before the new year? I'm betting he will, since all we have to go on is his word for it. Instead of the $13+ million he claims to have "raised" so far, I would personally put the figure closer to $850 or so. but you know how I am. :)

  5. The good old "Brittanica", I'm sure I've heard, contains a few spurious "facts", too.
    Not least its name, I seem to recall that since about 1900, it would more accurately have been known as "Americana", as it left these shores around then.
    Still, when I was a kid, and bored, a random delve into one of the volumes was never a bad idea.
    We didn't have it at home, but there was another encyclopaedia, whose publisher I can't recall, published in the 1920s, so full of outdated, but glorious stuff. Like Dreadnaughts.

  6. @Soubriquet - I had a hopelessly outdated encyclopedia set, or part of a set, when I was growing up too. It's out-of-date information didn't stop me from reading them for long hours either. :)

    There was already an Encyclopedia Americana fraught with error already extant. So Britannica had to continue in error under it's own name. I'll bet it had no spurious facts in its early days, though.

    Now I am thinking of starting up an encyclopedia that actually explains things to people. Like a Cliff Notes encyclopedia or a Schaum's Outlines encyclopedia.

    Death to specialized discipline jargon. Three curses on the heads of technical writers who write encyclopedia articles and then sell the encyclopedias to the children of machinists and farmers. I would much rather read Dickens. Even Poe. Oh, woe!

    Joe Friday: "Just the facts, ma'am."

    ::Soubriquet quietly pads off to google who the hell Joe Friday was::



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