An interesting experiment came to my attention last year, and this week we finally get a glimpse of the Encyclopedia of Life. Even if you're not interested in, or working in, biological or life sciences, this new online encyclopedia is worth a look, for a couple of reasons.
First of all, for those who get hives at the mere mention of Wiki-anything, EoL is an example of an online, digitally native, free to use encyclopedia with authoritative content creators, the lack of which seems to be a lot of people's chief issue with Wikipedia and its ilk. (One could quibble about that, but that would require an in-depth exploration of what we mean by "authoritative", which is too long for a blog post.)
Secondly, it shows, rather subtly, how an online encyclopedia must be different from a print one. Ease of access is only one of its advantages over too much of its digital competition; the design here was very clearly born in the digital realm, instead of being transferred there from the print. Jared Spool or Peter Morville could probably expound at length on the design principles involved here, but I'll just put it this way: it looks good, it feels good, it's easy to use without succumbing to the temptation to resemble Google (has anyone else taken a look at EBSCO's to-launch-this-summer interface yet?).
Thirdly, it's fun to explore, a characteristic it shares with Wikipedia. Although it's only populated a few branches on the tree of life (a pity, as I really wanted to read about African stink ants), it leverages that existing taxonomic structure really well--and its searching is flexible, enabling use by novices and experts alike.
This is one to watch.