An era of printed reference guides is coming to an end, with the news that the last Encyclopedia Britannica have been printed, and the company is now focusing its resources online. But how reliable and extensive are online information directories? BRIAN O'CONNELLtrawls online for information on three items

The Battle of Clontarf

Wikipedia (free online encyclopedia resource): The entry contains a helpful panel on the main participants in the battle, a map of Ireland as well as a reproduction of a Hugh Frazer oil painting. In the bibliography, most of the information referenced is based on a 19th-century text translation of The Annals of Clonmacnoise. In relation to the death of Brian Boru (below), the entry says he was found praying in his tent and killed by Norseman, among them Brodir, who shouted: “Now let man tell man that Brodir felled Brian.”

Encyclopedia Britannica Online (subscription-based service): The battle is discussed in four entries: Dublin, Ireland, Vikings and Brian Boru. We’re told Brian was too old to take active part in the battle, and his son won victory. On Brian’s death, the entry is a little more descriptive: “A little group of Northmen, flying from the battlefield, stumbled on Brian’s tent, overcame his bodyguard, and hacked the aged Brian to death.”

Quora (QA site with answers provided by members): No entries .

Google Scholar

(search engine for scholarly literature): The entry contains 2,920 results, with a wide range of references, from 20th-century journals to FJ Byrne’s A New History of Ireland, and a segment titled, “Ireland before the Battle of Clontarf”. You can narrow the results to entries from particular decades.

Scholarpedia (allows access to online academic journals): No entries.

Jobs v Jobs

SOMETIMES, TWO films end up coinciding, such as the two Snow White movies that are out at the moment. So it’s hardly surprising that two directors want to make a biopic of Apple’s late main man Steve Jobs. So what do we know about the rival projects?


Name of film: Steve Jobs.

Who’s making it? Sony Pictures.

What do we know about the crew? Producers include Mark Gordon (Saving Private Ryan, Grey’s Anatomy), Scott Rudin (The Dictator, Moneyball, No Country For Old Men) and Guymon Casady (The Expendables, Game Of Thrones).

Anything else of note? Well, yeah, Aaron Sorkin is adapting the screenplay after Sony bought the rights for last year’s Jobs biography for $1 million. Sorkin won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay in 2010 with The Social Network and was nominated again this year for Moneyball.

Who is playing Jobs? We don’t know yet.


Name of film: Jobs.

Who’s making it? Five Star Institute (which has never produced a film), with Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote) as director.

And the crew? Lo-fi enough. An actor called Josh Gad is playing Steve Wozniak, and the writer, Matt Whiteley, has no notable film writing credits.

Anything else? It will almost certainly pip Sony’s project to screens. With a rumoured budget of less than $10 million, the film will probably have a quick turnaround in order to get it to Cannes in 2013.

Who is playing Jobs? Ashton Kutcher.


Wikipedia: The entry for Facebook is larger than the entries for many significant 19th- or 20th-century historical events. It contains 11 separate entries, including the company’s impact on popular culture, privacy and criticisms of the company.

EBO: There are 44 separate entries, with the main one giving a solid overview of how the company was founded, but it doesn’t go into as much detail or range as Wikipedia. Related topics include an entry on Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, and multimedia links include interviews with Zuckerberg and others. There’s also a very good link to a junior encyclopedia aimed at users aged 11 years and upward.

Quora: Reflecting how this community platform is able to generate debate and discussion around different aspects of a topic, the questions related to Facebook include, how many hours a week does Mark Zuckerberg work, what has been the biggest mistake made by Facebook, and what percentages of applicants does the company take on? Contributions come from ex-employees, tech experts and stockbrokers. The topics are broken down into close to 2,000 separate discussions, which are prioritised into the best 200.

Google Scholar: 2.7 million results. Topping that list is a paper on the benefits of Facebook friends published in the Journal of Computers as well as entries on privacy, the impact of a digital trend on academic libraries, and the evolution of user interaction in Facebook. A separate search brings up solely legal document in relation to the company.

Scholarpedia: No direct references.

1969 Moon Landing

Wikipedia: Most of the information relating to the actual landing is under “Mission Highlights” on the Apollo 11 page. There are images and links to audio recordings from the launch and landing. The entry runs over several pages and also contains links to newspaper archives, photo slideshows and more contemporary accounts of the astronaut’s lives. Pretty comprehensive.

EBO: The site contains 46 separate entries on the moon landing, including individual entries on engineers, astronauts, the Apollo space programme and early satellite telecommunications. In one useful article we are taken through man’s obsession with the moon, from the ancient Chinese onwards, including a useful timeline diagram. Very well laid out and user-friendly.

Quora: The topic is dealt with through several questions from users, including, have humans landed on the moon, how did Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin decide who stepped outside first, and are there any good simulations of the first moonshot?

Google Scholar: “Moon landing 1969” throws up 26,700 individual entries. Some of the early entries include insider accounts of the moon landing, a geologist’s take on the mission, and how the landing impacted on science.

Scholarpedia: “1969 moon landing” throws up one entry, an academic paper on tensegrity, a design principle related to compression and tension. Typing “Apollo 11” into the engine brings up a paper on solar satellites.