Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Larousse offers free online access and some user freedom to contribute

Emily Murphy, French publishing group sets up rival to Wikipedia, The Independent, May 14, 2008.  Excerpt:

...Larousse, the French encyclopaedia created more than 150 years ago, is launching its own – it would say improved – version of Wikipedia.

Its first, free-access, online encyclopaedia will have the same contributor function but, to try to surmount the inherent problem of unreliability of articles, which can be modified by anyone at any time, Larousse has introduced some constraints.

Users who want to contribute have to sign up and their names will then appear on the article they submit. Unlike on Wikipedia, anonymous contributions are not allowed, and once written, contributions become protected.

Alongside the user-written pieces, Larousse will be making available 150,000 articles from its universal encyclopaedia, plus 10,000 images. Larousse is promising more in the future, along with the inclusion later this year of hundreds of video clips from channels such as National Geographic.

The Wikipedia "community" is made up of nearly 390,000 volunteer contributors and it is those that Larousse sees as one of the vital ingredients in Wikipedia's success story. It is hoping to rival this with its own online community and is drawing on its long-established print reputation to encourage people to join in.

"By becoming a contributor to Larousse, you become associated with a publisher of prestige, recognised for the seriousness and reliability of its content," says Isabelle Jeuge-Maynart, the Larousse's managing director. "Respect for an author is central to our concept. That should reassure... experts who are at the moment hesitant to publish their work on the internet." ...


  • The Larousse site is down at the moment, apparently overwhelmed by traffic.  So I can't tell whether the free online edition will use any kind of open license.  If anyone gets through and figures this out, please drop me a line.
  • The free Larousse will be more like Citizendium than Wikipedia, in that it will require attribution and use expert peer review.  But it's more like Google's Knols project than Citizendium, in that its articles will be written by single authors and not open to multiple user contributions.
  • Remember that just last month Germany's 30-volume Brockhaus Encyclopedia started offering free online access (see our blog post) and the Encyclopedia Britannica started offering free online access for bloggers (see our blog post).
  • It's fascinating to watch publishers discover that free online access allows them to retain their brands, their preferred forms of quality control, and a sufficient stream of revenue.  It's fascinating in a different way to watch them systematically explore wikispace and decide how much read-write freedom to offer alongside read freedom.  Finally, it's fascinating that re-use freedom is such a minor issue to the publisher and the press that news reports don't even bring it up.