SF Encyclopedia Releases Beta Text

The Science Fiction Encyclopedia’s online beta text went live October 10. Which means for the past 48 hours the field’s best-known figures have been reading the entries about themselves and using social media to vent every dissatisfaction, great or small.

Compared to the greats I’m easy to please. “SFE?File 770’s in it at all? – WHEEEE!”

However, Robert J. Sawyer is understandably disappointed. The SFE entry about him doesn’t seem to have been updated from the 1995 edition. Sawyer wrote in exasperation on Facebook that it doesn’t mention seven of his Hugo-nominated novels, not even Hugo winner Hominids, nor is there a word about Flashforward, which became a TV series.

How representative is Sawyer’s entry of the beta text? How many legacy entries from the second edition still need a major update? Perhaps SFE’s management will comment.

The initial complaints arise mainly from high expectations created by the publicity ahead of the release. SFE’s management chose to call this a beta text, which people reasonably took to mean “practically done.” SFE’s frank estimate that another million words will be written and added before the new edition is finished might have been sufficient warning if someone had clearly said how much of this work must be done on entries already posted. I think many people assumed that would be a million words of brand new articles and expected what has been posted to be finished work.  

The excellence of SFE’s authors and editors insures no one wants to settle for a wiki-style process, but everyone involved expects a lot of response. There is even a form:

If you have feedback of any kind on the SFE, the best way to get in touch is via the email contact form here. This has the advantage of being copied to several of the editors, so whoever’s best placed to answer can do so.

Nobody is being shut out, though a more collegial and explicitly stated willingness to use feedback when it is given would help soften the impression. The SFE blog entries on this point sound defensive – an honest expression of feelings, to be sure. A new tone would help.  

The early rash of complaints may also be blamed on a degree of neglect in “playing the players,” the field’s leading opinion-makers.

Shouldn’t someone have made a list of the sf/f personalities who are the most prominent and adept users of social media and made sure their entries, at least, were up-to-date? I doubt there is another pro who matches Robert J. Sawyer’s energy in publicizing his writing, travel and marketing online. Why risk alienating that guy?  

There won’t be that problem with John Scalzi, another internet giant — his career is summarized in a fully current, detailed entry. There’s also a featured entry about Charlie Brown which should please the Locus staff. Maybe Sawyer’s case was an oversight. No matter the cause, it’s a mistake that’s going to sting for awhile.

However, there’s no denying that the online Science Fiction Encyclopedia is great resource that will be increasingly used and relied upon by fans as it is perfected and expanded.

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3 thoughts on “SF Encyclopedia Releases Beta Text

  1. SFE’s management chose to call this a beta text, which people reasonably took to mean “practically done.”

    People who apparently don’t use dictionaries? Where is any reasonableness in defining beta in this manner?

    Beta – adjective: preliminary or testing stage of a software or hardware product (“A beta version”)

  2. The editors have posted a note on their associated blog, which states, in part, “Entirely legitimately, the first thing many people will have done with the SFE is to go and check if they have an entry themselves, and if so, what it says. Some people will have run into the fact that, as previously flagged, the text we’ve launched isn’t yet complete. In particular, authors with names in the last quarter or so of the alphabet are unlikely to have updated entries. This will be fixed over the course of the next year or so.”


  3. @Dave: That’s right — a beta version is a testing stage, where software users discover problems the creators didn’t already know about — or else do know about, but the feedback from beta users will determine if the company will have to go to the expense of fixing them. (SFE obviously planned to make all the updates regardless.) I don’t think the issue is only about whether people understood what “beta text” is supposed to mean. It was reasonable based on publicity about the project (for example, about how many words had been added), and in the absence of an explicit announcement, for people to expect all the entries published online to have been updated from the 1995 edition. Now that people know differently, and there has been an announcement (see Steven’s link), expectations can be adjusted accordingly.

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