An online encyclopedia, also called a digital encyclopedia, is an encyclopedia accessible through the internet, such as Wikipedia. The idea to build a free encyclopedia using the Internet can be traced at least to the 1994 Interpedia proposal; it was planned as an encyclopedia on the Internet to which everyone could contribute materials. The project never left the planning stage and was overtaken by a key branch of old printed encyclopedias.
There are a lot of old encyclopedias and dictionaries of national biographies on Wikisource both in English and other languages. The completion of these encyclopedias vary and the quality of the content varies from proofread, to poor quality text with many optical character recognition (OCR) errors.
|Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie||de||s:de:Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie|
|The Encyclopedia Americana||1906||en||s:The Encyclopedia Americana (1906)|
|1920||en||s:The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)|
|The Cyclopædia of American Biography||1918||en||s:The Cyclopædia of American Biography|
|New American Cyclopædia||1897||en||s:The American Cyclopædia (1879)|
|Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography||1900||en||s:Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography|
|Encyclopædia Britannica Ninth Edition||1875-1889||en||s:Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition|
|Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition||1911||en||s:Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition|
|Encyclopædia Britannica Twelfth Edition||1922||en||s:1922 Encyclopædia Britannica|
|Catholic Encyclopedia||1913||en||100%||s:Catholic Encyclopedia||Also referred to today as the Old Catholic Encyclopedia; The first volume appeared in March 1907 and it was completed in April 1914|
|Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century||1911||en||s:Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century|
|Collier's Encyclopedia||en||s:Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)|
|Complete Encyclopaedia of Music||1880||en||s:Complete Encyclopaedia of Music|
|Neue Deutsche Biographie||de||s:de:Neue Deutsche Biographie|
|Diccionario Geográfico de la República de Chile||es||s:es:Diccionario Geográfico de la República de Chile|
|Dictionary of National Biography||1885-1900||en||s:Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900|
|1901||en||s:Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement|
|1912||en||s:Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement|
|Easton's Bible Dictionary||en||s:Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897)|
|Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle||fr||s:fr:Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle|
|Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities||1890||en||s:Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities|
|Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology||1870||en||s:Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology|
|Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography||1854||en||s:Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography|
|The Nuttall Encyclopædia||1907||en||100%||s:The Nuttall Encyclopædia|
|The Indian Biographical Dictionary||en||s:The Indian Biographical Dictionary|
|New International Encyclopedia||en||s:The New International Encyclopædia|
|Jewish Encyclopedia||1905||en||s:Jewish Encyclopedia|
Many encyclopedias are available at the Internet Archive website. Although the original text is viewable the machine readable text is often poor with many OCR errors.
In January 1995, Project Gutenberg started to publish the ASCII text of the Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition (1911), but disagreement about the method halted the work after the first volume. For trademark reasons this has been published as the Gutenberg Encyclopedia. Project Gutenberg has restarted work on digitising and proofreading this encyclopedia. Project Gutenberg has published volumes in alphabetic order the most recent publication is Volume 17 Slice 8: Matter-Mecklenburg published on 7 April 2013. The latest Britannica was digitized by its publishers, and sold first as a CD-ROM, and later as an online service.
There are other websites that provide online encyclopedias, some of which are also available on Wikisource, but which may be more complete than those on Wikisource, or may be different editions (see List of online encyclopedias).
Another related branch of activity is the creation of new, free contents on a volunteer basis. In 1991, the participants of the Usenet newsgroup alt.fan.douglas-adams started a project to produce a real version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a fictional encyclopedia used in the works of Douglas Adams. It became known as Project Galactic Guide. Although it originally aimed to contain only real, factual articles, the policy was changed to allow and encourage semi-real and unreal articles as well. Project Galactic Guide contains over 1700 articles, but no new articles have been added since 2000; this is probably partly due to the founding of h2g2, a more official project along similar lines.
Another early online encyclopedia was called the Global Encyclopedia. In November 1995 a review of it was presented by James Rettig (Assistant Dean of University Libraries for Reference and Information Services) College of William and Mary at the 15th Annual Charleston Conference on library acquisitions and related issues. He said of the Global Encyclopedia:
This is a volunteer effort to compile an encyclopedia and distribute it for free on the World Wide Web. If you have ever yearned to be the author of an encyclopedia article, yearn no longer. Take a minute (or even two or three if you are feeling scholarly) to write an article on a topic of your choosing and [e]mail it off to the unnamed "editors." These editors (to use that title very loosely) have generated a list of approximately 1,300 topics they want to include; to date, perhaps a quarter of them have been treated; to date, perhaps a quarter of them have been treated. ... This so-called encyclopedia gives amateurism a bad name. It is being compiled without standards or guidelines for article structure, content, or reading level. It makes no apparent effort to check the qualifications and authority of the volunteer authors. Its claim that "Submitted articles are fact-checked, corrected for spelling, and then formatted" is at best an exaggeration.
He then gives several examples of article entries such as Iowa City: