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A few updates

Additions continue on the main SFE site – we’re now almost at the 3.5 million word mark. (As a reminder, the 1993 edition was 1.3m words.)

If you’re attending Olympus, the UK Eastercon this weekend, editors Langford and Sleight will be there along with other SFE contributors. In particular, there’ll be a panel on Saturday at noon about the SFE and our sibling site, the SF Gateway, in Room 38.

And finally, the SFE team was very cheered by this piece from James Patrick Kelly in Asimov’s Science Fiction this month. It’s nice to know we’re on the right track…

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Money and such

This is a post I’ve put off making, because I initially thought it didn’t seem appropriate to talk about the financial side of the SFE while we’re still finishing it. But enough people are asking about this aspect of things (and, indeed, have started giving us money) that it seems worth setting out our view on this. So, some questions answered:

1)      How is the SFE funded? Well, our publishers Gollancz have paid for the initial development of the website, and are paying us a license fee. On one level, Gollancz have been generous with the license fee. However, putting together the SFE (like much sf activity) is work that we all undertake for free, or for a lot less than a going rate for our work. The money Gollancz have provided us with isn’t enough to make the SFE sustainable in the longer term. So, with Gollancz’s blessing, we’re seeking alternative ways to augment it.

2)      So what other ways does the SFE have of funding itself? Well, the most visible one is affiliations. Most items on SFE bibliographic checklists carry a little “A” icon by many titles indicating that if you click through to Amazon and buy them, we’ll get a small percentage of the proceeds. (Some carry a G icon, indicating instead that the books can be bought from Gollancz’s e-books Gateway.) As it stands, this is only for Amazon UK, but we hope to offer a wider range of booksellers soon. Once we complete the SFE, we want to look at
offering app or print versions if there’s sufficient demand. We might look at carrying advertising, but I think that’s some way down our list of possibilities. And, if people want to donate to support us, they’re most welcome to – though of course there’s no compulsion, especially with the SFE incomplete.

3)      OK, I feel like I might want to donate to support you. How do I do so, and what sort of amount might be appropriate? You can donate via Paypal at this page. If you want guideline annual amounts, can I suggest £25/$40 for a frequent user of the SFE, or £10/$16 for an occasional user? But any contribution will be valued. Donors are listed, along with contributors of factual and other feedback, on our Acknowledgments page unless they request anonymity. If you want to donate via a means other than Paypal, get in touch via our contact form.

The other overriding thing I’d say, though, is this. If you feel you can donate to support us, that’s great. If you can’t or don’t want to, no problem. What’s most important to us is the sense that we’re doing something that’s useful for the sf community at all levels (academic, fan, publisher, author, etc.). The continuing feedback we’re getting suggests that it is – and that changes like reforming the old all-capitals links are further steps on this road. We hope that will continue as we move towards completing the SFE this year.

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To cap or not to cap?

As noted in a progress report on the main site, we’ve just put live a big update to the SFE, which now has more than 138,000 words on top of the text we launched with in October. I thought it might be worth discussing one particular change.

In the 1979 and 1993 print editions of the SFE, cross-references to other entries were written in small caps. So, for instance, an entry might say “Heinlein’s novels shamefully neglected discussion of GIANT MUTANT STAR GOATS”, and you’d know that the capitalised phrase was the title of another entry. We carried this convention over into the text that went online in October. In addition, links were underlined and in blue – as is the usual online convention.

There was a very distinct split in the reaction to this. By and large, those who knew the SFE from its previous editions made no comment or were happy with it. Those who didn’t found the presence of capitalised, underlined, blue links too disruptive to their reading.The caps, they said, now carry the connotation of SHOUTING too much. So we took the decision to put the links back in lower case (except, of course, where a sentence dictates that they need capitals). This change took quite a lot of work for our technical supremo David Langford, but has been implemented in today’s update. We hope the result is less SHOUTY without alienating those used to earlier editions.

For the moment, we’re leaving links both in blue and underlined. But comments are very welcome on whether this is something we should look at again.

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Some demographics

Thanks, all, for comments on the last post. I hope that we’ll be able to implement a number of the design changes you asked for: watch this space. That last post was, of course, part of a larger question – trying to find out who uses the SFE and making sure it’s as suited to users’ needs as possible.

Our website analytics give us some insight into this. For instance, we know that 41% of SFE users are from the US, 21% from the UK, 5% from Canada, and 4% from Australia, then smaller numbers from Germany, Russia, the Netherlands, France, Italy, and Spain in that order. But it’s much more difficult to tell what kinds of people are using the site. So here’s another poll, for all who’ve used the SFE so far. Tick as many boxes as apply to you; apologies in advance if I’ve missed off an important category of potential users.

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A quick question…

…also just asked on Twitter. Purely on the design side (not functionality/content), what would be the one thing you’d like to improve on the SFE site? Of course, I know that functionality and design are in some respects linked; and of course if it’s perfect, you’re welcome to tell us that too…

(We have some thoughts on this at SFE HQ, but I don’t want to bias any comments by stating them upfront. After all, SFE editors are pretty atypical in how they use the SFE site.)

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BSFA meeting

I’m back from a week mostly away from the internet, and am catching up on SFE stuff. So postings here should start being a bit more frequent again. One immediate piece of news, though – indeed, very immediate, since it was fixed up at short notice. I will be discussing the SF Encyclopedia and the SF Gateway with Darren Nash of Gollancz and Tom Hunter of the Clarke Award at the BSFA’s London meeting tomorrow evening (Weds 26th October, 7pm). With luck, a few other SFE figures may also be along. More details here.

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Hello, world

It looks from my site stats as if a) we’ve just been featured on the WordPress homepage, and b) our traffic has gone through the roof as a result. If you’re new here, welcome. This is the blog of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, a project that has just launched its third edition – at least in preliminary “beta” form – online. The first two editions, in 1979 and 1993, were print books. If you want to find out more about what we’re doing, you might want to look at my posts on the history and philosophy of the project, or on what we mean by a “beta text“. Or you could visit the Encyclopedia itself. We’re also on Twitter and Facebook.

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