Saturday, September 02, 2006

Encyclopaedia Britannica is Seeking Blogger Support

I received this e-mail yesterday from Rodney Waldoff of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It partially reads:

Hello Miland.

You don't know me, but I wear the "community czar" hat at Encyclopaedia Britannica. My role is to develop tools and content that help experts like you reach, engage, and enlighten your audience. I've been following your World History Blog for a little while now, and wanted to reach out to you for a few reasons:

(1) At Britannica, we believe in the value of high quality content and in the importance of bloggers like you who create it. That's why I'd like to offer you a free subscription to Encyclopaedia BritannicaOnline.

2) As a service to your readers, the full text of every article you link to will be available to your readers for free, even those that normally require a subscription. Our reasoning is that it makes senseto allow bloggers and web authors to fully reference our content when it helps them express an opinion or enlighten their audience.

I would feel flattered but I also got this e-mail for another blog I keep under a different name. It appears as though the Britannica sent this e-mail out to lots of bloggers. As such, this appears to be an attempt by this encyclopedia to get links and recognition as a quality resource by the blogging community.

This makes sense. Wikipedia is currently the encyclopedia of choice for most bloggers. I frequently link there. Why shouldn't I? The content has proven to be reliable and it is free. I often edit there myself. I have consulted the print edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica many times in writing posts but I do not link to the Encyclopaedia Britannica website as my visitors can not read the content without buying a subscription. I will now link to the Britannica when appropriate.

I applaud this effort by the Britannica. However, I do not think they are moving far enough in this Web 2.0 world. Here are two suggestions:

1. Make all of the content of the Britannica available for free to search engine spiders and human visitors. If they want their content to be used, referenced, linked to, and found in search engine results they need to have it out there to read. I may link to them but my visitors will get frustrated when they leave the approved link made available by this program and hit a firewall demanding money. I predict they will then visit Wikipedia...

I realize that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is a business and needs to make money. However, there are ways to monetize a website and still make money without charging a subscription fee. Have they never heard of Google Adsense?

2. They need to make the encyclopedia more up-to-date. For example, compare the Wikipedia article on Wake Island with the Encyclopaedia Britannica version. It is easy to see which is more current. Super Typhoon Ioke hit the island a few days ago. It is the second most historical event in the island's history after the Second World War. Wikipedia has this in the article already, why doesn't Britannica? (And no, I did not make this edit at Wikipedia.)

I expect accuracy and wide coverage in an encyclopedia but I also expect currency. The old print cycle of waiting a year or two to update does not work on the web. If I have to wait, I will find another source.

Maybe the Britannica can open up it's content for editing to some users? I am not envisioning the Wikipedia model. I realize that is not the best route for the Britannica as Wikipedia has already beat them to this and it might not work for their reputation. However, is some access for some people worth considering? What would happen if the Britannica allowed bona fide academics access to articles? They could still have a verification process to assure quality but could be certain that almost all edits were worthwhile. Maybe the product would not be as responsive as Wikipedia to current events but it would not be as far behind as it is now either.

Maybe free online content coupled with a large number of active academics editing the Britannica could provide a counter to the wildly successful impact of Wikipedia?

A few days ago I was working with a doctoral student. She is finishing up her dissertation and I advised her to use a Wikipedia link. I even showed her how to cite it in APA format. I then called her dissertation advisor and urged her to allow this. Her advisor agreed. When this student graduates and begins teaching, I bet she allows her students to cite Wikipedia in papers. The times have changed. Can the Britannica keep up?


Jennie W said...

This is great! I know that I seldom use Britannica anymore for that exact reason. I find other sources because I don't want to pay, or have my students pay. When I'm looking for course content for the online courses I teach, I never use Britanncia. I would if it were free to my students.

RodWaldhoff said...

Hi Jennie,

You and your students likely already have access to one of Britannica's institutional sites (,, Most Universities do. I'm not sure off-hand if the University of North Dakota does, but if you want I can find out.

Also, just to be clear, the second point in the email that Miland cites applies to you as well. The full text of any linked article will be available to your readers for free. See for details.

- RW

RodWaldhoff said...

Hi Miland.

Thanks for the post. You are partially right, but that isn't the whole story.

You should feel doubly flattered by getting that email twice. We (that is, I) sent this email to only a handful of bloggers, all maintaining blogs I actively follow. In fact, I sent out so few of these notes that I'll bet I know exactly what other name and blog you are talking about.

I agree Britannica needs to move down a path of greater openness, but I suspect we're moving futher and faster than down that path than you know. In fact, Britannica has already opened up it's content for editing by some users. Just last week we added a "Comments or Suggestions" feature to and several of our institutional sites. Now contributors, subscribers, and in limited circumstances the public at large, can suggest changes directly to our editorial team via a WYSIWYG form. (The changes are be reviewed by our editorial team before being published, of course.) For example, one can comment on or suggest changes to EB's article on Wake-Island by clicking on the "Comments or Suggestions" link at You can read more about this feature at

But this is really just the tip of the iceberg. The really interesting stuff, especially for people like you, is still in the pipeline. I'm really excited about this, and can't wait until I get to tell you more.

- RW

Miland said...


Thanks for the additional information. I am very excited to see what the Britannica is going to come out with next. Rest assured, I will help publicize it as appropriate.

"You should feel doubly flattered by getting that email twice. We (that is, I) sent this email to only a handful of bloggers, all maintaining blogs I actively follow. In fact, I sent out so few of these notes that I'll bet I know exactly what other name and blog you are talking about. "

Hmmm, that never occured to me that only a few bloggers got this invitation. The double e-mail made me believe this was a wider net. My apologies.

My identity as "Miland" is well known at my institution, amongst several people in the history carnival world, and I even announced it at a conference during a presentation.

If you want to approach me via my real name, I would be happy to talk with you. I have a long history of attempting to make content available on the Web via volunteer directories like the DMOZ, I have talked with Google reps about search, and I have edited for years at Wikipedia making good edits. I want to see Britannica make a successful transition from a print based to a web based resource. Let me know if I can offer you any assistance.

Miland said...

Blogger for peace, I have read your comments and deleted them.

If you want to make a comment, please do not post a link to a url in the comment (I do not allow these due to frequent spam attempts) and do not be insulting. I do not mind criticism, but I draw the line at rambling insults with no actual message other than I must be an idiot.

Also, your premise is flawed. I am not a journalist. I do not wish to be one and I am not seeking to replace them. Other bloggers have done that quite nicely.

Best regards,

Miland Brown