Sunday, June 08, 2008

Encyclopaedia Britannica Goes -- Gasp! -- Wiki

Here is a notice from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Long a standard reference source for scholarship, largely because of its tightly controlled editing, the Encyclopaedia Britannica announced this week it was throwing open its elegantly-bound covers to the masses. It will allow the “user community” (in the words of the encyclopedia’s blog) to contribute their own articles, which will be clearly marked and run alongside the edited reference pieces.

This seems to be a response to the runaway success of the user-edited online reference tool Wikipedia. (See for yourself. Do a Web search on a topic and note whether Wikipedia or Britannica shows up first.) Scholars have been adamantly opposed to Wikipedia citations in academic papers because the authors and sources are always changing. Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s co-founder, agrees with this, but in next week’s issue of The Chronicle (click back to our home page on Monday for more) he also points to some changes in the reference tool that may make it more palatable to scholars.

I am very interested to see how the new EB works. I can only imagine (assuming tight editorial control) that the wiki approach will work for the EB. You do not need to pay people to write an encyclopedia. People do it for free in mass everyday and generally do a good job.

This model for EB will not work though unless they open the content up for free. Wikipedia wins because it is open license and that there is no cost to read articles. Hence, it generates more links and does better in Google. Most users of Wikipedia do not edit it. Opening up the content for surfers to read freely would do them better than opening articles for editing. If EB had opened up articles years ago for people to read for free, I bet they would be doing much better in the Google rankings right now.

No comments: