Information from me and you

1 03 2009

In an effort to fight the looming competition from Wikipedia (remember the comparison back in 2005; Nature, BBC), Encyclopedia Britannica has decided to put some dramatic changes into action…

No, not quite that dramatic.

But they are  going to start to allow some user-driven content:

Readers and users will also be invited into an online community where they can work and publish at Britannica’s site under their own names. Interested users will be able to prepare articles, essays, and multimedia presentations on subjects in which they’re interested. Britannica will help them with research and publishing tools and by allowing them to easily use text and non-text material from Encyclopaedia Britannica in their work. We will publish the final products on our site for the benefit of all readers, with all due attribution and credit to the people who created them. The authors will have the option of collaborating with others on their work, but each author will retain control of his or her own work. – Britannica Blog

The main encyclopedia ” will continue to be edited according to the most rigorous standards” – but will now allow basic users”to suggest text changes, updates, photos, videos, bibliographies, Web links and other reference materials and improvements”. Most importantly, Britannica will recognise this content: “Anyone whose contributions are accepted for publication will be credited in detailed article-history pages in the encyclopedia.”

The core expert editor community, with user community advice, all by attribution is also the model being used by Medpedia. Which launched earlier in February.

The future of online user generated content?




2 responses

2 03 2009
S Williams

The comments about Encyclopaedia Britannica and Wikipedia are interesting.

Britannica never thought that an open source product like Wikipedia would seriously challenge the credibility of its brand. They were wrong and Encyclopaedia Britannica’s staff seriously misread the global market. They are now very concerned about the widespread use of a free Wikipedia vs their paid subscription model From a corporate and financial perspective, Encyclopaedia Britannica is in serious trouble.

It will be interesting to see if Encyclopaedia Britannica survives, but recent indications do not look good. It is the combination of a) the success of Wikipedia and b) improved search engines that has put financial pressure on Encyclopedia Britannica over recent years. Many libraries, schools & individuals are questioning the need to pay for sets of expensive books, or to subscribe to Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, when the content is free on the internet, and often much more comprehensive.

2 03 2009

While I’m an avid wikipedia supporter (and even a wikipedian myself), I think it is important that expert-driven information is not driven underground by user-based systems.
I think Britannica is taking the right steps towards preserving its own important model of information.

Comprehensiveness is not always the be all. I think any school or institution that feels that it can replace encyclopedias with the web would be doing its charges a great disservice. Information may be more comprehensive on the internet, and may sometimes even be equally reliable – but are the filters reliable, is neutrality and objectivity maintained, is it stable or consistent information, and probably most importantly, is it comprehensive in the right areas (see Wikipedia’s coverage of Star Trek, versus say 12th century Romania).

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