Britannica opens to users

Via the Chronicle’s Wired Campus, I read that the Encyclopedia Britannica online is now welcoming “greater participation” from its users. Hmm, an encyclopedia with user participation… sounds familiar.

The Britannica press release emphasizes how they are not Wikipedia (which isn’t named, of course):

Two things we believe distinguish this effort from other projects of online collaboration are (1) the active involvement of the expert contributors with whom we already have relationships; and (2) the fact that all contributions to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s core content will continue to be checked and vetted by our expert editorial staff before they’re published.

Of course, the irony is that oft-cited study by Nature which found that Britannica’s science entries, no doubt fact-checked by these Britannica experts, were only a bit more accurate than Wikipedia’s entries.

Britannica’s quest to be more like Wikipedia has me smiling as I’m a librarian who doesn’t hate Wikipedia and am frustrated by students’ reports of faculty refusal to allow students to consult Wikipedia in their research. I suspect students will use it regardless and it’d be a better use of our time to teach them how to 1) do their own fact checking, 2) use Wikipedia appropriately, and 3) find other good, reliable sources (which should also be used appropriately and fact-checked).

Because of course it’d also be inappropriate for these students to use Britannica for this same research. Singling out this one resource seems like telling your kid he can have anything to eat except candy… and then putting the candy on the counter in front of him while the healthier snacks are tucked away in the fridge.

An interview with Jimmy Wales in today’s Chronicle hints that Wikipedia might trend towards something more like Britannica itself, with some articles flagged as having been vetted by academics.


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