When it comes to online 'encyclopedias', chances are that Wikipedia springs to mind faster than the 241 year-old Encyclopedia Britannica.

Despite the virtues of an encyclopedia that is 100% edited by humans, Britannica's influence has waned in today's Wikipedia world.

Now it's looking to change that.

According to Britannica's president, Jorge Cauz, the company will be launching new community-oriented features on Britannica.com within the next 24 hours.

These features will allow all users to contribute to and edit Britannica's online entries. But remaining true to its identity built over more than two centuries, Britannica will vet each user-generated content contribution before they appear on Britannica.com.

Cauz told The Sydney Morning Herald:

"What we are trying to do is shifting ... to a much more proactive role for the user and reader where the reader is not only going to learn from reading the article but by modifying the article and - importantly - by maybe creating his own content or her own content."

He also took a swipe at Google and complained about Wikipedia's superior SERPs:

"If I were to be the CEO of Google or the founders of Google I would be very [displeased] that the best search engine in the world continues to provide as a first link, Wikipedia. Is this the best they can do? Is this the best that [their] algorithm can do?"

Clearly, Britannica's changes are likely due in some part to Wikipedia's prominence and relevance, which has come at Britannica's expense.

The big question: is it already too late for Britannica? While Cauz is correct in noting that Wikipedia's model has some significant shortcomings, it's Wikipedia's all-inclusive user experience that has made it so popular. Whether Britannica can compete with that remains to be seen. Britannica.com users will need to register and provide their real names and addresses and because their contributions will be reviewed by Britannica staff before being published, there's no instant gratification even though the anticipated 20 minute turnaround time isn't bad for those with a bit of patience.

Britannica.com's one big selling point that Wikipedia can't match: some of the user-generated contributions may be included in future print editions of Encyclopedia Britannica.

Will this be enough? We'll soon find out.

Patricio Robles

Published 22 January, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (1)


Justice 1768

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.

over 9 years ago

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