Britannica Opening to User Edits

A brief CNET article by Josh Lowensohn talks about how the free online version of Britannica (Britannica.com) will begin to allow user edits and additions to the encyclopedia.  It makes you just want to say “Wow! Really?  Are they that scared of Wikipedia?”

To be honest I don’t think that this has anything to do with Britannica being scared of Wikipedia but instead has to do with a long existing and well established business deciding that they want to modernize and get in on the whole Web 2.0 and Social Media bandwagon.  I say good for them, I hope it works out well.

Now I am going to say (and those who know me might not be surprised by this statement at all) that I love Wikipedia.  It is wonderfully easy to use.  It has a nice crisp look and feel.  And in general it answers my questions when I have one.  All around I feel like it is a great reference tool for quick facts or answers.  That being said, and I feel obliged to say this as a library employee, I do not think Wikipedia will ever be able to replace the reference resources that have established editors with expertise in their fields, like those who work for Britannica.  This is not because I think Wikipedia is unable to create as quality and reliable articles (there has been some debate on this matter but it seems like Wikipedia in general competes pretty well) but is more so that people like to be able to know who wrote (or edited) something and why they are worth listening to.  Wikipedia has its place in the modern day and age of electronic information, but its constant fluid nature, and uncertainty of both accuracy and who is contributing what, means that it will never achieve the degree of trust that a company like Britannica has.

Now, all that being said, and also being that self avowed Wikipedia lover, I have to say that Britannica offers some pretty bad ass resources for research purposes.  On Tuesday I attended a  four hour training for Britannica Online Reference Center (which is not the same as Britannica.com, though owned by the same company).  Britannica Online Reference Center is an electronic resource used by a lot of libraries and schools.  There is a subscription fee for use (very likely a very large fee) that is paid by the institution that wishes to offer the resource.  As such, South Carolina, offers Britannica Online Reference Center to all state residents for free through the State Library DISCUS (Digital Information for South Carolina USers) program (which offered the training I attended this week).  That means that if you live in SC you can have access to the full resource whenever you need it, you just need to have a public library card, or attend a school in the state (either a grade school or a college/university). Besides Britannica Online Reference Center, DISCUS also offers about another 30 or so other electronic resources and databases for state residents’ use.  It is a really awesome program and I suggest checking it out, if you live in SC.

Oh, and Britannica Online Reference Center is amazing and very powerful.  Thousands of articles, and media, and all sorts of other stuff.  Very detailed but easy to use.  It even offers more simplified resources for children.  All around I was very impressed by it.

So yeah, Wikipedia is fuckin’ awesome, but so is Britannica, and Britannica has been around for a long time and probably has a pretty good idea how to do the whole encyclopedia thing.  I think it is cool that they will be offering user edits and additions and I can’t wait to see how that works out.  God, I love the availability of information in this day and age!

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~ by Nathaniel on January 23, 2009.

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