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Friday, January 23, 2009

Britannica Prepares to Create Community

In a perhaps inevitable move, Britannica is planning a major change to the way it gathers knowledge, making it more wiki-like. Establishing a community of experts, editors and users that will together add and verify information to be added to the encyclopedia.

" ... The main thrust of this initiative is to promote greater participation by both our expert contributors and readers. Both groups will be invited to play a larger role in expanding, improving, and maintaining the information we publish on the Web under the Encyclopedia Britannica name as well as in sharing content they create with other Britannica visitors ... "

" ... All such suggestions will be considered by editors, and if they’re found to have merit they’ll be fact-checked and vetted before they’re published. Anyone whose contributions are accepted for publication will be credited in detailed article-history pages in the encyclopedia... "
An inevitable development for the survival of Britannica. I think that it is too late. The Britannica's brand equity was well known to me as a knowledge-hungry student. I don't think they have that today. I am sure they have done the studies, but I think that their brand equity has eroded considerably. I don't often think of it except in comparisons. How many students today recognize their brand and what it means?

Have also followed their blog for a number of months. Based on their invited writers they are also showing an odd bias on controversial topics by writing opinion type articles rather than those with a neutral point-of-view. This drives home the perception that editors have their own agendas.

Nicholas Carr talks about this development, where he tracks the way that WP articles are continuing to gain dominance in Google searches, which Britannica president Juan Cauz calls a 'symbiotic relationship' between Google and Wikipedia. When I first read this I thought there was some hint of a conspiracy.

He suggests that this marks a failure of the Internet as a flexible information delivery vehicle. The Web is dominating the infrastructure, Google dominates search and the Wikipedia is dominating knowledge storage and delivery. All happening in a few years. He asks if this is a good thing?

By my own reading many people still believe that the Wikipedia does not restrict or edit contributions. That is not true, there is much monitoring and control of contributions. After some recent embarrassing vandalism, the WP has announced additional flagging and editing of some kinds of susceptible content.

Can there be a number of co-existing principle sources for search and knowledge management? Or will the system converge into a single solution? Or as the article suggests, has it already?

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