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Change is Scary

Gear Changer

On June 3rd 2008 Encyclopedia Britannica announced their new vision for their online encyclopedia. Though many comments have centered around how Britannica has collapsed under the pressure of WIkipedia’s fame, I don’t believe this movement towards a more expansive reference tool is equivalent to the Wikipedia model. Taken from their announcement post:

These efforts not only will improve the scope and quality of Encyclopaedia Britannica, but they’ll also allow expert contributors and readers to supplement this content with their own. The result will be a place with broader and more relevant coverage for information seekers and a welcoming community for scholars, experts, and lay contributors.

One of the main fears, that countless voices echo, is that Wikipedia is unverified drivel created by vandals and impish recluses.  The more immediate truth is that Wikipedia has grown from a volatile collection of obscure popular culture facts to a burgeoning model of how dynamic information creation can be. The community of editors have brokered for more control over substantial articles and have reduced the opportunities for article vandalism to a near minimal concern. But yet many educators pan its possibilities by citing the established comfort of traditional resources. Then this change was introduced.

The interesting thing is that Britannica isn’t suggesting that they jettison their core of scholarly knowledge and replace it with “Joe Public’s” views on the British monarchy. Instead they are inviting scholars and experts in the field to contribute to their content and supplement the communal resource with their own work. From what I could ascertain from the original announcement, lay users would have contribution rights to a connected aspect of the “core” knowledge base. This means that they most probably wouldn’t be able to edit the main entries but would possibly have their own work and commentary be associated with related topics. Though this may not seem like a lucrative endeavor, the ability to have your work be dispersed into the scholarly community could help new authors gain a foothold into their academic endeavors via this new peer review outlet.

The one thing that concerns me is that under the proposed model there is the possibility that each user could be editing existing content, which then becomes a new piece of content separate from the original in some manner. The concept of thousands of slightly altered versions of one piece of information seems rather unnerving to me. Hopefully they can iron out these types of concepts before the full release.

For another model similar to this you may want to check out an earlier posting entitled:

Knol’s Fair in Love and Wiki’s

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