Friday, January 23, 2009

Britannica cracks

Encyclopaedia Britannica president Jorge Cauz has announced that his company will accept user contributions in its encyclopedia.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the revelation Cauz let slip yesterday during a visit to Australia.

Cauz promised that the feature would appear within 24 hours, but the company's Web site does not have an announcement. Users may be able to add content already behind the gate - the encyclopedia is a pay service and although it offers a free trial one week long, I haven't signed up. (I can access the content through my Concordia library account, although I haven't done that yet either. If someone wants to pay me for an article on this, I sure will.)

Encyclopaedia Britannica has taken a lesson from the wild and wooly early years of Wikipedia, which started from nothing to become the world's largest encyclopedia in word count and number of articles. Britannica is second.

Over the last few years, Wikipedia endured a number of high-profile scandals, which led the organization to start choking off its policy of complete openness.

The most popular example, one I use in class, is the John Seigenthaler Sr. Wikipedia biography controversy, of which you can read freely at, yes, Wikipedia.

Britannica has now moved to embrace the wiki model of user contributions but Cauz says his staff of editors will keep a final say on all additions.

I have no doubt that this shift in policy will benefit Encyclopaedia Britannica, but it won't address another of Cauz's complaints, that Google is complicit is Wikipedia's rise to prominence. "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," Cauz said, in the Herald article. "Is this the best they can do? Is this the best that [their] algorithm can do?"

Wikipedia is free to access and folks with Web content can link to Wikipedia articles, as I have done above. Google's PageRank algorithm values pages that other pages link to, and that's why Wikipedia articles rank so much more highly than Britannica's. I couldn't link to a Britannica article even if I wanted to. Millions of other people who put their content online can't either, so we instead link to Wikipedia, and that's why Britannica lags so far behind in the search race. Cauz should know this.

Bonus fun search of the week:

Some hapless searcher came to my blog through a search for "can't hit anything in 109F" (without quotations), for which I rank third at Google, not that that's a point of pride. I wonder which game technically involved, historically educational simulation he (or she, I suppose) enjoys.


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