What's Old Is New

Writer: 
October 1, 2008

Encyclopaedia Britannica made news in June when it was announced that the 240-year-old reference work would be going wiki—in practice, if not in name.

In crafting the announcement for Britannica's blog, members of the encyclopedia's staff were apparently careful not to use the term "wiki"—understandable, given the elder reference work's rocky relationship with the most famous wiki, Wikipedia. The fresh, free, user-written and -edited competitor has supplanted the mother  (or dinosaur, depending on your perspective) of all encyclopedias as the go-to reference source in many circles. Britannica, first printed in 1768, is the oldest English-language encyclopedia.

The new Britannica portal allows users to add to and modify its online entries, uploading text, photos, videos, and links. The announcement was careful to differentiate Britannica's foray into Web 2.0 from "other projects of online collaboration."

It stressed the involvement of the encyclopedia's existing community of "expert contributors" as well as the fact that any additions or changes to the encyclopedia's core content will be vetted by editorial staff before they're published. It also promised that users would be credited by name for their contributions.