Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Encyclopaedia Britannica Reinvents Itself

The print edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica occupied a hallowed place in my girlhood home. My father, a hematologist, was a contributor (he wrote the article on purpura, an important symptom which can indicate a serious underlying disorder) and he received a certificate attesting to this accomplishment. Our set lived in a specially-designed bookcase, and it had slots to hold the large atlas and the two-volume dictionary. My sister and I relied on the encyclopedia for school reports and general information, while my mother read articles for pleasure.

Like many traditional sources, the Encyclopaedia Britannica has been challenged by the Internet, and it is now seeking to reinvent itself. The Britannica's strategy is laid out in an article from today's Boston Globe. The stragegy is this: "The new version of Britannica Online, set to debut this summer, will emulate the Wikipedia concept by letting subscribers make changes to any article, ranging from minor edits to near-total rewrites." Unlike Wikipedia, "[a]uthors and editors will be identified by name," which will help readers gauge their credibility and the reliability of the articles. All changes will go through a vetting process, being "submitted to a Britannica editor, and perhaps to the article's author." The author of the Globe article notes the irony that Britannica Online will have a "more open editing policy than Wikipedia's ... [which] permanently 'locks' some articles on controversial people and subjects to prevent changes."


Betsy McKenzie said...

Awesome post, Marie! I find it very ironic that the Britannica has reinvented itself and carried the open edit process farther along than its arch-rival Wikipedia. I really like your reminiscence -- your father must have been very proud to be a Britannica author. It was the best of what encyclopedias could be, always held up as the scholarly one.

Marie S. Newman said...

We were very proud of our father, and still are--he's still practicing medicine full time, i.e., seven days a week, at nearly ninety-three years old. He's one of the last of the doctors for whom medicine was a calling.