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Britannica tweaks the wiki

Britannica has announced that it’s going to enable some measure of reader participation in the extending of the online version of their encyclopedia. You can see the beta of the new site here.

The detailed overview of the planned site says:

two things we believe distinguish this effort from other projects of online collaboration are (1) the active involvement of the expert contributors with whom we already have relationships; and (2) the fact that all contributions to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s core content will continue to be checked and vetted by our expert editorial staff before they’re published.

Excellent! We needs lots of variations on the theme of collaboration. Editing and expertise add value. They slow things down and reduce the ability to scale, but Wikipedia’s process makes it possible to read an article that’s been altered, if only for a minutes, by some devilish hand. It all depends on what you’re trying to do, and collectively we’re trying to do everything. So, this is good news from Britannica. It’ll be fascinating to watch.

To pick a nit, I’m not as convinced by Britannica’s insistence on objectivity as a value, however. The blog post says “we believe that the creation and documentation of knowledge is a collaborative process but not a democratic one.” It lists three positive consequences of this. The third is “objectivity, and it requires experts.” In a reference that makes you wish they’d at least once use the word “Wikipedia,” the post continues: “In contrast to our approach, democratic systems settle for something bland and less informative, what is sometimes termed a ‘neutral point of view.'” I think it would be reasonable for Britannica to tell us that an expert-based, edited system is likely to yield articles that are more comprehensive, more uniform in quality, more accurate and more reliable. But haven’t we gotten past thinking that expertise yields objectivity?

Anyway, I think it’s amazing that the Britannica, in its 240th year, is taking this step. Britannica will be better for it, and so will we. [Tags: ]

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