Encyclopaedia Britannica Goes All Wiki

April 9, 2009

Received this email April 4th:

Britannica Online Subscription

Dear Thad McIlroy,

Encyclopaedia Britannica Online has just introduced a new program that makes it possible for you as a reader and subscriber to contribute edits, revisions, and suggestions to the encyclopedia.

It also gives you credit, by name, for any contribution you submit that’s accepted by our editors for publication. Does this mean you can now become a named contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica?

Yes.

Suggest Edit

To see how it works just go to any Britannica article at www.britannica.com.. For illustration purposes we have a close-up of the navigation bar atop our entry on nanotechnology. Notice that above the title of the article is a button reading “Suggest Edit”.

Click there and you’ll get a version of the article in which you can edit the text as you see fit. You’ll see a toolbar at the top of the article that allows you to copy, paste, or undo what you have done, and format your edits in a variety of ways, much as you would with conventional word processing software. You can also preview the changes you’ve made before submitting them to our editors.

Comment

Also on the navigation bar above the article title is a button marked Comment. This enables you to send an e-mail to our editors with your thoughts and comments on the article. Use this if you have general suggestions and don’t wish to make specific text edits. You may also use this feature in conjunction with the Suggest Edit feature, say, to explain the reason for the edits you’ve made, to recommend other sources for the article, and so on.

In either case, as soon as you submit your suggestions they will go right to a Britannica editor who will review them promptly. If your suggestions are accepted and published, your name will be added to that article’s Topic History, which you can also access with a button above the article title.

These features are new, and they’re labeled “beta,” but they’re working well, and as a member of our WebShare program we would like to invite you to be among the first to use them.

By the way, as you may have seen, these new features are part of a larger plan Britannica has to make our site a virtual community with a host of benefits both for our expert contributors and readers. Among other things, you’ll be able to set up your own profile at our site, publish your own work and become a “friend” of Britannica articles in which you have an interest. Discussions of this are here and here. Please stay tuned.

I invite you to try our editing system on any Britannica article you think can be improved or is in need of correction. We’d welcome any questions or comments you have. Please send them to j.c.miller@eb.com.

Sincerely,

J.C. Miller

Too little, too late?

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Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth

October 24, 2008

In the November/December issue of the marvelous MIT Technology Review is a very fine article by the respected author and professor of computer science, Simson Garfinkel on the ever-controversial subject of what can we expect and trust from Wikipedia.

The topic has been a challenge for some time, mainly pitting the Encyclopedia Britannica, that most respected source, authored by experts in their respective fields, against Wikipedia, the most anarchic of resources, but which with some 7 million contributors manages as Mr. Garfinkel points out to be “remarkably accurate.”

What makes this article a special pleasure is that Garfinkel acknowledges Wikipedia’s success, but delves below the surface and notes that “with little notice from the outside world, the community-written encyclopedia Wikipedia has redefined the commonly accepted use of the word ‘truth’.” The topic is an important one.

The article is fascinating for many other reasons, but here’s a tidbit:

“Wikipedia considers the ‘most reliable sources’ to be ‘peer-reviewed journals and books published in university presses,’ followed by ‘university-level textbooks,’ then magazines, journals, ‘books published by respected publishing houses,’ and finally ‘mainstream newspapers’ (but not the opinion pages of newspapers).”

Do you think these are the best sources to verify information? They certainly conform to standard publishing beliefs, but do they conform to this new medium?

The article is worth careful reading.

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