Good grief – what is the world coming to??? Just ten years ago I was accosted in the middle of a central city mall by an over zealous salesperson trying to convince me of the benefits of investing in an encyclopedia – the paper variety, you know, the one they convince you will become a family heirloom etc etc. I politely advised the salesperson that I wasn’t interested in purchasing yesterday’s technology, instead preferring to do my searching using a CD ROM encyclopedia that I owned, together with what was available online. This was met with screeches of horror and dismay, and claims that such a thing would never happen to this particular encyclopedia, being of such high quality and impeccable credentials, it would never happen to such a ‘brand’.
Well it has. First we saw the Encyclopedia Britannica indeed appear in CD ROM format, and later online. This week the famed stalwart of the reference world has announced that it is entering the wiki world! “The main thrust of this initiative is to promote greater participation by both our expert contributors and readers.”
This seems to be a response to the runaway success of the user-edited online reference tool Wikipedia. Scholars have been adamantly opposed to Wikipedia citations in academic papers because the authors and sources are always changing. In response, at Britannica, “readers and users will also be invited into an online community where they can work and publish at Britannica’s site under their own names,” the encyclopedia’s blog explains.
But it won’t be a complete free-for-all. The news release adds that the core encyclopedia itself “will continue to be edited according to the most rigorous standards and will bear the imprimatur ‘Britannica Checked’ to distinguish it from material on the site for which Britannica editors are not responsible.”
You can preview the new site, which is still in beta testing, at http://www.britannica.com/bps/home. I must confess, the pop-up ads put me off, both because of what they are advertising (eg advising that “someone I know is crazy about me’ etc.), and because of the ‘garish’ way they intrude onto the otherwise reasonably well-designed interface.
This development speaks volumes about the way(s) in which the world is being molded and changed by the technologies we adopt – often in quite unanticipated ways – and that we must be prepared to ‘let go’ of the past in order to embrace what the future is becoming. As one of the respondents to the Britannica release observed; “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”