The 240-year-old Encyclopaedia Britannica has taken a giant leap into the
world of Web 2.0 with the launch of a new online version where users can
contribute and edit content.
In a move that takes it head to head with Wikipedia, new features on the
Britannica site will allow users to edit and contribute articles in return
for the glory of having their name attached to the submission.
However, “voyeuristic” Wikipedia fans ought not to get too excited by the
changes as all submissions will undergo a strict vetting process and may or
may not make the cut, according to Britannica 's president, Jorge Cauz.
“We’re not trying to be a wiki - that’s the last thing we want to be,” Mr Cauz
told The Times.
“Britannica doesn’t offer that voyeuristic benefit. Users won’t be able to
write anything they want and have it published. Each contribution will be
verified and fact checked by our editors.”
Mr Cauz said the Britannica site was “definitely not as popular” as Wikipedia,
attracting about 1.5 million people each day compared with Wikipedia’s
approximate 6 million visitors a day.
“But we’re not trying to be a tabloid or reality TV [type of product]. We are
a different type of animal, catering to a different type of crowd," he said.
“Wikipedia contributes to the spread of information and many people are happy
with it as their only source of reference – as are many people happy to eat
McDonalds every day.”
While Britannica will continue to rely heavily on its 2500 - 4500 regular
experts to write the bulk of its content, Mr Cauz said he hoped that with
the wide reach of the web it can tap into many more potential contributors.
“Britannica is widely used in the academic market. Many of the top
universities around the world have access to it. We want to tap into the
many experts that may have something to say that could improve our content.
“I think the future is likely going to be that in every media segment there
has to be a symbiotic relationship between editor and reader,” he said.
Articles submitted by non-academic users will sit in a separate section to
expert-generated Britannica content, as will content submitted by
There will also be a robust history attached to each article with details of
the changes made and who made them.
“We really want to make sure that there is a certain amount of accountability
from contributors,” Mr Cauz said.
Other features Britannica plans to roll out over the next six months include a
comprehensive list of contributors by subject area, the ability for users to
post questions to contributors, and an article rating system.
Mr Cauz said the changes to the site were triggered by the volume of feedback
Britannica had been getting from its readers.
“We found people were really trying to engage with Britannica. We received
lots of letters to the editor from readers offering advice on how to improve
articles and picking up factual errors. We noticed readers were really
starting to participate in the editorial process.
“The reason it took us a long time to create a more user interactive website
is because of the amount of technology required to ensure the changes are
implemented in an expeditious manner. We still want people to have to go
through the editorial workflow. We are developing a curated knowledge