Long a standard reference source for scholarship, largely because of its tightly controlled editing, the Encyclopaedia Britannica announced this week it was throwing open its elegantly-bound covers to the masses. It will allow the “user community” (in the words of the encyclopedia’s blog) to contribute their own articles, which will be clearly marked and run alongside the edited reference pieces.
This seems to be a response to the runaway success of the user-edited online reference tool Wikipedia. (See for yourself. Do a Web search on a topic and note whether Wikipedia or Britannica shows up first.) Scholars have been adamantly opposed to Wikipedia citations in academic papers because the authors and sources are always changing. Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s co-founder, agrees with this, but in next week’s issue of The Chronicle (click back to our home page on Monday for more) he also points to some changes in the reference tool that may make it more palatable to scholars.
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’s not a complete free-for-all. The voice of Britannica 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.”—Josh Fischman.