The Encyclopaedia Britannica was for years the ultimate resource for ordinary people to increase their knowledge base. And then along came the Internet, and overnight, everyone, everywhere, from all walks of life, had an inordinate amount of information at their fingertips.
Even before Wikipedia came along, there were plenty of places on the Web to find out everything from A to Z. A simple search on Google could save you from having to flick through indexes and reams of pages to find out what you needed to know.
Then along came Jimmy Wales great user generated content creation, and you’d think the Encyclopedia Britannica would be dead and buried. But no, it evolved, and as well as the huge 32 volume print edition, the knowledge base was put on the Net. Unfortunately, as Britannica is a business, they needed to charge, and Web access to the archives cost $70 a year.
Wikipedia is of course free, which explains why it gets 3.8 billion page views a month compared to the 21 million per month which Britannica does.
But maybe that will even up a little now, as according to Techcrunch, a version of the online Encyclopaedia Britannica is becoming for free, so long as you are a Web publisher.
The program in question is called Britannica Webshare, and is the centuries old publication’s response to the changing needs of people, and the rapidly evolving change of distribution model thanks to the Web.
So, are you eligible for the free version?
“This program is intended for people who publish with some regularity on the Internet, be they bloggers, webmasters, or writers. We reserve the right to deny participation to anyone who in our judgment doesn’t qualify.”
The process is simple – sign up, give them a site URL, and description, and then wait while they review you to see if you’re suitable. Sounds like fun.
If successful, you can then read the full articles on the site, and even embed pages from the Britannica. If you link from your site to an article, people can click and read that one article, but won’t be able to view any other pages.
The problem is really that Wikipedia already offers a quite conclusive service, which is going to be much more up to date than the Encyclopaedia Britannica ever could be. At least until they allow everyone to edit articles themselves.
The Britannica may be more accurate, but in this fast moving world of blogging, instant messaging, and up to the minute news, speed becomes more important than accuracy.
I will sign up for this service, but I can still see myself turning to Wikipedia more often than not.