It is a commonly held criticism of Wikipedia that while its interactive user model may make it the most comprehensive online information resource going it isn't the necessarily the most reliable. Now numerous tests and research papers have come out both for and against this viewpoint, but one thing is for certain: it has convinced old school heavyweight the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
In somewhat eyebrow raising news, the venerable - if comparatively fading - resource has announced a new approach to compiling and editing information. In its own words:
"The main thrust of this initiative is to promote greater participation by both our expert contributors and readers. Both groups will be invited to play a larger role in expanding, improving, and maintaining the information we publish on the Web under the Encyclopaedia Britannica name as well as in sharing content they create with other Britannica visitors. A complete redesign, editing tools, and incentive programs will give expert contributors and users the means to take part in the further improvement of Encyclopaedia Britannica and in the creation and publication of their own work."
To be fair there is a key difference between the two models as Britannica will apply a 'Britannica Checked' imprimatur to signal content formally approved by its pool of official experts and scholars. This could prove a stroke of genius, but then again if a controversial article is going to keep being edited and re-edited by users that imprimatur could disappear and reappear every time you hit the refresh key.
That said, Britannica is also pushing what appears to be a promising 'online community' where users can work and publish at Britannica's site under their own names. They will be able to prepare articles, essays and multimedia presentations on subjects in which they're interested while Britannica will help them with research and publishing tools. Full credits will also be given on approved content.
"We aim to leverage the power of the Internet to integrate the work of many people in a common project and on a large scale, but without relinquishing the editorial oversight that makes Britannica's content trustworthy," the company concluded.
Hat's off to Britannica for joining the 21st century. Of course even if successful it will still have a huge way to go to catch the Wikipedia juggernaut but it all sounds a darn site better thought out than knol...