Sydney Morning Herald, the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica is about to open ups its articles to edits by its users. Jorge Cauz, Britannica's president, tells the SMH that readers will soon be able to make edits to existing articles and create their own content. These updates, however, will be vetted by Britannica's staff, which hopes to review every edit within 20 minutes.According to the
Britannica is trying to a take a hybrid approach which combines Britannica's editorial expertise with Wikipedia's principles of transparency and openness.
Why Wikipedia Does Better on Google
In the interview with the SMH, Jorge Cauze also bemoaned that Google's search results consistently ranked Wikipedia higher than his own Britannica. The reason for this, however, is simple: you need to be a subscriber to get access to the full content of the Encylopedia Britannica. If you are not, the site will constantly pester you with overlay ads for its premium membership and only give you access to a limited range of features. Given a choice, most writers will link to the free Wikipedia instead of the Britannica, which, in turn, enhances Wikipedia's standing in Google's index.
There are many reasons why Wikipedia trumped Britannica on the Internet. For one, Britannica took a long time to open up to the Internet, which gave Wikipedia a chance to become the de-facto Internet encyclopedia.
Difference in Quality?
As for the actual difference in quality between the two sites, that question still remains to be answered. A 2005 study in Nature concluded that Wikipedia (at that time) was about as a good a source as Britannica, but the study was heavily criticized by Britannica (see Nature's rebuttal of Britannica's rebuttal for more details about the discussion).
Britannica Can't Scale
In the end, however, whenever somebody discovers a mistake in the Wikipedia, those edits can be made public within seconds. Currently, the Wikipedia sees more than 150,000 legitimate edits pre day. The most active Wikipedia users have made over 200,000 edits. There is simply no way for Britannica's editors to approve this many edits - the process simply wouldn't scale unless they hired a lot of highly qualified (and fast) editors.