Britannica to turn into Wikipedia and to become just as unreliable

The past few years have seen the rise of user-contributed content, with Wikipedia being a high-profile example of this phenomenon. The appearance of Wikipedia entries atop the list of sites returned by search engines, and the corresponding appearance of these entries in places like term papers, has triggered a debate regarding the reliability of its content. Leading the charge against Wikipedia has been The Encyclopedia Britannica, which relies on expert, edited contributions for its content. Last week, however, Britannica announced what might be viewed as the unthinkable: it’s implementing a tightly controlled system that just might allow users to generate some of its content.

The new policy was announced via a set of two posts in the Britannica blog. The posts make it very clear that Britannica is not embracing the wiki model to any significant degree. The role of the Britannica staff in policing its content will remain: “We are not abdicating our responsibility as publishers or burying it under the now-fashionable ‘wisdom of the crowds.'” The majority of its content will continue to be generated by experts and subjected to editing. The experts and editors, in Britannica’s view, “can make astute judgments that cut through the cacophony of competing and often confusing viewpoints.” This willingness to interject expert judgement is what will ostensibly continue to separate it from Wikipedia, which is accused of settling, “for something bland and less informative, what is sometimes termed a ‘neutral point of view.'” (link)

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