Sunday, January 25, 2009

Encyclopaedical Change

 It's finally here. The vaunted portals of the hallowed Encyclopaedia Britannica have been thrown open to some of the lower life forms on the planet. OK, so it's not really wide open, but open nevertheless. A move which takes the Britannica in the direction travelled first by wikipedia, it seems to be a step in the right direction. The Encyclopaedia Britannica is all set to enable readers to edit entries in the encyclopaedia.

Why step? For the simple reason that the Britannica has not gone for the laissez-faire of wikipedia, but rather, seems to be a controlled step in the direction which was probably coming for some time now. And, they have acted in a way which was expected ... the Britannica has for long been the ultimate word on the topics which are there in there. Which means that they would like to keep away from the unbridled edits which can happen on wikipedia, at times to the detriment of the accuracy or the brevity of content. And to this effect, they have made sure that all content must be approved by the panel of experts before it can feature in the encyclopaedia. This is definitely additional cost, but maybe worth the while?

Now, the laissez-faire of wikipedia has its set of supporters and retractors. But i am neither. I believe that wikipedia is a source of information, much like a lot of others. As i have written before, wikipedia is not the ideal source to base your research on. But, having said that, if you were doing research on a particular topic, you wouldnt just consult one source, would you? To that extent, isnt wikipedia as good as a whole host of other sources available out there? Something i have written about earlier.

Now comes the question of wikis within the organization. There has been a long held belief that within an organization, you cannot afford to have the anyone-do-anything kind of approach. Instead, i have long held the opinion that within the organization, nothing is really anonymous. Which is why i believe that rather than an open wiki, a tool like a knol is more useful in the organizational context ... as i have written earlier. The fact is that with this kind of approach, the Encyclopaedia Britannica is ensuring, at least to a considerable extent, the quality of the content that goes on it. And this, to my mind, is also an issue which organizations are also dealing with, to varying extents.

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