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Wikipedia v. Encyclopedia Britannica – The Times They Are A Changing*

On March 23, 2012 BBC News reported:  After 244 years reference book firm Encyclopaedia Britannica has decided to stop publishing its famous and weighty 32-volume print edition. They were far from alone. As near as I could tell every news source and most writing blogs and groups made note of the passing of the print edition, many with laminations and even viewing of alarm.

My initial and continuing reaction was It’s about time! I was partly thinking just of the paper and other resources saved by not printing, shipping and then disposing of who knows how many volumes over time.

Maybe because we didn’t have the almost ubiquitous volumes in my well-read home as I was growing up I have no memories of pouring through pages trying to cobble together a report of some sort or other.

When, at the school library, I used a set to learn about one thing or another I found the writing ponderous and uninteresting.

I got an email from Jen Rhee who is working with a small group of folks putting together a creative agency. It’s so new that they don’t yet have a website.

Anyway, Jen emailed me an Infographic from Open Site. Take a close look. I know many people disparage Wikipedia’s accuracy, but according to Open Site Wikipedia has 3.86 mistakes per article while the Encyclopedia Britannica has 2.92, but… Wikipedia mistakes are corrected usually within hours
Via: Open-Site.org

So, what do you think of this particular change?


* Bob Dylan’s Ballad Of Hollis Brown

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Derek Elder

    We couldn’t afford Britannica when I was young, but we had one volume encyclopedias and my mother subscribed to a weekly encyclopedia that built up into a full set in binders that helf twenty or so copies. I also went to the local library regularly. I built up a good bank of general knowledge on the back of these. I use Wikipedia regularly and find it reliable enough for most thing except current people and current contentious issues. It should be used as an intermediate source on the way to cited sources. My daughter is studying for her first round of national examinations and she belongs to the Wiki generation. I have no problem nor, it would seem, does her school, with her using Wikipedia to get the basics of a topic. I am, however, trying to get her to understand that it’s necessary to cite original sources whenever these are quoted or paraphrased. I’m not convinced that plagiarism is well-defined for current students.

    • Derek, I agree – kids don’t understand plagiarism because it’s not being taught clearly in school… what is these days. The net makes it so easy to copy and it seems free. Good for you for working with her to understand exactly what origianl source material is.

  • Wikipedia and online sources are mych easier to use, that’s for sure. One thing I say about the Internet though (and I say it e-ve-ry time the subject comes up in a conversation) is: double-, triple-, x10-check the information you get.
    Online content is easy to change by an administrator, and there’s not even proof that a page, which used to be accurate last year, will continue to be accurate tomorrow.
    With all their mistakes, printed volumes are “set”, the information is there every time I open them — they are an ultimate resort against the “volatility” of digital signals.
    WritersWritingWords (Eleni) recently posted..Inspiration for a NationMy Profile

  • Jackie

    I personally will mourn the passing of an old friend. While Wikipedia is easy to get to and use, it is hampered by the fact that anyone can alter it. I don’t really trust anything I get from Wiki and quit using it long ago. Hopefully Britannica will publish a version online. It was always a great resource. It is sadly going the way all published books are doomed to go I guess. A sad, sad day for those of us that either have no desire to own a Kindle, or flat out can’t afford one. I guess we will be left out in the cold altogether when it comes to new books soon. I personally have always loved being able to buy and trade books with others. Anyone ever try to buy a download at a yardsale?

  • It probably doesn’t help that we just read “1984” for book club, but I get twitchy about everything moving online. Too easy to fix “inaccuracies”!
    Amelia Ramstead recently posted..Zombie Blueberries!!My Profile

    • jorge kafkazar

      You’re right, Amelia. When Obama selected Carol Browner as his Energy and Climate Change* czar, her listing as a Commissioner for the Socialist International was removed from their website on January 12, 2009. The same information was deleted from Wankerpedia January 13, 2009. Down the memory hole, Winston!

      I have two copies of Britannica and don’t plan to part with either of them.

      * Formerly known as Global Warming, but renamed after 10 years of no warming.

  • I use Wikipedia, but not as a direct source. If you go to the bottom of the page, there are often numerous source links that will lead you to reputable articles you can cite.

    I don’t know if they’re actually doing it, but every school should be teaching students how to find reputable content and cite it properly. They need to know this BEFORE they enter college.
    Elizabeth West recently posted..Gran Torino: Hollywood Gets it RightMy Profile

    • Agree re schools… suspect it’s not happening in many sad to say.

  • Interesting. I’d always considered Wikipedia something I’d use for general information, but not something I’d use for serious research as you couldn’t necessarily count on how accurate it way. Sounds like it’s getting better by the day. That being said..I’m still a library fan. 🙂
    Ellen recently posted..Bad pennyMy Profile

    • Oh I love libraries – there’s just something about being in one that makes me happy.

  • I’m also a big fan of Wikipedia and I use it a lot when I’m searching for information. However, it is considered suspect in many academic circles and many professors won’t allow Wikipedia articles to be cited in students’ papers.
    John Soares recently posted..The Well-Organized Freelance Writer’s Home OfficeMy Profile

    • I gather that at least some professors are recognizing Wiki’s value… just imagine when you tell your great great grand kids (or grand nieces and nephews) that at one time Wikipedia wasn’t considered reliable…

  • Hi Anne,
    I must say I feel sorrowful about the passing of Encyclopedia Britannica’s print version as I had a different experience from yours. As a child, some of my favorite memories are of sitting in the family room paging through the enyclopedia. We had a science set as well–I can’t recall who published it. This set had glossy pages, wonderful to the touch, beautiful color photos, categories specific to botany, anatomy and more. As an avid reader and curious kid, this solitary form of relaxation opened the world to me. As I watch children zipping back and forth between apps on their electronic devices, I am concerned about their ability to become immersed in a single topic for any length of time. Of course, I understand the savings in natural resources as we move away from print but believe we are also losing something of importance: the tactile, visual and even the olfactory experience of those delightful pages. The visual you have on this page is an eye-opener regarding accuracy. Thanks for sharing!

    • I was impressed with the infographic information too. When I was a kid I paged through various magazines just the way you describe.

  • Well, since I haven’t used an actual encyclopedia in years, I’m not going to mourn the Britannica’s passing – it’s just so much easier to find stuff online. I will say, though, that I (rightly or wrongly) had a lot more trust in printed information double and triple checked by human editors. Once Wikipedia started to address that, it became much more useful, though I’d never use it as my sole source. One of its most useful features is the list of sources at the end of each entry where you can see for yourself if you agree with how the editors have interpreted the material.
    Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..Putting You in the Picture About My Blogging SkillsMy Profile

    • Yeah, the sources at the bottom of Wiki articles make a huge difference. I agree re using it as a single source can be dangerous – sort of depends on what sort of research I’m doing.

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