If you can’t beat ’em…
… join ’em.
And that’s what Encyclopaedia Britannica have done – sort of.
The competition in the form of Wikipedia have had much success (yes, I know, I remember the sabotage examples too – but they seem to have overcome them) and has people flocking to their site in droves. Ask any 20-year old what Encyclopedia Britannica is and you very well might get blank stares. Wikipedia allows Joe Soap to contribute to it, and so Joe Soap knows all about it and its among his first choices when looking for information on whatever topic.
Britannica aren’t quite going the Wikipedia way of embracing the crowd for its contents. They are retaining the emphasis on the domain experts (ok, there is some UGC but it seems to be downplayed). One wonders how much an Encyclopedia Britannica expert gets paid. The cost adds to the cost of the final product. Wikipedia have discovered that people are more than willing to give away their expertise for free. This has a double plus – allowing the end product to be freely available and so more accessible to the those who want to peruse it. Also, there is the the associated status. Having contributed to a working and accepting page of a well-travelled site is a badge of merit worn with pride – and we all know how pervasive online viral marketing can be.
I am curious about the “web-based tools that visitors can use to put together their own reference materials”. That might be interesting. Interesting enough to pay for….. perhaps, or perhaps not.