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Maybe They Should Call it "Wiki-Britica"

In the publishing industry, one of the oldest and most respected brands in the world is the Encyclopedia Britannica. It's been considered the most authoritative encyclopedia for most of its 240 years on the planet, ever since it emerged during the Scottish Enlightenment, along with Adam Smith, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and James Boswell, among others.

But this month, the hallowed reference book announced a change that probably has its founders turning over in their 18th century graves. Through its website, Britannica is inviting users for the first time to contribute articles.

Before you can say "Wikipedia" I should hasten to add that any such user generated content will be reviewed by the company's "expert editors" before it can be added to the site. This is consistent with the company's oft-stated aversion to letting the barbarians through its gates.

It's tempting to dismiss this as yet another case of "too little, too late," whereby the old tries to adapt to the new, sort of. Taking another tack, however, Britannica would seem to have a historical archive ripe for digitizing. Among its contributors over the years have been none less than Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Leon Trotsky, Harry Houdini, H.L. Mencken, and W.E.B. Du Bois.
At least a few of those dudes would have made awesome bloggers. Even Henry Ford is credited with an article entitled "Mass Production," though it is actually believed to have been written by his personal publicist.

In any event, don't expect Britannica to compete with Wikipedia anytime soon when it comes to traffic or scale. Not that they'd listen to my advice (even though I am part Scottish), but I think the company should focus on establishing a completely searchable database of its past, rather than take one tiny baby step after a train that's already left the station.

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