I’ve spent the last week noodling around with Encyclopaedia Britannica Online and Britannica Webshare. I like it. Unlike Wikipedia which is a free resource, Britannica costs $70 a year to those who are not ‘web publishers.’ Webshare provides a way for users to add topic widgets to their websites.
TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington is less than impressed:
But, like the music labels, they still somehow feel as though people should pay to consume their content. And that means search engines can’t index their content. And that means they don’t exist…
As an outsider, Britannica’s future is clear. Eventually, and if they don’t go out of business first, they’ll be forced to make all their content freely available on the Internet, and will probably create a wiki-like format that allows user editing. Their differentiating factor from Wikipedia will be that they have experts guiding articles, so they’ll have a claim to be more authoritative.
I’m not as convinced. It is palpably wrong to say that simply because a search engine (presumably Google) can’t get to content that it doesn’t exist. Britannica has its own search facility, therefore to its readers it most certainly exists.
People pay for scarcity and while you can argue that Wikipedia trumps Britannica because of the cost element, I know which I prefer to use as a primary research tool. Britannica will develop an alternative business model that allows it to attract revenue but quite how that shapes up remains to be seen. If it chooses to drop its annual charge for full access, then it could develop deeper resources paid for on an ‘as required’ basis.
Authority and quality matter so while Mike Arrington thinks authority is a future tense attribute, that’s academic nonsense. Britannica is also a multimedia resource, similar to Encarta but with the kudos you’d expect from Britannica. That has a value in its own right.
They’ve also released a version for iPod that’s formatted to work inside the iPod Safari reader. It’s a joy to use. In keeping with the current trend, they’ve opened a Twitter account to provide regular updates on what’s happening at Britannica.
Britannica’s future continues to be the subject of much discussion. As an authoritative resource, it is hard to beat and the quality of topical debate at its blog is among the best you’ll find anywhere. While they’re able to continue innovating, Britannica will attract a substantial readership.