Encyclopedia Britannica is providing free access for web publishers, including blog authors, to its online articles. I took advantage of the offer and signed up, thinking to explore how it might provide useful content to include in my writing. Some impressions:
Britannica vs Wikipedia
Britannica has a much more multimedia feel to it than Wikipedia, with things like auto-zooming thumbnails where Wikipedia just has images. But I had a few problems with Britannica’s interface in Firefox such as scroll bars wandering around. Overall, I much prefer the Wikipedia approach, only as high-tech as it needs to be.
Britannica has a Store section which offers you the chance to buy things like a cd-rom on the topic being currently viewed. I don’t miss that on Wikipedia.
Britannica has more in-depth articles on some topics, especially those with some historical background. For example, searching for ‘programmed instruction’ took me to an in-depth article on the topic with lots of links to other articles. The same article in Wikipedia was very short and lacked depth and breadth.
Wikipedia has articles on recently emerging or localised topics and concepts where Britannica often has nothing. For example, searching for learning design in Britannica yielded nothing, in Wikipedia it redirected to instructional design. Searching for flexible learning (a term popular here in Australasia) yielded nothing in Britannica but a short article in Wikipedia with links to related concepts.
In summary, I’d have to say that Britannica provided more substantial content for some concepts which I’d characterise as ‘historical’ and ‘mainstream’. Wikipedia provided more substantial content for concepts I’d characterise as ’emerging’ and less mainstream. However, these are only initial impressions and are not based on a rigorous evaluation of the relative validity of the information provided.
As expected, Britannica and Wikipedia provided complementary information, which in itself is useful. Each had gaps and each had strengths. If Britannica makes its online version free to all (as some have predicted), it may be too late to compete with Wikipedia’s mass appeal but should allow it to retain a niche in the market.