Encyclopedia Britannica has unveiled what could possibly be the biggest revolution in its 241 years old story as it plans to take on Wikipedia on its own turf and allow external contributors to shape the content on the online knowledge website.
The new features have already been rolled out on Britannica's website and will allow registered users to make corrections, add new sections although, unlike Wikipedia, Britannica's system is more rigid with the organisation's own editors and staff ultimately approving any changes.
Users will have to register first with their real names and addresses before being given editing rights, a move that is similar to Google Knol's editing requirements.
Readers will also be able to view the list of all people who have contributed to an article. Britannica did publish a complete list of features that users can expect back in June 2008 on their blog.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald last week, Jorge Cauz, President of Encyclopedia Britannica said that edits would be evaluated and implemented within 20 minutes although they might have to reassess their turnover cycle depending on user feedback.
Cauz also criticised Google for pushing Wikipedia near the top for any generic search engine result pages adding, "If I were to be the CEO of Google or the founders of Google I would be very [unhappy] that the best search engine in the world continues to provide as a first link, Wikipedia"
Britannica faces Google's own Knol and Wikipedia as well as a number of newcomers like Answers.com which try to organise, rather than create, knowledge.
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We are intrigued by Britannica's decision. Some might say that it will allow the online encyclopedia to catch up with the rest of the competition while others will say that it is the only of the three big to be a pure commercial venture. Many of the changes made online will find their way in the printed version of the encyclopedia which will be published every two years and retails for a whopping $1149.