Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Is Encyclopædia Britannica Really Ready for the Digital Age?

Today the editors of Encyclopædia Britannica used their blog to post the discontinuation of their print edition and establish themselves strictly in the online domain.  As I discovered in a post of my own from April of 2008, this is not the first time that Encyclopædia Britannica has tried to take on Wikipedia on the basis of quality of content.  Nevertheless, I suspect that Britannica has a long way to go, at least as far as my personal needs are concerned.

Once again, the editors are trying to lure eyeballs through a free access offer.  Once again, I have taken them up on their offer.  Bearing in mind that I always design particularly challenging tests, I still feel my first experience was a telling one.  Because I happened to be chatting about him last night at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, I decided that György Kurtág’s name would make a good test case.  I used only his last name, typing it first without the accent.  The bottom line is that Britannica could not find a match for his name either with or without the accent.  What made this pathetic, rather than merely sad, however, is that the search without the accent turned up a Google Ad for CDs of this composer’s music available through!

In other words Google Ads knows more about Kurtág than Britannica does!  Meanwhile, even with the inadequacies explicitly cited by the Wikipedia editors, the Wikipedia entry for Kurtág is as good a place to begin looking for background on this composer as any (unless, like myself, you can get access to Grove Music Online with your library card).  Yes, Britannica has a tradition of employing quality writers to provide material for their entries;  but, while I am not fan of crowdsourcing, I fear that, whatever their aspirations, Britannica just cannot keep up with the “knowledge explosion.”

Indeed, it would appear that Britannica cannot even muster editorial quality when presenting themselves.  Consider this “infographic” included on another one of today’s blog posts:
This is as sloppy as it is jumbled.  Would you really want to give these guys your eyeballs?

1 comment:

Julie.T said...

The ease of "browsing" through a set of encyclopedias when I was in my early school years is what I think the youth of today have already or will lose. Like paging through a National Geographic magazine and discovering new and different things you could never imagine to search for, the encyclopedia provided immediate access to varied content. You pulled one off the shelf, never knowing what it contained, and always found something of interest as you paged through the volumes of interesting facts and information.
i hope they can duplicate that experience on-line. I will be checking how well they have done.
I use wiki all the time but I know what I am looking for, the wandering wonder world of youth may not know what to search for and may need what we experienced in the "pedia", exploring the world "at your fingertips" with just the flip of a page.