Britannica has announced the rather inevitable inclusion of reader suggestions under the banner of “more participation, collaboration from experts and readers“. Disruptions and innovations either carve out an entirely new field, or they are co-opted by existing fields – consider the blogs that are now common on almost every newspaper website or the ireporter feature at CNN. I applaud Britannica’s decision to encourage more participation from readers. I’m not convinced it will be successful, however. A wikipedia edit has the gratification of immediacy. From the description of Britannica’s initiative, a period of time is required before edits are incorporated. That might not be a huge issue for people who are passionate about the topic.
But, participation is only part of the appeal of Wikipedia. Access is the biggest element. A Google search for “quick and dirty” information is the biggest value I find with Wikipedia. I signed up – and paid – for a Britannica subscription last year. The interface was awkward, the search feature didn’t provide results as useful as Google’s, and the need to sign in was a pain. If Britannica wishes to succeed with this initiative, it has to not only solve the participation problem, but also the Google problem of quick search and ease of access to Wikipedia.