Encyclopedia Britannica Steps Into the Spotlight

Not too long ago, I remember when every parent wanted to exhibit an organized stack of neatly bound heavy encyclopedia volumes on their living room library shelves. It was a social status-making must in many Panama households as recently as the 1990s. The preferred encyclopedias were Britannica or Grolier. This was before the Wikipedia was born.

For some companies—like Britannica—it was a technological discontinuity that caused all the trouble. This is what happened to Wang in word processing, and to Atari and later Sega in video games, when the next wave of technology superseded the old. The venerated Encyclopedia Britannica was knocked off its proud pedestal almost overnight by something as banal as Microsoft Encarta, when a simple CD-ROM displaced a shelf-filling set of printed volumes. The invention of the CD-ROM enabled easy cutting and pasting of encyclopedia content for students focused on speed and ease of search.

Then came grassroots Wikipedia Encyclopedia. The popularity of free-anyone-can-edit Wikipedia has made academia’s battle against encyclopedia referencing–and the publishing industry’s effort to sell reference material—tougher than ever. Britannica’s days were counted.

In an attempt to take back its authoritative presence in the industry, Britannica is offering “people who publish with some regularity on the Internet, be they bloggers, Webmasters, or writers,” free access to Britannica’s online content, with registration. In addition, they also announced last Friday a service called Britannica Widgets, with which bloggers can “post an entire cluster of related Encyclopaedia Britannica articles” for free.

To use the widgets, anyone can now “copy and paste the several lines of code associated with each widget as HTML into the appropriate place on your site,” Tom of Britannica WebShare wrote in a post. “Any readers who click on a link will get the entire Britannica article on the subject, even if access to the article normally requires a subscription Really. Try it.”.

This is what Britannica wrote at their site:

“All of us at Encyclopaedia Britannica are very pleased to introduce WebShare, a new initiative that lets web publishers and bloggers link to Britannica articles. Your readers will be able to follow those links without an account.”

“This program is intended for people who publish with some regularity on the Internet, be they bloggers, webmasters, or writers. We reserve the right to deny participation to anyone who in our judgment doesn’t qualify.”

Britannica WebShare is a program that makes it easy for Web publishers to use the information in the Encyclopedia Britannica for their own research and to share it by providing their readers easy access to individual articles.

Anyone who publishes regularly on the Internet—bloggers, webmaster, and writers who publish on the Web–is eligible for a free subscription to Britannica Online, which includes the entire Encyclopedia Britannica as well as other encyclopedias, an atlas, a dictionary, thesaurus, links to valuable Web sites selected by Britannica’s editors and then some.

What’s more, anyone with a Web site can link to a Britannica article—or multiple articles—and readers who click on the links will see the articles in their entirety, even if the article is normally available only to paying subscribers. How about them green apples?

The process is simple—sign up, give them a site URL, and description, and then wait while they review you to see if you’re suitable. Sounds like fun.

If successful, you can then read the full articles on the site, and even embed pages from the Britannica. If you link from your site to an article, people can click and read that one article, but won’t be able to view any other pages.

My blog—Lingua Franca—was accepted in less than two hours. I can now use the two most powerful reference sources anywhere totally free. If you are interested in taking advantage of this unique promotion, please click here to make your free subscription solicitation. Good luck!

7 thoughts on “Encyclopedia Britannica Steps Into the Spotlight”

  1. Hello virtualnexus:

    No, I haven’t seen these videos before.  I just saw them and have many ideas floating in my head.  For example, I always took Google for granted.  Now I wonder about the danger of having all the information in the world under one roof.  It’s kind of scary.

    The topic of expert knowledge versus amateur knowledge is very relevant in our Information Age.  Questioning the quality of Wikipedia versus Britannica is a healthy intellectual exercise.  Also addressing the convenience of knowledge elitism versus knowledge democracy is controversial with its own pros and cons.

    Andrew Keen’s points of view on the fragmentation of the industrial massive society is interesting, as well as the arguments of the publishers and editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica on expert elitism.  Each side has strong and weak points.  The sixty thousand dollar question is “Where is the Truth?”

    Thanks for both links.  You have contributed in inducing me to put on my thinking cap for today.



  2. Pleased these were of interest. I intend to buy Keen’s polemic.

    Something this vast can’t be all bad, but it sounds like there’s certainly a lot of unpalatable truth in what Keen is saying.

  3. Hi virtualnexus:

    The ancients Greeks used to say that after a discussion comes the light. Analyzing the pros and cons on both sides of the aisle is useful to critical thinking.

    Your idea of buying Keen’s book sounds great. Yesterday I was looking for information on Apple’s MacBook Air and used Britannica and Wikipedia as my sources.

    Wikipedia gave me everything I needed. Britannica none. Wikipedia’s information was validated with Apple’s website and all the information was factual.

    I think some of the bashing on Wikipedia is unfair. They have a dark side with fishy information, but not everything they publish is crap.

    Thank you for your comments.


  4. Hi webmaster – This is by far the best looking site I’ve seen. It was completely easy to navigate and it was easy to look for the information I needed. Fantastic layout and great content! Every site should have that. Awesome job

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