Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Britannica vs. Wikipedia

The Wall Street Journal had a little A-frame article on a recent spat between the makers of the Encyclopedia Britannica and the publishers of Nature, a major science journal. Nature published a study comparing Britannica to Wikipedia, with a panel of independent scholars evaluating articles in each and pointing out errors, inaccuracies, or other issues with the articles. They found that the two were quite close in their quality, especially on scientific topics. They still gave Britannica a slight edge, but it was clear that Wikipedia was probably good enough for most mortals, with the obvious benefits that: a) it's free; b) if you find something wrong, you can always fix it.

In full discloser, I'm a big Wikipedia fan. Or I should say, my son is a huge Wikipedia fan, and I became an avid user in the process. I give them money, I think their so amazing. The most impressive thing is that the Wikipedia didn't even exist five years ago, and now it's going toe-to-toe with a company that's been in the business for over two hundred years. With volunteer labor, to boot.

Part of my appreciation for it stems from the fact that it's such a feel-good story. It's about people freely sharing their knowledge and efforts with the world to create something stunningly beautiful and powerful. I seriously think the Wikipedia should be considered one of the Wonders of the World, because I can't think of a better tribute to human creativity and collective effort. It also gives me hope that an uncredentialed private scholar like myself can actually get a venue that's read, without going back to school or playing the games of academia.

But what I found most interesting about this story was how Britannica took it. They were seething. They mailed letters to librarians. They took out full-page ads in big newspapers to denounce the Nature study. They demanded that Nature retract the article and publish an apology. I'm sure somebody at Britannica said, "This is it. If we take this lying down, we're dead. No one will buy another encyclopedia again." And yet, it was exactly the wrong thing to do. They look so freaking weak.


Blogger raka said...

Me too big time Wiki fan, half my homeworks in grad school get done because of Wiki.

12:05 AM  

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