The president of Encyclopedia Britannica is living in a parallel dimension. After announcing that the company would cease printing of the EB, he still has to suggest that Wikipedia is an inferior product:
After 244 Years, Encyclopaedia Britannica Stops the Presses - Julie Bosman via NYTimes.com
Since it was started 11 years ago, Wikipedia has moved a long way toward replacing the authority of experts with the wisdom of the crowds. The site is now written and edited by tens of thousands of contributors around the world, and it has been gradually accepted as a largely accurate and comprehensive source, even by many scholars and academics.
Wikipedia also regularly meets the 21st-century mandate of providing instantly updated material. And it has nearly four million articles in English, including some on pop culture topics that would not be considered worthy of a mention in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Mr. Cauz said that he believed Britannica’s competitive advantage with Wikipedia came from its prestigious sources, its carefully edited entries and the trust that was tied to the brand.
“We have very different value propositions,” Mr. Cauz said. “Britannica is going to be smaller. We cannot deal with every single cartoon character, we cannot deal with every love life of every celebrity. But we need to have an alternative where facts really matter. Britannica won’t be able to be as large, but it will always be factually correct.”
But one widely publicized study, published in 2005 by Nature, called into question Britannica’s presumed accuracy advantage over Wikipedia. The study said that out of 42 competing entries, Wikipedia made an average of four errors in each article, and Britannica three. Britannica responded with a lengthy rebuttal saying the study was error-laden and “completely without merit.”
Forget the error rate: what about the fundamental concept of being as broad as possible? Is there something wrong with having an entry for every single cartoon character of all time? Cauz is making the implicit case that some facts are not of interest to the educated elite. But the inexorable collapse of the EB is just another place where centralized decision making — editors deciding that Pepe LePew is unworthy of being memorialized — fails when confronted by a distributed horde making individual decisions.