Many thanks to Hiawatha Bray of the Boston Globe for this story today about Britannica’s new editorial-feedback feature.
Posts Tagged ‘new britannica site’
The redesigned Britannica site announced in our blog post last month is now live. Please bear in mind that at this point the site represents simply a new look and organization created to make way for the collaborative features described in that post, which are still to come. You’ll start seeing those features a few at a time in the weeks and months ahead. Please stay tuned, and give us any thoughts and suggestions you have. Constructive ones are most welcome.
You can click below for a virtual tour of the new site. Click here to see a richer version of the same thing.
Today we’re posting here and on the Britannica Blog a somewhat detailed overview of the new site that we will launch shortly. Instead of repeating those details here, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you how we see the future development of this site and how it fits into the current Internet publishing environment.
Much has been said lately about the collaborative nature of creating, documenting, and sharing knowledge. What is surprising about this discussion is that for some people this process seems possible only now because of the interactivity of the Internet. Others, including us at Britannica, take a different perspective, one that has historical roots. For us, the creation and documentation of knowledge has always been best achieved, and sometimes only achieved, through an intensely collaborative process.
At Britannica, for example, we’ve been working for 240 years at creating, documenting and sharing knowledge through a process in which thousands of expert contributors and dozens if not hundreds of editors work daily to produce factually correct, objective, well written, and up-to-date encyclopedia entries. Our readers have also played an important part in this process. For many years we have received and answered letters in which they have shared their points of view with us or suggested specific improvements. Recently, the volume of comments we get from readers has intensified through the direct feedback system on our site and by regular email.
So for us collaboration is not something new; it is not something we consider daring or experimental. It is something we’ve always done in creating Encyclopaedia Britannica. Obviously, we share with many the view that the Internet brings significant opportunities to make this collaborative process more inclusive, and that by doing so we will not only improve the quality of our content but also increase its reach and relevance. It should not be a surprise then that among the main objectives of our new site are to make it very easy for our contributors, other scholars, and regular readers to engage with our content by suggesting improvements to our editors; and to provide the editing tools they need to create and share their own content at the site.
The Consequences of Listening to Experts
But there are significant differences between our approach and what is popularly termed “Web 2.0.” First, and most important, we believe that the creation and documentation of knowledge is a collaborative process but not a democratic one, and this has at least three consequences.
The first one is ownership. Here I am not referring to copyright ownership but to owning the responsibility that comes with having created or documented a set of ideas or a body of knowledge. That someone is, or should be, responsible for what he or she writes and shares with others is not a new idea. It has long been part of who and what we are as humans. At the new Britannica site, we will welcome and facilitate the increased participation of our contributors, scholars, and regular users, but we will continue to accept all responsibility of what we write under our name. We are not abdicating our responsibility as publishers or burying it under the now-fashionable “wisdom of the crowds.”
The second consequence of our collaborative-but-not-democratic approach is that we recognize the voices and powers of experts. The plan for the new site goes to great lengths to increase the relationships we have with thousands of our current contributors as well as with new experts recommended or identified by the user community. We are calling this larger group our new “community of scholars.” To this special group we will provide a set of editing tools, promotional and community features, and incentive plans for them to engage with Britannica content as well as a place at the site for them to publish directly and under their own names for other Britannica users. This content created by the community of scholars will be controlled by each individual creator, and they will be responsible for deciding what feedback they accept or reject from those reading their work.
Finally, the third consequence of this approach is objectivity, and it requires experts. Certainly, objectivity is difficult to attain, but we’re committed to it. We believe that to provide lively and intelligent coverage of complex subjects requires experts and knowledgeable editors who can make astute judgments that cut through the cacophony of competing and often confusing viewpoints on a topic. In contrast to our approach, democratic systems settle for something bland and less informative, what is sometimes termed a “neutral point of view.”
Desire to Share and Participate is Strong
We also know that there are many Britannica users who, although they may not be experts in a given field, are interested in spreading knowledge and information and sharing their contributions to that effort with others. The new site will make it easy for our users to do so by making the Britannica content available for them to quote, modify, save under their name, and share it with others at the site. So regular users not only will be able to submit their suggestions to the editors of Britannica, but also create their own content or modify Britannica’s coverage under their own names and share the results with others in a special section of the site. We believe that by allowing our users the flexibility of using existing Britannica content, properly quoting or modifying it, and by doing so under their names, we will not only facilitate their ability to learn more about that topic, but also inspire in them the responsibility that comes with having created a new treatment under their name.
As we launch this important new project at Britannica, we realize that not everything will run smoothly. This new approach in publishing and engaging communities has required us to rethink almost all of our internal procedures and to invest significantly in editorial and technology resources. We apologize beforehand for any temporary malfunction that our users may experience as the new features and tools are launched in the coming weeks and months. But most important, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to participate, to help us with your ideas about how to fulfill our mission to improve the understanding of ourselves and the universe in which we live.
Please look at the new site now in beta testing, read about the plans we have for the weeks and months ahead, and let us know what you think. And stay with us and join us as we gradually introduce the new features.
More Participation and Collaboration from Experts and Readers
Encyclopaedia Britannica is about to launch a new initiative that we’re very enthusiastic about. The main thrust of this initiative is to promote greater participation by both our expert contributors and readers. Both groups will be invited to play a larger role in expanding, improving, and maintaining the information we publish on the Web under the Encyclopaedia Britannica name as well as in sharing content they create with other Britannica visitors. A complete redesign, editing tools, and incentive programs will give expert contributors and users the means to take part in the further improvement of Encyclopaedia Britannica and in the creation and publication of their own work.
These efforts not only will improve the scope and quality of Encyclopaedia Britannica, but they’ll also allow expert contributors and readers to supplement this content with their own. The result will be a place with broader and more relevant coverage for information seekers and a welcoming community for scholars, experts, and lay contributors.
The planning of this service is almost finished, and we’ve been working on its implementation for a few months now. We are far enough along in the process to tell you about it today and invite your comments. Here are its main features. (We’ve also included thumbnail images of select features from the new site. Click to enlarge them if you’d like to get an idea of what each feature will look like.)
The Britannica Online site will become the hub of a new online community that will welcome and engage thousands of scholars and experts with whom we already have relationships. Encyclopaedia Britannica has long been written by a community of scholars from all over the world, and this distinguished group of people has always been one of our greatest assets. Today it is possible to increase the strength and size of this community online and to provide its members with incentives to become involved with Britannica on a more sustained and consistent basis.
To elicit their participation in our new online community of scholars, we will provide our contributors with a reward system and a rich online home that will enable them to promote themselves, their work, and their services; allow them to showcase and publish their various works-in-progress in front of the Britannica audience; and help them find and interact with colleagues around the world. In this way our online community of scholars not only will be able to interact with our editors and content in a more effective manner; they will also be able to share directly with Britannica’s visitors content that they may have created outside Encyclopaedia Britannica and will allow those visitors to suggest changes and additions to that content.
As part of our longstanding tradition, engaging a prominent community of scholars will continue to be a key requirement. With this new site and initiatives we will be able to recruit new members beyond our current contributor base, through recommendations from existing contributors, applications from expert communities, and by inviting select members of our user community.
Readers and users will also be invited into an online community where they can work and publish at Britannica’s site under their own names. Interested users will be able to prepare articles, essays, and multimedia presentations on subjects in which they’re interested. Britannica will help them with research and publishing tools and by allowing them to easily use text and non-text material from Encyclopaedia Britannica in their work. We will publish the final products on our site for the benefit of all readers, with all due attribution and credit to the people who created them. The authors will have the option of collaborating with others on their work, but each author will retain control of his or her own work.
Encyclopaedia Britannica will continue to form the core base of knowledge and information on the site, though the material created by contributors and the user community, which each member will control and be credited for, will be published alongside the encyclopedia. Encyclopaedia Britannica itself will continue to be edited according to the most rigorous standards and will bear the imprimatur “Britannica Checked” to distinguish it from material on the site for which Britannica editors are not responsible.
However, our new editing tools, user interface and reward system will facilitate and motivate expert contributors and readers alike to suggest text changes, updates, photos, videos, bibliographies, Web links and other reference materials and improvements to Encyclopaedia Britannica itself. All such suggestions will be considered by editors, and if they’re found to have merit they’ll be fact-checked and vetted before they’re published. Anyone whose contributions are accepted for publication will be credited in detailed article-history pages in the encyclopedia.
Two things we believe distinguish this effort from other projects of online collaboration are (1) the active involvement of the expert contributors with whom we already have relationships; and (2) the fact that all contributions to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s core content will continue to be checked and vetted by our expert editorial staff before they’re published.
In this way we aim to leverage the power of the Internet to integrate the work of many people in a common project and on a large scale, but without relinquishing the editorial oversight that makes Britannica’s content trustworthy.
The Britannica Online Web site has been redesigned to prepare for the introduction of these new features, and while the redesigned site is not finished, we would like to give you a glimpse of it now and invite your thoughts and feedback. You can preview the new site, which is still in beta testing, at http://www.britannica.com/bps/home. A portion of the people who visit Britannica Online today are being routed to this site and are using it now; soon it will replace our current site at www.britannica.com entirely, and the new features we have described above will be introduced in the weeks and months ahead.
[Please see comments related to this post by Jorge Cauz, president of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.]