The ‘pedia fight in 20 volumes

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and Dale Hoiberg, editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Britannica, engage in an entertaining smackdown over at the Wall Street Journal. I give the match to Wales. Let’s go to the videotape:

Mr. Hoiberg: No, we don’t publish rough drafts. We want our articles to be correct before they are published. We stand behind our process, based on trained editors and fact-checkers, more than 4,000 experts, and sound writing. Our model works well. Wikipedia is very different, but nothing in their model suggests we should change what we do.

Mr. Wales: Fitting words for an epitaph…

But it’s a shame we’re not past this us-v-them narrative in the worlds of Wikipedia, encyclopedias, and shared knowledge. Newspapers are finally starting — just starting — to figure out how to work together. How should the publishers and the people in this world work together?

Sometime ago, I suggested that if I were a publisher, I’d piggyback onto Wikipedia and put effort into vetting articles there in what Fred Wilson called the Redhat version of Wikipedia.

If I were a reference publisher, a library association, a university, a media company, or a foundation, I’d take Wikipedia as raw material and vet entries, perhaps even charging for the service: On demand or on the basis of traffic and links, I’d go in and vet already-written pieces and bless that version of it. Then maybe I’d publish a book from it. Subsequent changes would be unvetted until and unless I chose to or the audience asked me to review them.

So that’s what I would do starting from Wikipedia. Britannica could use the work of Wikipedia and its experts to create the world’s largest vetted encyclopedia. If only it opened itself up to the possibilities.

And starting from Britannica? Well, they could put up the encyclopedia as a wiki and invite people to correct it, add to it, to propose articles that aren’t there but ought to be. They could turn it into something the community cares about, instead of merely buys.

Or they could just keep being pissy.

(Link fixed now)