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Britannica have announced in their blog that they will open up their online encyclopedia to online contributions, placing them into direct competition with Wikipedia.

This new initiative will mean a complete redesign of the site. Under their current subscription model, only a small part of their content is published on the web. They intend to add editing tools and incentive programs to encourage expert contributors and users to contribute, expand and update the work. These contributions will be taken on board by the Britannica editing team and fact-checked before being added to 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.

Should Wikipedia be worried?

This is a direct challenge to their authority in the niche but Wikipedia has a substantial userbase. Britannica has been quite clever though in allowing more direct attribution to the contributors. While Wikipedians are nameless outside the core community, Britannica authors will receive full honors and accreditation.

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.

These terms are bound to appeal to many of the academics and serious core contributors of Wikipedia. Moreover, as the works are controlled by the contributing author it may eliminate the fustration of having to continually defend your material from other editors.

Opening up to the masses will greatly increase the volume of the website, again reducing the available real estate on popular SERPs. With Google placing so much stock in authority sites, Britannica is bound to do well. However, it’s not all bad news, allowing UGC on an authority site usually presents an opportunity for online marketers.

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Lead SEO, Group Optimisation at Vodafone. Founder at E3 Business Incubator, a consultancy group helping enterprises and start-ups. Digital strategist and veteran SEO/SEM. Views are my own and not representative of my employer (more).

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