Yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran an excellent debate between the founder of WikiPedia and the Senior VP of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. For me there is no contest. WikiPedia is free. You can’t beat free, I’ve tried. It’s huge. It has many more entries than Brittanica. Brittanica claims to be more authoritative because it is written and edited by experts. The fact is, WikiPedia has proven to be good enough for almost all of the instances that I’ve used it. The death knell for Brittanica though is their arrogance. They decide what is important for you to know and worthy for them to print. That’s just not good enough in the internet age. Here are a few examples.
A few days ago, I wanted to refresh my memory and confirm that the David Bowie song Five Years was the opening track to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (it is). The WikiPedia entry for the album has track listing, the story arc of the album, and a description of its significance. It seemed awfully authoritative, whether or not it was written by an expert. A search at the Encyclopedia Brittanica leads to two articles, one on Bowie, the other to “glam rock”. The bulk of both articles, which based on word count were likely to reference the album in passing only, is hidden in a pay area. Winner: WikiPedia.
Here’s a completely juvenile example, but it was something I wanted to know. I came across an acronym, UFIA, on the news aggregater site Fark.com. WikiPedia told me what it meant (scroll down to “cliches”). Brittanica can’t be bothered. Winner: WikiPedia.
Some might argue that on scholarly subjects Brittanica would reign supreme. I doubt it. For a work project, I needed to get my hands on some specific information about trichloroethylene quickly. Rather than pull a reference book off my shelf, I looked it up on WikiPedia. Everything that I needed was right there. I was even able to legally cut and paste some reaction information directly into the document that I was working on. That’s the understanding that WikiPedia and I have. Looking up the same search term now on Brittanica’s site, their entry is a whopping 155 words. Half of which are hidden behind a pay user wall. Winner: WikiPedia.
There you have it. From my extremely limited sampling pool, WikiPedia has you covered for science or juvenile shennanigans.