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Online Encyclopedias: Wikipedia Still Rules!

An encyclopedia is must for first hand information on anything we want to learn. We frequently come across various terms and concepts which we are not familiar with and then try to get some information about it.

For over a century people have relied upon Britannica Encyclopedia, which for many is still the Gold standard in this field. However, the ease of search on internet has spoilt our habit and we have sacrificed accuracy of knowledge in favor of what satisfy us fast and easily.

To fulfill this need  of fast and free content on the internet were born several online versions of encyclopedia. First one which I could trace was MSN Encarta, which though was not free, effectively, took the attention off from Britannica Encyclopedia. MSN Encarta closed completely in 2009.

First genuine attempt to create truly free encyclopedia on the web came in the form of Nupedia, which reincarnated as Wikipedia in 2001. This open source, free to read and edit encyclopedia has more or less  established itself as a good resource and despite its inherent limitations it just can’t be ignored.

However, Wikipedia has been criticized for its inaccuracies, bureaucracy , polluting the web with anonymous false facts, providing platform for criminals to publish illegal misinformation, and for what people have termed it –“The Single Most Dangerous Website on the Internet”.

To fix its inaccuracies and inherent problems with wikipedia, its co-founder Larry Sanger, started Citizendium. Citizendium aims for the articles to reach an approved status, accorded by its editorial team. They are also known for verifying the actual credentials of the editors. However, it has been learnt that it is more bureaucratic and reportedly the environment there is more uncivil than wikipedia. Some users have even complained that Sanger himself is the most abusive person there. As a result it could not grow as per expectations and with time number of users have drastically come down. It has also been learnt that it has been into financial crisis too.

If you want a very high standard of reliable content, then Scholarpedia may be the right option for you. This encyclopedia can be edited only by people with proven credentials. You shall have to apply for becoming an editor there and you would be approved to edit the topics which they consider you fit for. Given its structure, its growth is very limited and slow, and doesn’t offer you content on all kind of topics.

The most serious competitor of Wikipedia ever was and possibly is to the present day is, Google’s Knol. Although, it had been perceived as Wikipedia Killer initially, there is no immediate threat to wikipedia from this. Google has done little for this project except for allocating a server and bunch of softwares. The project suffers critically from Google’s indifferent attitude and has been frustrating enough to compel its best contributors to leave the project. Shortly few months before there were rumors about Google going to shut down this program. Despite all speculations Google’s Knol is still there, though they are not paying any attention to enforce the terms of services on users there because of alleged lack of interest and human resources from Google. As a result of which it has become spammers’ paradise.

Google Knol’s structure provided some definite edge over wikipedia and other similar sites. It has no bureaucracy and you can write alone or in team. Some of the knol members had formed Knol Publishing Guild, which promoted a value system among knol writers. To display its badge, one needed to have got approved after writing a bio knol and shown some degree of proficiency on the subject. It is all history now. After Google itself donated to Wikipedia recently, users have taken it as a sign of disinterest from the side of Google. Several knol writers have started feeling that Google is slowly killing this project. So, unless Google shows some major sign of revamping the system, it is taken as- dying a slow death.

Apart from Citizendium and Google Knol, no encyclopedia or anything like that has wikipedia like ambition. Though it is too early to write off either Knol or Citizendium, it looks less likely that they would be competing with Wikipedia in near future.

P.S.----> Google to Shut Down Knol, officially reported on 11/22/2011 01:40:00 PM.

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