Former Wall Street Journal publisher (and current SAI investor) Gordon Crovitz makes the case:
In 1993, Microsoft launched an innovative multimedia encyclopedia, Encarta, delivered through CD-ROM. It nearly put the Encyclopaedia Britannica out of business. Last week, Microsoft announced that it will close Encarta down.
Encarta could not compete with Wikipedia, which plays by different rules, using the online medium to beat earlier encyclopedias at their own mission. Created and maintained by anonymous people around the world, Wikipedia is by far the biggest and most popular encyclopedia ever. Despite being created by amateurs, it has the potential to become the most professional.
This may be a startling claim. There are infamous inaccuracies…
But Wikipedia is quietly transforming itself into a hybrid of amateurs and professionals. Anyone can create entries — it has 10 million articles in 253 languages — but the ultimate editing is increasingly done by well-trained researchers. This trend is important because by some measures Wikipedia is in the top five Web sites, it is often the top result on Google searches, and it gets 97% of traffic to online encyclopedias… Keep reading >
There are many possible definitions of “better,” and Britannica will presumably cling to one of them for a while. But in one sense, Gordon’s already right. Britannica is irrelevant.