The following is reposted from BoingBoing…
Shirky: Wikipedia is better than Brittanica on net-centric axes:
Clay Shirky’s posted more about Wikipedia on Many2Many, responding to danah boyd’s post about how Wikipedia won’t be an encylopedia. The thing Clay really nails this time in the idea that “new media don’t succeed because they’re like the old media, only better: they succeed because they’re worse than the old media at the stuff the old media is good at, and better at the stuff the old media are bad at.”
And of course, sometimes Wikipedia is better, since, as with the Indian Ocean tsunami example, Britannica simply has no offering. So, at the margin, a casual user who wants free access to a Web site that offers a communally-compiled and non-authoritative overview of a recent event will prefer the Wikipedia to nothing, which is what Britannica offers. In this case, Wikipedia comes out on top, and walking along several of those axes like cost, availability, topicality, and breadth of coverage, Wikipedia has the advantage, and in many cases, that advantage is increasing with time
Now Britannica doesn’t want this to be true (god, do they not want this to be true) and so they try to create litmus tests around authoritativeness—“WARNING: Do not read anything that does not come from an institutional source!” But this is as silly as audiophiles dismissing the MP3 format because it wasn’t an improvement in audio quality, missing entirely that the package of “moderate quality+improved cost and distribution” was what made the format great. Considering MP3 as nothing more than a lossy compression scheme missed the bundle of services that it enabled.