Sunday, April 29, 2007

Encyclopedia Britannica: Not Obsolete

I love Wikipedia. It's a modern phenomenon that has changed the way we think about reference sources. But those who try to compare Wikipedia to traditional encyclopedias are missing a central point: just as movies have not rendered novels obsolete, Wikipedia will not displace Encyclopedia Britannica. They have different niches. I use both frequently.

I subscribe to Encyclopedia Britannica's online service for $10 a month. This gives me access to the full articles online, some of which have been written by influential figures in many genres. Case in point: the article on money (25 pages in the paid full edition, but you get a one-page summary for free) was co-written by Milton Friedman, and is well worth reading.

Of course, Wikipedia's article on money contains the basic facts about money, and is full of links for further inquiry (Milton Friedman among them.) But the Britannica article is a wonderful primer on the history of currency and the modern monetary system, with a cohesiveness missing in the Wikipedia version. Sometimes an article written from one or two points of view is extremely valuable, especially considering who the author is. Britannica has many articles written by prominent figures.

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