Mr. Cauz, Tear Down This Wall

Britannica content wants to be free

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Fans of general resource material likely had mixed emotions about Encyclopedia Britannica president Jorge Cauz’s announcement and subsequent fightin’ words this week. Adding public editing Britannica.com is an exciting step, but bloviated rips on Wikipedia was all ooh and no ahh.

That’s because there’s no need after all (for us, Google, or Wikipedia) to feel defensive—any thunder Cauz could bring down is still a long way out.

Remember Scrappy Doo? Don’t know why I bring him up. Just thought of him for some reason.

To jog your memory, along with the baby-steps into Web 2.0 announcement, Cauz harshly criticized Google for giving Wikipedia such high authority in the search results. "Is this the best they can do? Is this the best that [their] algorithm can do?" he asked.

Cauz and his britannican company have long looked down their nose at the crowd-sourced wisdom of Wikipedia. And that, as always, has been a fair criticism. But while this week’s scrappy comments served to get his website a lot of attention, that may be all they get if Britannica stays locked behind a paid subscription wall.

So, smart on the publicity front, even if, once the opposition squints and gets a good look—way down there—they just faintly feel the waft of hot air rising.

Here’s why: According to Hitwise, Wikipedia gets almost 97 percent of encyclopedia traffic on the Web. MSN’s Encarta, Encyclopedia.com, and Fact Monster combined grab very nearly the three percent remaining, and Britannica is in fifth place with 0.57 percent of encyclopedia traffic. The average session at Wikipedia is ten minutes, compared to under three minutes at Britannica.

And while he’s busy complaining about the all the authoritative love Google gives Wikipedia, Cauz is ignoring that Britannica gets darn near half of its traffic via Google search. That’s likely due to generous relevancy placing on Google’s part because Britannica has been around for a couple of centuries.

But what Britannica lacks, and will continue lack with a subscription wall, are links, which Hitwise’s Heather Hopkins so deftly notes:

”In order to compete with Wikipedia in the Google SERP, Britannica needs to build up inbound links. If content is locked up behind the paid content walls, people will be much more likely to link to other websites with free content (such as that available on Wikipedia).”

So what it boils down to is we have Cauz blaming Google for Cauz’s own misunderstanding of how the web publishing world and Google works. Granted, Jimmy Wales has to beg for money periodically to stay afloat. But this is just one Wikipedia weakness that could be exploited if Cauz had more brains than lip.

In addition to the automatic advantage of name recognition, Britannica can add credibility and standards to the online encyclopedia game where Wikipedia refuses, and, drawing enough of a crowd, can make money via advertising and other revenue models where Wikipedia also refuses.

Wikipedia’s not perfect, neither is Google. But Britannica’s got a lot of basic SEO work and catching up to do before jealous presidential lampoons come close to hitting the mark.    


Mr. Cauz, Tear Down This Wall
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