An interesting give-and-take between Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia and Dale Hoiberg, editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Britannica on the Wall Street Journal website—Will Wikipedia Mean the End Of Traditional Encyclopedias? - WSJ.com. It is a fascinating give-and-take about the values of Wikipedia's open editing system versus Encyclopedia Britannica's closed system of editors and fact checkers.
In my mind, this is a battle between dead-wood publishing versus electronic publishing, even though Britannica is now available online. The difference between the two is that you need to pay to access Britannica's full source material while Wikipedia's content is totally free. People, especially kids in school want information rapidly and are not going to sit still for getting abbreviated content unless they can pay. Consider this course for e-commerce. Here is the free content from Encyclopedia Britannica and here is the content from Wikepedia.
The drawback with Encyclopedia Britannica's entry is that it provides only 75 of the full 683 word entry. You have to pay for anything more. There is a free trial, but then afterwards its $69.95 a year.
Wikipedia offers over 3,000 words but its drawback is that it does not offer any references or sources., but there are links to a host of related terms used within the document. And that is Hoiberg's chief charge against Wikipedia. Because it is open to anyone to edit, there is the threat of "vandalism" from purposely posting erroneous data.
My gut feeling is that the pay for information business model of the Encyclopedia Britannica is never going to survive. People will rely on the free Wikipedia more and more. And the key to using this data is to rely on the old consumer warning Caveat emptor.