Saturday, May 10, 2008

Evaluating Britannica

Engraving of Ann Eliza Bleecker, a socialite and noted poet of New York, United States during the 18th centuryAnn Eliza Bleecker
via Wikimedia Commons
Some readers may recall that I was granted Encyclopedia Britannica access a while back, I described it here, and gave a possible gotcha (actually two, one relating to edit mechanics, and one relating to content licensing) here.

In the meantime I haven't been using it all that much, partly because it is not as well integrated in with Zemanta as referencing Wikipedia is, and partly because of the gotchas I describe.

On a whim, I decided to do a little test. Ann Eliza Bleecker was a writer and poet of the American Revolutionary era, who became famous after her death for the epistolary novel Maria Kittle, an important advancement of the then burgeoning captivity narrative genre.

"Historians today read Bleecker's stories and letters to gain a vivid perspective of war on the frontier, as recorded by an articulate, but terrified, young mother" (quoting from the Library Company site)

Presumably a fairly important person, right? Wikipedia until recently did not have an article on her at all. Now, Wikipedia does have a good one (I admit bias here, my wife did much of the work, starting from nothing to get the article to where it is now, and I helped a little... she also put up the text of Maria Kittle on Wikisource).

Britannica should have blown the doors off Wikipedia here, by having an article on her as well, right? And should have had it all along, right?

So I searched. (don't know if this link will work for you or not) Turns out, they do not have one.

At all.
Admiral Stephen B. Luce, United States Navy.Stephen Bleecker Luce
Wikimedia Commons

The only American figure named Bleecker I could find in Britannica was Stephen Bleecker Luce, an admiral, editor and founder of the Naval War College. Here's the Britannia link, and here's the Wikipedia link. To my eye, the Wikipedia article is a BIT more comprehensive but they are about the same quality level just judging on appearance.

But no Ann Eliza

So what does that prove? I don't know. It's just a random sample. But I was surprised. I figured I would find a great article in Britannica. I didn't. One or two articles prove nothing, but anecdotally, it does show that at least for this one article (and the other one I wasn't looking for), Wikipedia is at this point, about 6 or so years in, more comprehensive.

What do you think? Fluke? or does this bear out in your observations? If you suggest an article or two to compare, maybe in a future post I'll do another sampling.

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