Microsoft Encarta this week announced that it was adding the facility for users to suggest updates and revisions to its encyclopaedia articles. In the first post to its new blog Archived 2005-04-09 at the Wayback Machine, editorial director Gary Alt said that by allowing users to contribute to articles, the company hoped to combine the advantages of the traditional publishing model, "with its emphasis on fact-checking, consistency, readability, and objectivity" to the "enormous knowledge of our vast user base". Encarta program manager Aaron Patterson said they were interested in creating "a thriving community of people that are passionate about building a great reference source". Information on the new innovation can be found at Encarta's feedback page.
Every article in Encarta's online edition now has a link marked 'edit this article', as well as a form at the bottom for feedback other than suggested edits. Although the process has superficial similarities to the wiki editing process at Wikipedia, there are some fundamental differences.
Edits will not show up immediately, unlike "open-content encyclopedias found elsewhere on the Web", as Encarta's announcement puts it. Instead, suggestions will pass through a review process, with researchers checking the facts, an editor assessing readability and organization, and proofreaders ensuring conformity with the encyclopaedia's style guide. Encarta has employed graduate students from the University of Washington Information School as fact-checkers, and says it may consider expanding the pool of researchers to the Encarta community.
The encyclopaedia estimates that for a suggestion to go live would typically take several weeks, and longer for substantial suggestions. Encarta do not guarantee that any contribution will be adopted, and cannot notify users if or when their suggestions are adopted. The process currently only allows suggestions regarding existing articles, but the possibility of allowing users to suggest new articles is "under consideration for the future".
Encarta does not guarantee to attribute any suggestions it uses, and edits can be made anonymously, but users who provide a nickname may have their contribution noted on the encyclopaedia's "What's new" page.
A Wikinews article on the news from Microsoft contained an interview with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who said he doubted that the venture would pose any threat to Wikipedia's continually growing reputation. He was not convinced that many people would be tempted to make use of the new facilities, asking "Who wants to volunteer to make Microsoft even richer, when they can volunteer at Wikipedia and make the world a better place?". In a post on his blog, he noted the difference between submitting work for free distribution under the GFDL for Wikipedia, and signing away contributions for Microsoft's exclusive use. "I wonder what the most talented and dedicated people will choose. :-)", he said.
Wikipedians were also unpersuaded. In discussion on the wikipedia-l mailing list, Anthere said the review process was reminiscient of Nupedia's, while Pcb21 noted that the oblique reference on Encarta's feedback information page to "open-content encyclopedias found elsewhere on the Web" was "a not-so-subtle hint that this feature has been brought about by Wikipedia".
A thread on Slashdot discussed the news, with comments generally being unfavourable. Posts to Microsoft's blog on the topic were more varied. One user sarcastically said "Wow, letting users suggest changes to an encyclopedia is a really good idea. I'm surprised that no one else thought of this before!", while another said the idea was "a rip-off of Wikipedia". Other comments were more positive, with users saying it was "a really cool development", and "very interesting".