Last week, Jimmy Wales appeared at a press conference with the head of the firm that produces the Brockhaus encyclopedia. The meeting was basically a polite exchange of ideas and builds on previous contacts between the German chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation and Brockhaus.
The conference featured a discussion between Wales and Alexander Bob, CEO of the Bibliographisches Institute & F.A. Brockhaus AG, publisher of the leading German encyclopedia. Also present was Klaus Holoch, press spokesperson for Brockhaus. The event was sponsored by Wissenschafts-Pressekonferenz e.V. and held last Wednesday at the offices of the Axel Springer publishing house in Hamburg.
The discussion was moderated by Marcus Franken, a journalist and member of the sponsoring organization. About 20 other journalists were present, as was Ralf Szymanski, the head of Directmedia Publishing, which recently released the German Wikipedia on DVD (see archived story).
After a brief introduction to the Wikipedia project, the topic turned to quality control issues and whether each organization viewed the other as a competitor. Both Wales and Bob agreed that the primary goal was to produce high-quality content, and generally indicated that the two encyclopedias were not so much competition as complementary products. While Wikipedia has the advantages of being cheaper and quicker to update, Brockhaus emphasizes its long tradition and a uniform editorial policy to ensure its quality. In discussing the question of Wikipedia's reliability, Bob pointed to the recent publicity surrounding disputed edits to Wikipedia articles about the candidates in a recent German regional election (see archived story).
Wales said he had changed his mind on the question of whether the business models of existing encyclopedia publishers could coexist with Wikipedia. He indicated that the Encyclopædia Britannica had already suffered from competing with Encarta and was scared of Wikipedia. In contrast, he felt Brockhaus had withstood the challenge of Encarta more successfully than Britannica, and thus felt less threatened and more open to dialogue.
Meanwhile, the question was raised for Brockhaus of how timely it could keep its content. Bob pointed out that some current topics were already covered, and many entries are well-established and don't require constant editing. In addition, he noted that Brockhaus will soon be coming out with a new print edition, its twenty-first, scheduled for release this fall.
Shortly afterward, a copy of portions of this new edition were found on an unsecured server at the University of Saarbrücken (although not secured, Brockhaus pointed out that they were not reachable through public sites). It was discovered that a short article on Wikipedia was included, and Jakob Voss initiated an effort to see if Wikipedians could edit this article and improve it, given the space limitation provided. Bernd Kreissig, head of Brockhaus' new media unit, promptly complained that this advance publication of a complete article was a copyright violation, and that the actions were disrespectful even if intended in a friendly way.
Der Spiegel ran a story on the dialogue between Wales and Bob, and also noted that the German Wikipedia has been nominated for an award by the Adolf Grimme Institut. It is one of 15 websites competing for the Grimme Online Award in a category for Wissen und Bildung (Knowledge and Education). Now in their fifth year, the awards will be announced on 30 June at a ceremony in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany.
This article is based in part on a report from Mathias Schindler.