Wikipedia vs Britannica Encyclopedias

According to the Merriam-Webster, an encyclopedia is a work that contains information regarding all branches of knowledge or treats a particular branch of philosophy comprehensively usually in articles arranged alphabetically often by subject. The word encyclopedia first appeared in 1644.

The meaning of the term ‘encyclopedia’ kept changing along history. However, today most people think of an ‘encyclopedia’ as a multivolume compendium of all available knowledge, complete with maps and a detailed index, as well as numerous adjuncts such as bibliographies, illustrations, lists of abbreviations and foreign expressions, gazetteers, and so on.

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that provides open content to its users. It is written collaboratively and openly by a community of both actual and self-proclaimed experts who call themselves Wikipedians. And it was initially slated to be a for-profit website to support Wales’ and Sanger’s previous venture into online encyclopedia space, Nupedia. It is a type of site designed to make collaboration and modification of both content and structure easy, called a “wiki”. Its purpose and scope eventually became a website that stores information on nearly all topics known to man, as in an encyclopedia. And thus it took the name ‘Wikipedia’ as an amalgamation of these two concepts. [Techopedia]

According to Techopedia, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger founded Wikipedia on January 15, 2001. And it receives support from the Wikimedia Foundation, a nonprofit parent organization. Wikipedia, however, started as a complementary project for an earlier encyclopedia project called Nupedia, which has been defunct since September 26, 2003. It came about because of the stringent review process of Nupedia experts that drove away contributors and stifled its growth.

Wales wanted to create another wiki that could encourage open collaboration without the fear of humiliation for contributors with articles that they could eventually correctly review and then move to Nupedia proper. But the concept developed quickly and overtook the number of columns in Nupedia. Wikipedia had 13,000 articles as of September 25, 2001, as opposed to Nupedia’s measly 21 approved items in its first year. All materials from Nupedia went then into Wikipedia after its demise in 2003.

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What is Britannica?

Britannica is a partly free/paid online encyclopedia. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. is a property of the Swiss banking magnate Jacqui Safra. It was established in 1768, initially made in print before adapting to the online version such as Wikipedia. In 2012, The Encyclopedia Britannica announced that after 244 years, dozens of editions and more than 7 million sets sold. They also stated that no new versions would be set to paper. The 32 volumes of the 2010 installment, it turns out, were the last.
The company has been offering online editions of its encyclopedia for 20 years. And over more than half of its online sales come from educational institutions. However, the online version undergoes continuous updates.

  • Both are encyclopediae.
  • Both have an online version.
  • Wikipedia is a sea of information that readers, present in all parts of the world, contribute to it. And the content on the site is growing every minute. On the contrary, Britannica’s contributors are professional writers and researchers.
  • Wikipedia is readily available to all and anyone can edit or update the information, which is not possible in Britannica.
  • Wikipedia poses as an internet encyclopedia while other encyclopedias are available as hard copies and internet sources.
  • Britannica have literary works that are definitive and authoritative, which isn’t the case regarding Wikipedia. Notably, in the academic world, Britannica holds acceptance as sources, while Wikipedia lacks the recognition as a reliable source.
  • Wikipedia is free. All you need is an internet connection. Also, you do not have to pay to use Wikipedia. On the other hand, you have to pay to use Britannica to the maximum. To use one, you have to buy one or pay online. Even if you use a library book, the library has already paid to purchase the book. Also, online versions charge money for subscriptions.
  • Though Britannica is trying hard to fight a battle of readership with an online version and even CD’s and DVD’s of Britannica are available apart from the regular hard copy, it is a foregone conclusion that Wikipedia is going to emerge victoriously.


After much said, due to the above points and statements, choosing what encyclopedia to use, varies on the type of objective. For faster, cheaper and more broad spread of information, Wikipedia is adequate. But for more accurate and confirmed information, Britannica is the best. And this exists because Wikipedia is free and the public contributes to the vast knowledge while contributors to Britannica are online professional writers/researchers.
But most people think that Wikipedia is the best because the English version has enormous materials that exceed 3.9 million articles. Besides, Britannica as a whole possesses about 120,000 pieces. Again, don’t forget that Wikipedia is free. But, the DVD Britannica, which includes two dictionaries and a thesaurus, costs $30 on Amazon.

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