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Britannica to give Wikipedia a run for its money

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What is the first website you log on to when you want some handy information? Probably, the answer is or Wikipedia.org. Both are exhaustive, easy to browse and most importantly free to use.

But Encyclopedia wants to change this trend for its own benefit. The 242-year-old information bank, has tied up with Airtel in India to reach out to the broadband subscriber base.

Jorge Cauz, president, Britannica, believes that joint promotions can help Britannica to position itself prominently among the 10 million broadband subscribers it is targeting. “We have seen similar endeavours work fruitfully in other countries and are hopeful that it will work in India as well,” said Cauz.

Last year, Britannica had introduced its online version where users can add or edit content, a concept pioneered by Wikipedia — the free online encyclopedia. By contributing to the online source, users’ names were attached to the content by Britannica after submissions were verified by professional editors. Individuals who wished to edit the Britannica website are required to register using their real names and addresses before modifying or writing their own articles. The Britannica model differs from that of Wikipedia where anonymous modifications can be carried out by registering the user’s IP address.

Relying on the quality of content – which has always been their strength – Cauz said it is distribution in India that is critical. “Through the partnership with Airtel, we should be able to address this area of concern.” Airtel users will have free access to Britannica online for two years. They will also have the option for subscribing to the Britannica kids site for Rs 75 per month. Airtel is one of the several partnerships Britannica has planned for India.

Cauz said the biggest challenge in a market like India is to convince users to pay for information. Apart from their partnership with Airtel, Britannica is planning to reach out to schools. Currently, it has access to about 3,000 schools and plans to expand to about 15,000 schools over the next three years.

While the Indian mobile subscriber base is inching towards the 700-million-mark, Britannica said it has no immediate plans to reach out to this group. Cauz said Britannica is not ideal for “on-the-go users.” However, he did not rule out the possibility of innovations on the mobile platform. Encyclopedia Britannica Kids has already launched a series of applications for iPhone and iPad to educate children about a variety of topics.

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