Before Wikipedia, there was Britannica.
Really, young whippersnappers, having an organized stack of the neatly bound heavy encyclopedia volumes on library shelves was a status-making must in many U.S. households as recently as the 1990s.
With the invention of the CD-ROM came Encarta, owned by Microsoft, which enabled easy cutting and pasting of encyclopedia content for students focused on speed and ease of research. It became a quick hit in school libraries yet the enemy of many teachers, who now had to add to their curriculum a lesson on the evils of cut-and-paste research, er, plagiarism.
The popularity of free, anyone-can-edit Wikipedia has made academia's battle against encyclopedia referencing--and the publishing industry's efforts to sell reference material--tougher than ever. Encyclopaedia Britannica, which has embraced e-mail marketing to keep its hardback business in, well, business (I've received several promotional messages in the past few months), is now making Web moves to take back its authoritative presence in the industry.
The publisher's Britannica WebShare initiative, launched April 13 with Twitter streaming of a daily topic, announced on Friday a service called Britannica Widgets, with which bloggers can "post an entire cluster of related Encyclopaedia Britannica articles" for free.
Britannica also is offering "people who publish with some regularity on the Internet, be they bloggers, Webmasters, or writers," free access to Britannica's online content, with registration.
To use the widgets, anyone can now "copy and paste the several lines of code associated with each widget as HTML into the appropriate place on your site," according to a Britannica WebShare post. "Any readers who click on a link will get the entire Britannica article on the subject, even if access to the article normally requires a subscription. Really. Try it."
Currently posted Britannica widgets, such as the one here of the domestic cat, include colorful entries ranging from lizards to Nobel Prizes. Many more are expected in the coming weeks.