January 24, 2009

Some Elephants Never Learn To Dance

Posted by Bizaholic | 9:27 PM | with 0 comments »

241 years old Britannica is trying to do a half hearted reinvention in what seems to be a forced action thanks to Wikipedia. Britannica has decided to use the wisdom of the crowd to edit, enhance, and contribute to the online version. So finally, it seems, the famed Britannica has given control. But wait. There is a trap. Whatever the crowd writes will have to be vetted by Britannica staff or freelance editors before changes appears live! In other words, Britannica still trusts the knowledge and wisdom of its editors and staff over the wisdom of the crowd.

Why, as a netizen, should I bother to go to Britannica's site and try to enhance the content with my knowledge? I have no reason. First I have to register with my real name and real address, then I have to spend time editing something, and still not be sure whether it will appear on the site because it has to be vetted by Britannica employed editors. Why bother going to Britannica when I can better spend my time and energy at Wikipedia in a much user friendly and hassle free manner? That too when Wikipedia is the most recognizable name in online encyclopedia arena with availability in 250 languages attracting 700 million visitors a year and having 2.7 million articles just in English edition. Let Britannica go to hell.

The problem with Britannica and other such old world giants is that they fail to learn dancing at the cusp of first tectonic shift in market dynamics, and then when forced to learn dance to survive, they learn it the wrong way. They fail to learn, time and again, that in a new world with a new order, old things never work. It was Britannica which had the head start in online encyclopedia arena when it launched Britannica.com in 1994. Wikipedia came only in 2001. Yet it was Wikipedia that had its mind and heart psyched to the essence of the Internet i.e. democratization of information. Britannica always thought about autocratic control of information. Results are for everyone to see.

History is witness that giants are prone to such self destruction perpetuated by their unwillingness to anticipate, be agile, and shun arrogance and the sense of invincibility. It happened to Dinosaurs. It happened to IBM. It may happen to Microsoft too! When disruption happens, giants are the most vulnerable creatures as old habits die hard and it is too much of a pain stepping out of the comfort zone to face the reality head-on.

Britannica's new initiative, in all likelihood, will not bear desired fruits unless it completely reinvents itself and aligns itself to the inner psyche of the consumers in particular and web 2.0 world order in general. No giant can do it without learning to dance with the right steps.