Wikipedia is a real-life Hitchhiker's Guide: huge, nerdy, and imprecise.
Wikis are a great way to collect group knowledge, but not every reference book in the galaxy will turn into one. A couple of weeks ago, online reports claimed that Microsoft's Encarta decided to wikify its paltry 42,000 entries. Encarta's Editorial Director Gary Alt told me that the truth is prosaic. Readers will be able to submit suggested corrections or improvements to existing entries, but Encarta is not looking for new entries, and the editors will still decide what's worth including.
An elitist encyclopedia like Encarta will never be able to match the breadth or speed of a user-edited reference library, but it's smart to coax readers into helping stretch its inherent advantage—reliability. Alt told me he's hiring all of six people to review and research reader submissions. Unlike the editor of The Hitchhiker's Guide, they'll probably be eating lunch at their desks.
Paul Boutin is a writer living in San Francisco.