Wikipedia vs. Britannica: Which is best?

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Difference between Wikipedia and Britannica

The Internet has made possible the easy access to a staggering amount of information, and websites such as Wikipedia and Britannica stand at the forefront of the online encyclopedia industry. While Britannica has of course been known for its series of printed encyclopedias that have educated generations of learners and researchers, Wikipedia has admittedly managed to corner much of the online market. Nevertheless, Britannica still presents enough of a challenge to stake out its own turf in online learning, and this comparison should reveal the relative strengths and weaknesses of each.


The Numbers

Wikipedia currently registers a readership of 2.5 billion "hits" every month, which is a pretty impressive figure in itself. The site offers more than 870,000 articles in its database, and more than 43,000 contributors from all over the world add to its English-language pages. All in all, over 89,000 volunteers work on the entire Wikipedia, and it comes in over 200 languages.

As for Britannica, it currently offers 65,000 articles in the printed version, with a large percentage having been updated in 2005. Its online content is comprised of over 120,000 articles. Britannica also comes in DVD and CD-ROM form.


Wikipedia is an open-source venture in every sense of the word, with its contributors being driven more by a desire to participate in this project in some way than by monetary gain or recognition. Casual writers and editors, many of whom simply work on it in their spare time, provide most of Wikipedia’s content.

Britannica for its part accepts contributions only from recognized experts in their fields. Nobel Prize winners, recognized authors, experienced curators, and many other professional authorities provide the content of Britannica. Unlike Wikipedia’s contributors who work mostly without pay or recognition, Britannica’s contributors get a check and their own byline.


The two encyclopedia services also differ somewhat with regard to audience, with Wikipedia being something of an informal source of information, while Britannica is the go-to source for more established information from recognized experts in the field.

That being said, Wikipedia has the advantage of being updated on a more frequent basis, which means that a lot of its content is more current than that you could get from Britannica. While Wikipedia is definitely better suited to more informal research than critical study, it could still be a useful source of updated information that should nevertheless be verified for accuracy from other sources.



  • An open-source project
  • Relies heavily on “community spirit”
  • Allows anyone to contribute
  • Contributors are mostly casual writers and editors
  • Available in 200 languages
  • Has a wider audience than Britannica


  • Contributors are recognized authorities in their fields
  • Contributors include Nobel Prize winners, authors, curators, and other authorities
  • Contributors are paid for their work and are given bylines
  • Appeals to people who seek knowledge and information

Which source has better information?
  • Wikipedia
  • Britannica

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