Achtung! Wikipedia Germany Goes From Online to Offline

As I first heard about in the “Hobson and Holtz” podcast and later read about in the International Herald Tribune, a German version of encyclopedias are going from offline to online and back to offline. At the center of the effort is Wikipedia.

The Herald Tribune notes that:

“In Germany, a printed collection of Wikipedia articles is being produced for the first time by a major publisher, Bertelsmann. The idea is to use Wikipedia to capture the zeitgeist by selecting the most popular entries, Beate Varnhorn, the editor in charge of Bertelsmann’s reference works, said in an interview by telephone. “We think of it as an encyclopedic yearbook,” Varnhorn said, leaving open the possibility of new editions if the 2008 version is successful.”

When I read this, I had a flashback to my childhood and the encyclopedia salespeople (one of whom reminded me of the “Old Gil” character in “The Simpsons”) telling parents that for a small fortune, purchasing a set of encyclopedias was “making an investment in your child’s future.” So parents either shelled out cold, hard cash or (and I am really sounding old), S&H Green Stamps.

Leaving aside the whole notion of fact-checking (and who is right and who is wrong, plus who will be doing the fact-checking), it’s fascinating that Wikipedia has reached such status in the online world that, as an encyclopedia, it is going back to its roots as a print edition.

I can’t say that I have ever really presented to understand the Germans, but the most recent Internet access statistics by Nielsen Net Ratings (old – from 2003) stated that 63 percent of all Germans had Internet access. One can only assume that this has risen in the time period since. So why offline? There has to be a business case for it.

I think that this will be an interesting exercise, but a lot of questions will persist – mainly, what is the benefit to producing static information from a source whose main reason for being is its ability to be updated instantaneously, maintained, and ultimately, produced a balanced outcome?

I’m not sure, but it will make for some interesting reading.

Auf Wiedersehen,

Mark

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