SHARE



ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Dave Michels
Dave Michels is a Principal Analyst at TalkingPointz. His unique perspective on unified communications comes from a career involving telecommunications...
Read Full Bio >>
SHARE



Dave Michels | March 16, 2012 |

 
   

How Collaboration Drove Britannica Out of Print

How Collaboration Drove Britannica Out of Print Hard-bound encyclopedias faced many challenges in the digital age, but it was bottom-up collaboration, not technology per se, that finally killed them off.

Hard-bound encyclopedias faced many challenges in the digital age, but it was bottom-up collaboration, not technology per se, that finally killed them off.

If there were going to be another printed edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, they might consider updating the section about the Earth being round. Perhaps as with networks, planets also require different descriptions for physical and logical attributes. The Earth is flat (in Thomas Friedman's formulation), and as proof there will not be another printed edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

This seismic shift is just as much about attitudes as technologies. In the communications sector, the term in-favor is "collaboration." To collaborate is nothing new really, it simply means to work together toward common goal(s). What is new is the fact that we don't really work together as much as we once did--at least not physically. Collaboration now requires some assistance from technology.

Encyclopedia Britannica announced on March 13 that it would no longer print its iconic books. It is the end of a long distinguished practice. The company actually dates back to 1768. In 1920, Sears, Roebuck and Company brought Britannica to Chicago. It has changed ownership several times since. In 1990, sales reached $650 million, it held dominant market share, had experienced steady growth, and possessed over two centuries of experience in the business. What could possibly go wrong?

It actually looked like Britannica was doomed around 2000--the CD ROM was the culprit. Parents buy their kids encyclopedias to aid in their education, but the PC also promised to prepare a generation for the future. The PC was about the same price, and often came with an (inferior) encyclopedia. The CD encyclopedia didn't have the same costs associated with production, distribution, and sales. Encarta, Grolier, and Compton retailed around $50, but were most commonly acquired through a new PC bundle.

Britannica considered its own CD product, but that was a threat to its core book business and distribution channel (encyclopedia sales commissions were about $600). Besides, its content was far too rich to fit on a CD. Britannica had almost seven times the text of Encarta plus associated illustrations and photos. The compromise was a text-only CD provided to book customers that also sold separately for $1,000. It failed.

The company changed ownership again (fire sale valuation in 1999), and embarked on a new strategy to leverage the burgeoning Internet--Britannica.com. The Internet was the future--that period is referred to as the dot-com boom--the company would leverage its brand, library of content, and the flattening of the world that Friedman wrote about in his bestselling book describing how broadband connectivity eliminates geographic barriers and thus creates a huge market. Britannica was poised to become the dot-com destination of choice for knowledge. All it had to do was transform its centralized and controlled assets from paper to web. What could possibly go wrong?

Over the past few decades, the rules changed. A flat world offered no boundaries organizationally as well as geographically. There were lots of knowledgeable people happy to share their expertise. Wikipedia was born in 2001 with the mission "to give freely the sum of the world's knowledge to every single person on the planet in the language of their choice, under a free license, so they can modify, adopt, reuse, or redistribute it at will." That's a pretty threatening mission to an encyclopedia company, However, Britannica had over two hundred years of content as a head start.

Wikipedia became the example of the power of open collaboration. Wikipedia brought openness to a new level. In cases of highly charged subjects, it was determined the best route was to acknowledge and document different perspectives rather than insist on a single view.

Not all contributors were there to build the community. Wikipedia calls them trolls or vandals and it's been a problem from the beginning. Along with other mistakes from well intentioned contributors, the facts at Wikipedia were questioned by many. Michael Gorman, former president of the American Library Association famously said Wikipedia was "fundamentally flawed" and that "a professor that encourages its use is the intellectual equivalent of a dietitian who recommends Big Macs."

Ironically, it was the trolls that caused Wikipedia to become the respected source of information it is considered today. Trolls resulted in an increased insistence on references and verifications that resulted, in some cases, in brilliant articles. Wikipedia flourished with content being provided by experts. The online encyclopedia has matured over the years. As examples, there is a hierarchy and process for resolving conflicts, and some sections require updates to be approved before they go live. Wikipedia is an amazing study in collaboration--best summarized by the anonymously-sourced quote: "Wikipedia only works in practice. In theory, it can never work."

There are lots of lessons in the tale of Britannica--disruptive technologies, channel imprisonment, innovator's dilemmas, and so on. However, it is the journey of collaboration that's critical to note here. The web has changed collaboration and there is no shortage of examples--The Huffington Post was built on citizen journalists. Linux and Asterisk both exist and evolve based on their collaborative communities. Such sites exist in a wide variety of sectors and industries--InnoCentive.com invites scientific collaboration. Collaboration is increasingly seen as the key to productivity and innovation.

For decades, IT was vertically focused--mainframes and client server systems optimized business processes within an organization. An example might be sales collaborating with manufacturing to reduce inventory costs. More recently, as a result of downsizing and outsourcing, collaborating with manufacturing could mean crossing the corporate firewall. Reduced headcounts meant remaining employees became more critical and harder to replace. Organizations had to become more tolerant and flexible with old attitudes such as the requirement to work at the office.

Organizations are learning to embrace collaboration--internally and externally as well as horizontally with customers and partners. It may sound simple, but it isn't. The core enabling technologies are evolving quickly--wideband audio, screen-sharing, video conferencing, mobile solutions, presence, wireless coverage, text, etc. The technology is moving more quickly than depreciation schedules. Attitudes are changing more quickly than organizational policies. Mobility is the big one right now, introducing tough subjects like who owns the data on a personal device used for business.

Organizations are working to embrace and adapt. Many organizations are having their own disruptive challenges, as the Internet has changed many more industries than just book publishing. Technology has not solved all the problems, and attitudes are still adjusting.

We are becoming numb to how technologies are disrupting industries. Retail, publishing, broadcasting, recording.... But this is a new twist on disruption--it isn't just the technology, but the approach. How businesses innovate is the next big disruption. It was the power of collaboration, not the PC, CD-ROM, or even the Web that killed the 32 volume encyclopedia set.

Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and independent analyst at TalkingPointz.com





COMMENTS



Enterprise Connect Orlando 2018
March 12-15 | Orlando, FL

Connect with the Entire Enterprise Communications & Collaboration Ecosystem


Stay Up-to-Date: Hear industry visionaries in Keynotes and General Sessions delivering the latest insight on UC, mobility, collaboration and cloud

Grow Your Network: Connect with the largest gathering of enterprise IT and business leaders and influencers

Learn From Industry Leaders: Attend a full range of Conference Sessions, Free Programs and Special Events

Evaluate All Your Options: Engage with 190+ of the leading equipment, software and service providers

Have Fun! Mingle with sponsors, exhibitors, attendees, guest speakers and industry players during evening receptions

Register now with code NOJITTEREB to save $200 Off Advance Rates or get a FREE Expo Pass!

November 1, 2017

Your customers (internal and external) demand that you offer them the ability to connect by any means. With the adoption of cloud communications tools you now have access to an expanded portfolio o

October 18, 2017

Microsofts recent Ignite event had some critically important announcements for enterprise communications. Namely, Microsofts new Team Collaboration offering, Teams, will be its primary communicatio

September 20, 2017

Customer experience can make or break your business. But how do you achieve outstanding customer service when you're dealing with outdated organizational structure, lagging technology, dated proces

September 22, 2017
In this podcast, we explore the future of work with Robert Brown, AVP of the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, who helps us answer the question, "What do we do when machines do everything?"
September 8, 2017
Greg Collins, a technology analyst and strategist with Exact Ventures, delivers a status report on 5G implementation plans and tells enterprises why they shouldn't wait to move ahead on potential use ....
August 25, 2017
Find out what business considerations are driving the SIP trunking market today, and learn a bit about how satisfied enterprises are with their providers. We talk with John Malone, president of The Ea....
August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular BlogGeek.me blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.