It happens all the time: You read an entry in an encyclopedia or other reputable source and think, "That's not right" or "They forgot this!" Microsoft Corp.'s Encarta encyclopedia is testing a system that lets everyone be an editor — in theory at least.
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Readers can suggest edits or additions to entries, although the changes are vetted by editors before they reach the page.
Encarta is not requiring such novice editors to identify themselves, said Gary Alt, Encarta's editorial director. But it is asking them to reveal the source of their information if possible, and the editorial staff will check for both factual errors and evidence of bias.
This is in contrast to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which lets anyone instantaneously make changes, even delete entries, regardless of whether that person has any expertise in the subject.
Encarta has added research editors and fact checkers to handle the volume of edits it expects to receive when the system goes live Thursday.
But Alt said the added cost is balanced by the advantage of having a seemingly endless pool of people who may know more about a subject than hired editors ever would — and will offer their expert advice for free.
"The truth of the matter is, we have 42,000 articles in Encarta and somewhere around 60 million words, so even if I had a staff of 1,000 editors we wouldn't be able to look at all of the content all the time," Alt said.
Encarta entries are available for free though Microsoft's MSN search engine, or through a paid service.