Wikipedia versus Encyclopedia Britannica: A Longitudinal Analysis to Identify the Impact of Social Media on the Standards of Knowledge

Marcus Messner, Marcia W. DiStaso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Scopus citations


The collaboratively edited online encyclopedia Wikipedia is among the most popular websites in the world. Subsequently, it poses a great challenge to traditional encyclopedias, which for centuries have set the standards of society's knowledge with their printed editions. It is, therefore, important to study the impact of social media on the standards of our knowledge. This longitudinal panel study analyzed the framing of content in encyclopedia entries of top Fortune companies in Wikipedia and the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica in 2006, 2008, and 2010. Content analyses of the length, tonality, and topics of 3,985 sentences showed that Wikipedia entries were significantly longer, were more positively and negatively framed, and focused more on corporate social responsibilities and legal and ethical issues than the online entries of the traditional encyclopedia, which were predominantly neutral. The findings stress that the knowledge-generation processes in society appear to be fundamentally shifting because of the use of social media collaboration. These changes significantly impact which information becomes available to society and how it is framed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-486
Number of pages22
JournalMass Communication and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2013


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication

Cite this