Wikipedia – My experience of it

Before talking about Wikipedia, for those of you who don’t know what a Wiki is, here’s the description straight from the source,

“The simplest online database that could possibly work.

Wiki is a piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. Wiki supports hyperlinks and has a simple text syntax for creating new pages and crosslinks between internal pages on the fly.”

I use Wikis on one of my gaming sites, there are wikis being used for group collaboration on projects and in professions and even on library websites. A very useful tool.

Wikipedia, is an online collaborative Wiki encyclopedia, where entries are produced not by appointed knowledge specialists, but by anyone who wants to contribute. It is free to access and edit and at present, the English version (there are versions in 9 other languages) contains over 800,000 articles.

The debate has been raging over Wikipedia on several fronts. An October 2005 CNet review gave it a rating of 6.3. It achieved this average rating because CNet belives it is “Vulnerable to vandalism; some Wikipedia sections still under construction; lack of kids’ resources; uninspiring interface; demands Web access”.

Funnily enough, the users who reviewed Wikipedia on the same webpage, gave an average rating of 8.1. As some users pointed out, there is an offline version (wow!) and its cons as CNet sees them, can also be strengths. Being vulnerable to vandalism also means that anyone can edit and this can be a positive thing. Studies have been done including the smallscale Isuzu experiment, with people editing in false information and within a few hours at the most, it was corrected. There are checks and balances in place for vandalism.

This is not to say that Wikipedia is totally accurate – I don’t believe it is, nor can it be. But then again, neither is Encyclopaedia Britannica, the one tome to which all encyclopedias aspire to be.

The Guardian Unlimited tested Wikipedia using their panel of experts to review subjects in their fields. Out of the 7 reviewers, there was a 0, 5, two 6’s, two 7’s and an 8. The main criticisms were not surprisingly – inaccuracy but then writing style!

As for under construction, that can be an advantage also. As Steven Cohen pointed out at his “What’s Hot & New in RSS, Blogs and Wikis” session at Internet Librarian 2005 (as noted by Dave’s Blog), no other encyclopedia had information immediately available on Hurricane Katrina.

You may have gathered by now, that I am a fan. I am becoming more of a fan everyday, especially as I do internet searches and see that Wikipedia comes out in the top results more and more often.

Wikipedia has mixed support amongst librarians. Some berate it as inaccurate and as not an expert authored source, which is true. Others are fans for the same reasons I am and more. There is much being published about teens and their 2 way involvement in the internet. Will Richardson in his IL05 Keynote (
as blogged by Jenny at Shifted Librarian
) explained that he loves Wikipedia because it encourages the teens to interact with the content, question it and research, not take it at a face value because it’s in print.

I am a fan because it gives me a heads up when I am looking for information on a subject with which I may not be familiar. Its free, its easy to access and although I know it’s not going to be entirely accurate, much will be and I will verify it with other sources. But more importantly for me as a reference librarian, it gives me a familiarity with the subject in question and arming me with that information, it acts as a launching pad to find more.

Kudos to the contributors at Wikipedia, I appreciate your time and effort in helping to provide a great source of information on a wide range of topics. As for the critics, if they stopped just criticising and took part in ensuring the content was accurate (and well-written) it would be even better!


    • mythrin on November 14, 2005 at 11:34 am

    Thanks for that post – I like wikipedia sometimes too. I don’t think it’s infallible, but I don’t think anything is infallible. I wish that wikipedia critics would turn the same spotlight onto Brittanica and other established sources – they might be surprised.

    • Michelle McLean on November 14, 2005 at 12:05 pm

    I had been thinking the same thing about the spotlight on other sources. It would be interesting for someone to pick up on that – hopefully someone will enlighten us soon.

    Thanks for dropping by.

    • CW on November 24, 2005 at 12:47 pm

    Yes, thanks for that post – have linked to it on my blog (part of a series of articles for my colleagues to read).

    P.S. Greetings from Perth! πŸ™‚

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