Up until about two weeks ago, I was a Wikipedia snob. I thought that I knew what it was and how it worked. I had looked at the site, browsed through a few entries, and edited a couple of test pages anonymously to see how easy it was to screw with the entries. I had read a few articles & blog posts (including in ACRLog) that were skeptical about the site. I would say things like, “Sure, Wikipedia has its place. Just leave it at home.” In my opinion, Wikipedia was a project of the unwashed masses who had no idea what real information was.
I thought I could sum up the complex creature called Wikipedia in a few dismissive phrases, but I was wrong. I think differently now.
After sitting in on a workshop with an inspiring colleague — Glenda Phipps from the Miami Dade College Libraries — I find myself actually excited about Wikipedia. Better late than never, thank you Glenda. As she worked through her informative talk about the site, I surfed. I hit the “Random Article” link over and over again just to see what would come up. And after a while, dense as I am, it began to dawn on me: this thing is incredible. The energy and care and passion that have gone, and continue to go, into creating this open, free, public encyclopedia… wow. I mean, where else can you find so many people who are so passionate about knowledge? (A library, perhaps?)
True, it is not an authoritative resource. There will always be a debate about its reliability, and it is my prediction that no one will ever solve that problem with Wikipedia. So don’t think of it that way. Think of it as an ever-evolving massive collection of popular knowledge. And give it a chance.
It might help if I mention here a few things I have recently learned about Wikipedia that helped to change my opinion:
1. Anyone who creates an account can also create a “watch list” of entries that you have created or otherwise feel some ownership of. So if somebody makes a change to one of those entries, you’ll get an alert.
2. Those who have (like me and Alexander M.C. Halavais) tested the system by purposefully adding misinformation have found that our planted errors are corrected quickly.
3. It’s fun! Go ahead, try it. Search for an entry on something you care about. If it already exists, add your knowledge. If it doesn’t, create it. Then see what you think about Wikipedia.