Wikipedia going down the youtube?

I used to be mostly amused by Wikipedia, but now I’m getting more and more disgusted. We all know that Wikipedia has its pros (freely accessible, wide ranging, democratic) and cons (questionable accuracy, poor writing, democratic) but the recent New Yorker article told me more than I wanted to know about the sausage making process. From the article one gets the impression that the average contributor is a male computer programmer with some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder, and that edit wars, vandalism, and abuse are all too common. Here’s some quotes that stuck out:

“Pettiness, idiocy, and vulgarity are regular features of the site.”

“Nothing about high-minded collaboration guarantees accuracy, and open editing invites abuse.”

“For all its protocol, Wikipedia’s bureaucracy doesn’t necessarily favor truth.”

The author poses the question,

“What can be said for an encyclopedia that is sometimes right, sometimes wrong, and sometimes illiterate?”

I know that all sources have errors, but the arbitrariness of the accuracy in Wikipedia combined with the poor writing has me leaning toward the answer that such an encyclopedia has no place in an academic information landscape. Unless there are changes, academic librarians should be discouraging its use and working toward building and promoting higher quality collections.

Will students listen to us if we discourage Wikipedia? Probably not, but they may listen to
Stephen Colbert.

For more see Wikimania 2006, The International Wikimedia Conference which is this weekend, August 4-6 in Cambridge, Mass., and of course you can participate on-line. See also Filipino Librarian.

5 thoughts on “Wikipedia going down the youtube?”

  1. I read an interesting article recently which seemed to argue: “it if it’s broke, let’s fix it.” The author suggested that academics from various disciplines devote time and effort to improving the readability and accuracty of wikipedia articles within their area of expertise. While perhaps overly optimistic (given the amount of pressure to publish in print journals) , this is not a bad idea and would likely have a positive effect on the overall usability of wikipedia.

    I like the collaborative nature of wikis, and for many “bleeding edge” topics, wikipedia is often the best (sometimes the only) source available.
    Rather than discourage the use of wikipedia across the board, I might suggest to students that wikipedia is an excellent source for gaining some background (surface) knowledge regarding certain topics, subjects or phenomena. Popular culture, for example, or detailed information about new linux distributions. That being said, I would never suggest including anything found on wikipedia in a paper or essay. Indeed, during class discussions regarding wikipedia, most students are aware of the potential for incorrect or overly biased opinion to permeate the site. Nonetheless, I’m sure there are students out there who take everything read online at face value.

    I love the Colbert clip and agree this is a good way to reach students (and anyone else) in a humorous way about the shortcomings of wikipedia. On a related note, you might also want to check out a hilarious
    article from “The Onion” about wikipedia here:

    “Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years of American Indepedence.”

  2. I agree with Ameet. I have dedicated much time improving Wikipedia in my areas of expertise — so much time, in fact, that I’m corrently on what’s called a “wikibreak” until I feel I can contribute to Wikipedia without getting sucked back in at an unhealthy level. There’s an enormous amount of respect for expertise in certain areas of Wikipedia, and a great *need* for expertise outside of its strong areas of popular culture and computer topics.

  3. And coming soon – Wikiversity. According to a post in Boing Boing – ” It will serve as an online center for the creation and use of free learning materials and activities. It will create and host a range of free content materials, multilingual learning materials, for all ages in all languages. It’ll host scholarly projects and communities to support these materials, and foster research based in part on existing resources in Wikiversity and other wikimedia projects. Launching in three languages, in a six-month beta, within a month.”

  4. Wikipedia is not a Democratic encyclopedia, it is an Oligarchy. Everyone is allowed to edit, but the final say as to who can stay, who must leave, and who can join the ranks of “elite admins” is decided arbitrarily by a very small percentage of the actual Wikipedia “populace. Some are benevolent, but in general I have seen that power corrupting, and lust for that power in most of the (regular) editors of Wikipedia.

    The end result is one in which most of the articles are either in a state of war as a few individuals vie for control of an article, or are under the control of a single wannabe tin-pot dictator who will lash out at anyone who attempts to move in on “their” article.

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