How has your view of Wikipedia changed?

Has your view of Wikipedia changed?

I’ve been drawn to the Wikipedia concept since I was first introduced to it in 2005 while taking graduate courses. It was (and is) a simple and quick way to retrieve data for reference, learning, exploration, cross-checking, and can I say fact-finding? But the accuracy of Wikipedia at the time was under scrutiny because who ever heard of crowd-sourcing information back then? In academia it was (and still is??) a no-no to cite Wikipedia as a credible reference source. But why? Is the thought the processes for content submission and review at Wikipedia are inferior to the old encyclopedia model of writing and editing? Or is it that paid workers from classic encyclopedias somehow had access to better information or were more likely not to misrepresent the truth?

In 2006 Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics wrote, “For the record, I like Wikipedia just fine, as long as people understand what it is and what it isn’t. What it is: a useful and engaging enterprise in user-generated content about a mind-blowingly diverse range of subjects. What it isn’t: a dependable substitute for a reference work, at least not in many cases. “

We are nearing two decades since the start of Wikipedia. Have attitudes changed?

Will you tell me your view of Wikipedia?

Richard Cooke provides a thought-provoking exploration of this question in the February 2020 issue of Wired magazine with subtitle

People used to think the crowdsourced encyclopedia represented all that was wrong with the web. Now it’s a beacon of so much that’s right.

Cooke suggests Wikipedia is still mired in comparisons with Encyclopedia Britannica and then discusses some of the limitations of the Britannica model including:

  • Length of articles shortened over time because of physical limitations of print and distribution.
  • Age of information from research to writing to print to distribution.
  • Lack of diversity of the Britannica writers

I asked myself the following questions to help me think about the value of crowdsourcing an online knowledge repository vs having a paid organization gather and publish the data:

  • Which model is more likely to record accurate information?
  • Which model creates more accountability for accurate information? 
  • Which model is more likely to record information that is not tilted towards a particular political or religious viewpoint? 

We live in an era of “Fake News” where internet publications are often confusing, misleading, partial, or intentionally misleading. So how much better could a forum like Wikipedia be where content is open for review, debate, and editing. I know my view of Wikipedia has evolved over the years and I’ve come to appreciate the process of refining information through public accountability and cross-checks. What’s your viewpoint?

Onward and upward!

By the way, if you are interested in the story of Wikipedia you would enjoy the interview with Jimmy Wales on the How I Built This Podcast. 

Photo credit: The Basics of Mass Collaboration And How to Crowdsource Like a Pro! – AnnaRachel1