Weekly #7: Wikipedia: A great source of information for everybody

Blog topic for the week: Which should be considered more trustworthy: A published, subscription-based, encyclopedia such as Encyclopedia Britannica, or the well known (and well feared in some instances) free, web-based, collaborative, user-generated resource, we know as Wikipedia?

In today’s day and age, I would vote Wikipedia.  Based on the semester’s lectures and readings, and the wealth of information I have learned, I would argue my vote is well educated and thought-through, although many would argue otherwise based on the nature of the beast.

During high school and college, I was taught to never, ever use Wikipedia.  Our teachers instilled much fear in our little eager-to-succeed brains that if we cited Wikipedia for a project, we will fail, and if we fail, we will be doomed for life.  So basically we never used Wikipedia…ever. And although that was my mindset only several years ago, much has changed since, and Wikipedia has grown to a worldwide phenomenon and has become a great resource for information.

Based on the nature of Wikipedia, and the fact it is constantly updated, the information is likely to be accurate and trustworthy.

Wikipedia is updated constantly, whereas, published encyclopedias are outdated the moment they are sent to press.  Wikipedia will always be more up-to-date compared to published encyclopedias, thus they are more useful and one can trust the information is current.  In relation to the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, according to a blog post on ReadWriteWeb, by the end of the first day following the attacks, the associated Wikipedia entry “had been edited more than 360 times, by 70 different editors referring to 28 separate sources from news outlets around the web.”  In relation to breaking news on Wikipedia, a similar situation happened when a New York Times reporter was kidnapped by the Taliban.  Another interesting viewpoint is Wikipedia Thuggery in relation to Wikipedia entries about global warming, and another when American courts turn to Wikipedia during trials.  Furthermore, Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirkey, has an entire chapter dedicated to Wikipedia.  Shirky notes that the Wikipedia entry “7 July 2005 London bombings” received more than 1,000 edits in the first four-hours of existence! And that was in 2005, image what the posting/response rate would be now?

Wikipedia provides easy access to hundreds of links: news, scholarly publications, graphics, etc.

Wikipedia is much more than encyclopedic-like entries; it is a massive conglomeration of links to hundreds of millions of Web sites.  Entries such as United States of America and Barak Obama, have hundreds of citations and links that take you away from Wikipedia for more information.  So if you simply don’t trust something (such as the campaign to change “Hello” to “Heaven-O”) you see on Wikipedia, click on the link and get a second reference.

“Wikipedia is able to aggregate individual and often tiny contributions, hundreds  of millions of them annually, made by millions of contributors, all performing different functions” – Shirky, pg 118

Many refer the Web as much more than a network of computers, but rather an endless Web of people.  Internet for Peace, a nonprofit organization, is advocating that “the Web” be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.  In my opinion, that is taking it a little too far, but I do believe Wikipedia and other social networking sites have unlimited possibilities for connecting like-minded people worldwide.

So should we trust Wikipedia? Yes, yes we should.  However trust Wikipedia in a smart way; don’t believe everything you hear or see, make sure the information is credited and cited.

“[Wikipedia] is not the product of collectivism but of unending argumentation.  The articles grow not from harmonious thought but from constant scrutiny and emendation.” –Shirky pg. 139

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