The Unbridled Pragmatist
smart enough to know how dumb we are

Wiki Wiki Wah

Wisdom of crowds or mob mentality?  Glass half full or half empty?  The finality of these questions does not allow for the grey area these questions demand.  When examining the virtues of an application like Wikipedia these and other similar questions beg to be asked.  The issue of validity certainly arises; after all there is no group or individual staking a reputation to the information on display.  As Wikipedia rapidly grows in both content and utilization an examination into the content is surely necessary.

This semester I am enrolled in an investigative journalism class where each student has a specific investigation, however many investigations have overlapping topics and sources.  For this class we have developed a Wiki application which allows every student to have there own page while other students can contribute or correct information on any page within the Wiki.  We rely on the validity of each others work because we all work together on an investigation that ideally will yield results for a greater purpose.  Altruistic vision aside, we can rely on the Wiki because we have a password preventing others from entering the site.

Thus the main issue that confronts Wikipedia: accessibility to the masses.  What makes the website great is also its greatest liability.  According to a 2005 Wired article Wikipedia offers five times more articles than its closest competitor, Britannica, and this is just in English.  Wikipedia has articles in over 75 languages and sadly the UP can read just one.  Wikipedia does not face limitations that printed volumes such as Britannica face.  There is no space to conserve and no editing necessary so any topic can be posted on Wikipedia without cost.  The most obscure and minimal topics have found homes on Wikipedia where conventional encyclopedias are limited by space, expertise and ultimately profitability.

While Wikipedia certainly has its merits it should not be used in serious research or academia.  The potential for error is too great to rely on an unedited format.  Even though some research has proven Wikipedia to have only slightly more mistakes(errors, omissions, etc) than conventional encyclopedias, the possibility of severe mistakes exists in Wikipedia that proper editing performed in conventional encyclopedias eliminates. 

By the way, wisdom of crowds and glass half full for this guy.  How else could I pick the Skins to win the Superbowl 15 years running?  Let the mob mentality half empty folks be my editors.


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