Monday, March 17, 2008

Open-Source Troubles in Wiki World

A rather interesting poll from the Seattle Times:

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A shoestring operation stunned by its own success faces growing pains.
How much faith do you have in Wikipedia articles?

  • Wikipedia is my first source of information on any topic. I urge my students to use it. For more details (or for information on disputed topics like, for example, Tibetan Independence), I use google and a bricks and board library. — Jim Walsh, Taiwan
  • Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. -Arthur C. ClarkeWhether the source is Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, or your local fishwrap, CAVEAT LECTOR.Or as Mark Twain is said to have said: "Beware of health books; you may die of a misprint."— Michael, Berkeley, California
  • I find Wikipedia is good as a gateway to a subject. It is, like most encyclopedias, the beginning of the research, not the end of it (except in informal situations). It points towards other places where better, more thorough information can be accessed. — Rick Umbaugh, California
  • I use Wiki as a starting reference point as it often gives listings of other sites - a good starting point. I use more than one source for my research. It also depends on the topic - if simple, ie - the capital city of a country, I use it. If not, I multi-source. — David Constable, Canada
  • None, but that's OK as long as I understand that fact...most of the articles are biographies of obscure people or television show summaries, which makes accuracy not terribly important. Any article on the site has the potential for manipulation, vandalism or inaccuracy, so you have to read skeptically. — BenK, Providence, RI
  • None. — Human, Chicago
  • To my own surprise, I have increasingly more and more faith in Wikipedia articles. I generally find them helpful as a superficial survey -- which is really all I need and want from it -- of whatever topic I'm interested in. If I want to delve deeper into the topic, I can click on one of the many links that are provided throughout the text of the entry or in its footnotes or bibliography. I'm hard-pressed to recall a time when I was outright skeptical of an entire entry. While some editorializing or subjective opinionating undoubtedly seeps through some of the less artfully crafted entries, for the most part the entries are reliable, well-written, and objective. I'm all for it. — CDBryan77, Aspen, Colorado
  • I have a not-foolproof method for assessing the credibility of a Wikipedia article. I ask myself: Is their any aspect of this that could be controversial? (Watch for adjectives!). If there is, then I take those aspects with a grain of salt. These are usually religious, historical, philosophical and political issues. Usually I accept as accurate dates, place names, historically well-known events, traceable quotations (but there can be howlers!), etc. Also, there is usually a way to cross-check on line, and I do cross-check if I am truly interested. And so it goes. N.G., Seattle
  • A few months ago, my hometown, Mattoon, IL, won the FutureGen power generation project. Mattoon is small and not well-known, so many journalists looked up the Wiki article about Mattoon, which contained one serious (and purposeful) error: that it was home to the world's largest Soybean Museum. This myth has stayed on the Wiki site for well over a year. It, of course, was a ruse from the beginning, a plant to show that sites like Wiki just cannot be relied upon. But sadly is also demonstrated that many mainstream journalists are lazy and herd-like and happily play follow the leader. Glenn H, UAE
  • Anything controversial or political i.e. scientology must be taken with several grains of salt as there are many organizations and companies that have been shown to be altering articles to their own taste and viewpoint. Factual/historical articles tend to be better since many of them are taken from older, public domain editions of the Encyclopedia Britannica — Jeff Dworkin, Omaha, NE
  • Well, it’s not the Britannica, after all! I use it and depend also on my nose (If it doesn’t smell just right, I go on to other online sources...) — Yosef Bar-On, Israel
  • I have 1% faith, 99% skepticism when it comes to any Wikipedia article. — Sofia Velez-Calderon, Cambridge, MA
  • I work for a software firm interested in Web health search. Non-authoritative observation: Wikipedia articles on mainstream health care are, for the most part, pretty good ... better than average for Wikipedia. Since the articles, like the kids in Lake Wobegon, are above average, their brand hurts their credibility, at least in the eyes of other sites that want to work with us. — Arundo Donax, USA
  • Wikipedia is a great, quick source for topical information regarding non-critical use. I think anyone who has ever been required to compose and critically defend an essay will quickly recognize weakly written articles. Clearly, if one's subject matter is contentious and disputed, relying on an open-source tool like Wikipedia is bound to have its shortcomings, particularly when trying to vouchsafe the character of persons living or dead. — Adabeie, Seoul
  • I would never use a Wikipedia article for a formal academic work, mostly because of professors preferences. However I believe it's an amazing resource and my first stop for an issue I don't understand. — JJR, Gambier, Ohio
  • None. As far as I know, Wikipedia is not a religious organization. But Wikipedia articles are still an extremely useful high-level intro to a topic. The key word here is "intro." My work isn't done until I've crosschecked the Wikipedia article with other online sources to see whether or not it's an outlier view. — Frank Denman, Seattle
  • I have a lot more faith in Wikipedia than the encyclopedias we had to use as kids. My family got an entire new set every few years, with a yearly update furnished by the publisher. I realize now that they were antiquated before they ever came out of the box. jordyray, Minneapolis, MN
  • I use Wikipedia quite a bit. I find it gives basic, accurate information on most subjects. There are of course tremendous gaps and occasional errors. There are also to my mind political problems and judgments which raise real questions of objectivity and fairness. I read the article recently on the Iranian nuclear dispute with the U.N. , the U.S. and a good share of the world. The article was obviously written by someone extremely sympathetic to the Iranian point- of- view. It said next to nothing about the story of Iran's deceptions over a period of twenty years, and continual defiance of the world. It was totally misleading as to the character of Iran's fudging negotiating style. So my guess is that on my subjects it is the most interested parties which dictate the Encyclopedia's line. And that is a real problem. All in all however I would say Wikipedia is like the Search-Google- Web itself a potentially great resource which the user has to know how to use wisely. — Shalom Freedman, Jerusalem Israel
  • Your question is worded poorly; trust would be a much better choice than faith. One has faith in things that can't be verified. Articles in Wikipedia can be verified or disproven by external sources. Semantics to the side, I find Wikipedia to be a relatively reliable source of basic information, at least in terms of entries that are apolitical or otherwise unrelated to certain "hot buttons" like religion and the like. Certainly I would never rely on it as a primary source, or even an unquestioned secondary source; I think of it as more of a guide to further reading. Its self-policing nature is a strong point in its favor, though; as long as there exists a strong core of dedicated editor/writers keeping an eye on things like vandalism and self-interested bias, I think Wikipedia approaches--emphasis: approaches--the reliability of most established encyclopedias. I'm glad it exists, and should I ever have reason to contribute to it, I'll do my very best to live up to its ideals. I suspect the vast majority of its contributors do exactly that. As for the money issues, I hope the site always remains ad-free and that the Wikimedia Foundation is able to maintain its non-profit status and stay free of the entanglements of venture capital. Big money tends to corrupt both organizations and individuals. Humans being what they are, greed enables powerful temptations. I can only hope that Wikipedia can resist those temptations. — Geoff, Ohio
    I use Wikipedia, but like everything else on the Internet, I take the information with a grain of salt. Just because it's in writing doesn't make it true. — From Florida, FL

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