Significance of Wikipedia growth explored on NPR

On Sunday, National Public Radio's Weekend Edition included a five-minute report from Laura Sydell focused on Wikipedia. The broadcast briefly discussed Wikipedia's size and growth and provided perspectives from librarians, participants, and even competitors.

Introducing the segment, host Liane Hansen talked about Wikipedia's growth and potential as a research resource. Sydell also noted the breadth of information covered (including the existence of an article about herself — created, as it turns out, by Sj, one of her interviewees).

The report began with an interview with Jacquie Henry, a high school librarian in New York. Henry expressed concern about Wikipedia as a resource based on the inability of young students to properly evaluate information for themselves, and also mentioned the problem with instances of vandalism. To balance this, NYU professor Clay Shirky was presented arguing that concerns about vandalism were overstated due to the size of the community watching articles.

Sydell next addressed Wikipedia's open source roots and introduced Jimmy Wales to explain how the concept applies to the writing of an encyclopedia. For a contributor's perspective, she turned to Sj, who described his excitement at having somebody else expand an article he had started.

Response from Britannica

For the competition's take on Wikipedia, Sydell went finally to Dale Hoiberg, editor of Encyclopædia Britannica, who characterized it as "too much information". He questioned the usefulness of Wikipedia by alluding to the Jorge Luis Borges short story On Exactitude in Science, which refers to an Empire that created a map of itself, on a one-to-one scale. In contrast, Hoiberg argued that Britannica offered its users assurance that facts have been checked, and that it had the ability to sort through the "morass of information" available—particularly on the internet—and condense this down to the truly important material.

After the story aired, mav commented that Britannica's rhetoric "looks to me like they are giving up and declaring their much smaller size and long time between updates to be 'features.'" While this may be a curious argument, it probably has a better chance of being right than the chances of Britannica adopting the wiki model.

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