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Press cautious, but notes breadth of detail on Wikipedia

"It's a little bit like pulling on a stray thread"

That was the verdict of the Tucson Citizen when they looked at Wikipedia [1]. "You mean only to pull a little bit", said writer Romi Carrell Wittman, "but soon you have a whole pile of string". The abundances of links in Wikipedia articles can lead the curious on a never-ending trail of further information. Wittman took the article on the Mona Lisa as an example, saying every term that could need explanation had a separate article. "Don't know what 'sfumato' is? No problem", she said, also noting that you could find your way to articles giving more information about Leonardo da Vinci, art history, and the Italian Renaissance from the Mona Lisa page.

Wittman cautioned readers to "beware [Wikipedia's] free-edit, free-posting nature", though, saying that at a given time an article might not be accurate or reliable.

Considering some alternative resources, she looked at, saying that although its content was vetted by professionals, the site contained a lot of pop ups and advertisements. Encarta, meanwhile, with 4,500 articles available online, was described as lacking the "breadth of topics" found on other sites, although its content was also "compiled by professionals, not bloggers with too much time on their hands".

"Robust and diverse"

More consideration of the pros and cons of using Wikipedia as a resource came this week from the Society of Environmental Journalists. The SEJ published a primer on its website last week on the concepts of peak oil and peak gas [2], which recommended Wikipedia as a source of information on the topic. The SEJ noted our tagline, "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit", and suggested that this immediately raises credibility issues by saying "but don't dismiss this great resource too quickly". However, the article went on to say that Wikipedia's article offered a "robust and diverse" discussion of the original proposition of the concept by M. King Hubbert.

Multiple mentions in UK press

UK newspaper The Guardian has made several references to Wikipedia in the past week. The paper's online edition has the largest readership of any UK newspaper, and in recent months has often highlighted Wikipedia content, as well as featuring an interview with Jimmy Wales in its weekly technology supplement.

Last Thursday saw Wikipedia's article on Ismail Kadare cited in John Sutherland's weekly column [3]. Albanian novelist Kadare recently won the first International Man Booker Prize, and in his acceptance speech attacked the totalitarian regime of Enver Hoxha, under which he had worked until he fled Albania in 1990. His speech prompted a backlash, though, from people who felt his defection was a token gesture against a regime under which he had previously prospered. Sutherland quoted Wikipedia's article which said that Hoxha supported Kadare as they were from the same city and the dictator 'personally liked' his work.

Saturday saw reader's editor Ian Mayes briefly discussing the contents of his own entry [4]. Mayes is responsible for the Guardian's daily 'corrections and clarifications' column, which has recently cleared up such matters as a columnist's confusion of Sarah Bernhardt and Sandra Bernhard, and Ginger Rogers and Ginger Baker. Plugging his new book highlighting the best corrections the paper has published, Mayes noted that Wikipedia credits him with the 'discovery of the apostrofly', which causes the appearance of wrongly placed apostrophes which are common fodder for the corrections column.

And finally, Monday saw the appearance of an editorial on the 10th anniversary of the stock market flotation of Netscape [5]. The piece cited Wikipedia as one of the best examples of the "huge liberating and enabling force" of the internet in the form of the open source movement, along with Linux and

Canadian Wikipedian achieves national renown

Bryan Derksen this week made the pages of several Canadian newspapers. A syndicated article, appearing in such papers as the Montreal Gazette and the National Post, discussed his Wikipedia activities and noted his earlier appearance in a Wired Magazine story. The article warned readers not to play Derksen at Trivial Pursuit, given his remarkable knowledge of esoteric trivia gained at least in part through editing Wikipedia [6].

The article discussed how Wikipedia is resistant to vandalism thanks to the efforts of people like Derksen, explaining, "If somebody vandalizes a page, he'll know. If somebody wilfully spreads misinformation, he'll fix it". He was quoted as saying, "My friends used to poke fun at Wikipedia. Now they're starting to realize that my little hobby is turning into something significant". However, Derksen also added that it should not be used as a primary source but instead as a starting point from which to learn more.

Ulster town happier now

And finally, following the recent news that the mayor of the Northern Ireland town of Ballymena was upset by its entry in Wikipedia, the Belfast Telegraph has reported that its article highlighting the mayor's disquiet triggered a clean-up of the article, which the mayor and residents of the town are happier with [7]. Formerly described as the heroin capital of Europe, and taunted with satirical references to its housing estates, the town now has a considerably more neutral entry with sources cited to back claims. Both articles triggered numerous edits, with almost 50 having now been made since 22 July, compared to just 35 over the preceding six months.

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