Take two

Outside discussion of Wikipedia quality goes another round

Discussion in the media and the blogosphere about quality issues in Wikipedia articles continued over the past week, following an earlier admission by Jimmy Wales that some problems existed (see archived story).

This particular cycle in the debate was set in motion by Andrew Orlowski with a column in The Register on Tuesday, reporting that "Wikipedia founder admits to serious quality problems". As part of the article, Orlowski picked his own example out of "the many, many atrocious entries", using a diff as evidence. As he described it, "whoever wrote the entry for soul legend Baby Washington has no idea who she is, but makes a wild guess, then gives up completely".

Subsequent editors determined that Orlowski, although pointing to an article about Jeanette Washington, was actually referring to a different singer named Justine Washington, who sometimes also recorded using the name Jeanette. Until this incident, the article about the real "Baby" Washington was not wrong; rather, it did not exist at all. Meanwhile, in a resulting Slashdot discussion, several people observed that The Register is not exactly noted for its accuracy either. One offered the following as a humorous newspaper headline:

Register: Wikipedia Inaccurate, Badly-Written
Pots, kettles war over who's the blackest

Response to The Register

Orlowski's piece led quite a few others to comment about Wikipedia as well. Nicholas Carr, the writer who prompted this debate with his criticism, added some new observations in response. He argued that the quality of Wikipedia articles on esoteric subjects, as compared to general-interest topics, actually revealed the failure of "collective intelligence" rather than its success. Carr's comments included what he called the "Law of the Wiki", which he phrased as, "Output quality declines as the number of contributors increases." Dave Winer, who has had his own complaints about Wikipedia previously (see archived story), provided a different formulation: "No matter how good something is, there are always more idiots and morons to take it down."

A contrasting view came from departing Novell executive Matt Asay, who had blogged about Carr's original critique as well. Although he agreed with Carr originally, Asay indicated that he was now reconsidering the validity of this criticism. Given the choice between the traditional model of encyclopedias and Wikipedia, he said he would choose the latter. Asay concluded, "I suspect that the real problem with Wikipedia is simply that it's still young enough that it lacks a suitably disparate and large community behind it."

The debate continued to find echoes in a column by Mike Langberg in Sunday's San Jose Mercury News, "An Internet fed mostly by amateurs is frightening". Tracing some of the highlights in the discussion, Langberg ultimately came down in favor of professionally created content over production by amateurs. He admitted, however, that as a professional journalist in an economically precarious atmosphere (the Mercury News recently announced a reduction in staff, though it hopes to avoid layoffs), he had a personal bias involved.

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To The Register: Ha ha! Score 1 Wikifiddlers, 0 The Register. - Ta bu shi da yu 07:12, 25 October 2005 (UTC)[reply]


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