For a lot of new-media watchers, the most interesting thing about the episode was something entirely different: that Britannica, somewhat representative of old media in general, instinctively regards Wikipedia as a threat, whereas Wikipedians are not the least bit tempted to reciprocate. “I'm a big fan of Britannica's work,” says Mr Wales, adding that he is not motivated by “disrupting” anybody, and is glad that Brockhaus, the biggest encyclopedia in Germany (where Wikipedia is very popular), appears to be doing better than ever. But why not have a free alternative as well? And why not test the limits of what social collaboration can do? Mr Wales is the first to admit that “there are some inherent limitations,” and says they are busy trying to discover what they are.
And finally I would like to assert that, in my opinion, services like Wikipedia are the information sources of the future. They take risks, act boldly, emphasize their content over their technology, and encourage the free flow of ideas and information. They break down the stuffy walls of academia and hand knowledge back to everyday people. They take joy in understanding and describing the world. And that is exactly what NPR should be doing.
Well, Wikipedia exists in a state of quantum significance flux. It's simultaneously a shining, flawless collection of incontrovertible information, and a debased pile of meaningless words thrown together by uneducated lemurs with political agendas. It simply cannot exist in any state between these two extremes. You can test this yourself by expressing a reasonable opinion about the site in any public space. Whatever words you type, they will be interpreted by readers as supporting one of these two opposing views.
"New media expert" Mark Glaser at the PBSMediaShift blog wrote several articles focused on Wikipedia this week. Most include thoughtful discussion in the comments section, from Wikipedia editors and others.
My editor recently questioned whether I should source my blog posts with links to Wikipedia , the community-built online encyclopedia. It’s a good question, a fair question, and one that many newsrooms are grappling with to some extent.
And Wikipedia also has an entire subsection titled Alcohol and drug abuse for Bush, something Encarta doesn’t mention at all in its lengthy four-page entry. Again, after a lot of arguments on the subject, Wikipedia created a whole new entry just for George W. Bush substance abuse controversy.
Isn’t the creation of these special pages an act of bias in and of itself? Why isn’t there a special page on Bush’s time as governor of Texas or on his religious beliefs? It’s true that Wikipedia is trying to take these more controversial aspects of an already controversial president’s entry off the table, in a way, to make the main entry less controversial. But the final effect feels biased.
[Writer danah boyd] became a more well known offline personality as she became an expert on social networks for Fox News, NPR and other mainstream outlets during the MySpace boom and panic. One of boyd’s friends posted an entry about her on Wikipedia, and then she had the strange experience of witnessing Wikipedians (as people in that community are called) arguing over whether her entry was notable enough to keep. Worse than that, she felt helpless when seeing her entry riddled with errors. (boyd's blog entry)
“Whatever you think of it, Wikipedia is hugely influential,” blogger Todd Zeigler writes. “It is the 17th most visited site on the Internet and is the number one search result for lots of obscure/technical terms. I actually spend time helping to edit entries when I think they are inaccurate/need clarification. Everyone who cares about the concept of a collaborative encyclopedia should as well. Contributing is more effective than complaining about it. Wikipedia isn’t going anywhere. And it matters even if you think it is flawed.”
MARK GLASER: So you feel that Wikipedia having a “slightly more liberal” slant than the U.S. is OK? How does it affect the goal of neutral point of view and should you do something to counteract it in some way?
JIMMY WALES: I do not think it affects the goal at all. The question totally misapprehends the process. The idea that neutrality can only be achieved if we have some exact demographic matchup to United States of America is preposterous, as I am sure you will agree.
Some other blogs have followed up on the question of bias at Wikipedia:
A screenshot of the wikipedia.org portal was accompanied by brief commentary: "Wikipedia pages aren't much to look at. The collaborative encyclopedia overcomes this with two landing pages. The first is a high-impact splash page with language options, search and navigation, while the second [the Main Page] highlights current content." Some of the other sites chosen include Google, Flickr and BBC News Online.
It's not just that Wikipedia makes lots of mistakes. The writing is awfully long-winded, clumsy and boring. Obvious questions aren't answered. There are grammatical howlers galore. Clearly, people who can't write and who can't edit and who can't do research are running things. What next? Barbers will do brain surgery?
I have received a ton of e-mails about my denunciation of Wikipedia.... Clifford from London scored a palpable hit. I criticized Wikipedia for not providing enough information on mutual funds, but he pointed out that the Encyclopedia Britannica is a far worse offender in this regard.... Having done more reading, I concede that I went too far. There are good articles in Wikipedia.
McKellen: I don't understand Wikipedia. I've looked myself up on it and it's thoroughly objectionable. It's just taken, as the basis of my career, an article that was written about five years ago, and why someone doesn't correct it... is that how it's done?
Empire: Pretty much. If you want to change something, you can go on and correct it yourself.
McKellen: Oh... I suppose if you wanted to know someone's dates, or where they were born, it would be quite useful."