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Wikipedia better than Britannica, Pending changes as a victory of tradition, and more

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By Tilman Bayer and Rod

"Wikipedia is better than Encyclopaedia Britannica"

Title page of the first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.

As reported by the Spanish news agency EFE last week, Danish lexicographer Henning Bergenholtz, head of the Center for Lexicography at the Aarhus School of Business, said that the quality of Wikipedia surpasses that of the most prestigious traditional encyclopedias, such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

The article (titled Wikipedia es mejor que la Enciclopedia Británica, según un lexicólogo danés – "Wikipedia is better than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, according to a Danish lexicographer" – on the news portal – English translation), Bergenholtz also said that Wikipedia still has problems, in that certain articles use too many technical terms, and religious or political topics could contain partial or controversial opinions. In 2007, Bergenholtz had made a similar but more cautious statement about the reliability of Wikipedia, asserting that the site is more trustworthy than "most other" encyclopedic dictionaries [1].

However, Bergenholtz (himself the author of 30 dictionaries [2]) was more pessimistic about the quality of electronic dictionaries in general. He said that between 100,000 and 500,000 of them are available, but 99% should not be used because of their "very bad quality". The remarks were made on the occasion of Bergenholtz being awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Valladolid.

Pending changes – a victory for traditional models?

The trial of the Pending changes software feature generated most of the Wikipedia-centered media coverage last week. As noted in last week's "In the news", early reports – published before the feature became live – emphasized its potential to open up Wikipedia (as described in the Foundation blog post about the trial) rather than its interpretation as a move towards tighter editorial control (which had dominated media coverage of the proposed trial last August, see Signpost coverage: Misleading media storm over flagged revisions). On his "The Wikipedian" blog[3], User:WWB (William Beutler) listed further coverage - on ReadWriteWeb (Wikipedia to Loosen Controls Tonight), Slashdot (Wikipedia To Unlock Frequently Vandalized Pages), and in blogs, also noting that most of it emphasized the openness aspect, with only ComputerWorld (Wikipedia confronts downside of ‘Net openness') disagreeing.

However, in a June 18 panel discussion (Wikipedia: The Wisdom and the Folly of Crowds - starts around 07:45) on KCRW, a public radio station based in California, the latter viewpoint was strongly represented by Julia Angwin, Senior Technology Editor at the Wall Street Journal, whose article Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages had generated considerable controversy last fall, including a rebuttal by the Foundation (see Signpost coverage: 2009-11-23, 2009-11-30, 2009-12-07). The other panelists were Andrew Lih (User:Fuzheado, author of "The Wikipedia Revolution"), Beutler and cultural critic Lee Siegel (introduced as author of "Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob"). Angwin interpreted the trial as a move away from "crowd sourcing" towards a more traditional structure - "it looks a little like clique sourcing" (10:15). Lih took a more balanced viewpoint (also described in his blog post about the panel), but noted the example of the German Wikipedia where the feature has been active in a much more restrictive form since 2008.

Siegel confessed to use Wikipedia "the way I eat things that I shouldn't and drink things that I shouldn't – it's there, so I have to use it" (20:40), but attacked it as inaccurate and misleading ("information, not knowledge"). As examples, Siegel cited a false allegation about Saul Bellow that had remained for a long time in the article despite being marked as missing a citation (22:30, since removed), and a distorting quote from Marlon Brando's autobiography (26:00, since corrected).

In the conclusion of the panel, Angwin was asked (41:45):

"Is crowdsourcing a threat to the Wall Street Journal, and other institutions of its kind?"
"First, you should probably ask Rupert Murdoch, who owns us, for his views, for he is very outspoken on how he thinks their industry is going to evolve. But the one thing that is interesting to me watching this Wikipedia derby play out is that they are moving towards the more traditional editing structure, by adding this layer of top editors who approve facts. It seems to me like the model that I grow up in is winning out. And it's true that there are still errors in Wikipedia [...but it] does seem like having a structure of editors does improve accuracy, which is good news for me."

Beutler also reflected about the panel on his blog, regretting that in his "battle" with Siegel about the downsides of anonymity with regard to the reliability of Wikipedia, politeness had prevented him to point out Siegel's own "notoriety" in that respect (Siegel had been suspended as a blogger at The New Republic in 2006, after using a sock puppet to write comments supporting himself, at one point under the heading "Siegel Is My Hero" [4]).


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Is there an English version of the "Wikipedia is better than Britannica" article? It sounds interesting.SPNic (talk) 00:43, 23 June 2010 (UTC)[reply]

Sort of [7].--Chaser (talk) 02:40, 23 June 2010 (UTC)[reply]
The article mentions some statistics about Wikipedia and some glamorous factoids about Bergenholtz, but it doesn't give any details about his rationale for the comparison. It doesn't surprise me that this hasn't broken into mainstream English media, as it doesn't actually provide any new information or perspective. Besides, we already know we're 83 times better than Britannica, so who cares what Bergenholtz's reasoning is? :P --Cryptic C62 · Talk 00:11, 24 June 2010 (UTC)[reply]


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