Paste it in the head!

Spinster

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Brief Wikipedia essay

This is a short essay for the class for which this blog was created. Part of the assignment was to post the essay to our blog.


Overview
Wikipedia.org is a free, open-source encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone with a computer and Internet access. It embraces the idea of collective information, owned by no one and representative of a myriad of viewpoints. As Wikipedia articles require collaboration to avoid obvious and damaging biases, the site’s developers encourage individuals to contribute their knowledge to subjects that are less-developed than others (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Contributing_to_Wikipedia). Also, readers can request articles on various topics, from fashion to manga. Wikipedia began in 2001 and, as of February 2006, contains 966,000 articles written in English; dozens of other languages are represented, including Scots Gaelic and Belarusian (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About).

Wikipedia has five pages explaining its policies, procedures and guidelines for submitting and editing information:
• What Wikipedia is not
• Neutral point of view
• No original research
• Verifiability
• Citing sources (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About).
Wikipedia does not allow any “unpublished theories, data, statements, concepts, arguments, and ideas; or any new interpretation, analysis, or synthesis of published data, statements, concepts, or arguments that, in the words of Wikipedia's co-founder Jimbo Wales, would amount to a ‘novel narrative or historical interpretation’” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:No_original_research). Wikipedia strongly encourages contributors to cite sources, although it does not require them to do so, and does not allow other Wikipedia articles (called Wikilinks) as valid sources (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_sources).

Wikipedia in the Library
As Chief Librarian, you may be wondering exactly why openly embracing Wikipedia in your library is a good idea. After all, it doesn’t directly benefit your staff or your patrons—you may not see an increase in patron satisfaction as a result of promoting Wikipedia. However, there are some basic advantages to using, and encouraging the use of, Wikipedia. First, access to it is free. There is no software to purchase or download, so funds need not be allocated to it. Anyone can retrieve the information on its pages without paying a fee. Additionally, you will not have to spend time and money training your staff to use Wikipedia, as it is extremely easy to navigate and its user interface is clean. Pages are well laid-out, and include tables of contents and clearly defined links to cross-referenced subjects and to external Web sites and pages.

The most important advantage to using Wikipedia is that it is a comprehensive source of information that may not be easily obtained elsewhere. Because it can be edited by anyone, anywhere, it is less susceptible to the “Western-centric bias found in many Western publications” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About), giving readers a more diverse understanding of the subject in which they are interested. While the usual encyclopedia subjects are covered, information can also be found on current topics such as specific technological advances and television shows that would not yet (or ever) be represented in a paper encyclopedia. Furthermore, because Wikipedia can be edited instantaneously, it often contains a great deal of up-to-the-minute information on breaking and unfolding news stories (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About). As more and more people continue to look to Wikipedia for information—and as more people trust the site’s contents—it is essential that librarians and patrons be made aware of its presence and are encouraged to contribute to it.

However, you may be wary of the validity and trustworthiness of an online reference source, particularly one that can be edited by anyone. These fears are well-founded—Wikipedia has been and likely will continue to be subject to vandalism. Also, errors and misinformation are likely to be found on an open-source Web site. The developers of Wikipedia acknowledges this—they say, “Indeed, many articles commence their lives as partisan, and it is after a long process of discussion, debate and argument, that they gradually take on a consensus form” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About). Actually, promoting the use of Wikipedia will actually reduce vandalism and increase the site’s trustworthiness: the more contributors there are; the more people who are policing the site, noticing, fixing, and reporting errors and vandalism—these actions all contribute to the validity of collective and diverse knowledge that Wikipedia represents.

Additionally, users are not solely responsible for cleaning up errors. Wikipedia has in place a program that allows its administrators special access privileges. One can become an administrator only after demonstrating their commitment to the site by contributing to it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrators). Administrators’ privileges include being given permission to edit the main page, which was placed under restricted access after suffering vandalism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrators). Wikipedia’s “Administrators” page contains a list of areas in which administrators ensure the flow of accurate information: “3RR violations [‘reverting,’ or changing a page back to a previous state; this is not supposed to be done more than three times in one day, and violations of this rule can result in blocked access], interventions against vandalism, [and] copyright problems,” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrators) among others.

In conclusion, though there are some problems with Wikipedia, and though much of it is not ready to be used in the same way as a paper encyclopedia, there are some clear advantages to using it and promoting it in the library. Librarians, as information and knowledge managers, have a responsibility to the profession and the people it serves to provide accurate, appropriate information. Wikipedia is fast becoming a well-utilized resource, and promoting its use will only result in a wealth of open, accurate information.

References
Wikipedia. Wikipedia:About. Accessed February 11, 2006, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About

Wikipedia. Wikipedia:Administrators. Accessed Febrary 11, 2006, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrators

Wikipedia. Wikipedia:Citing Sources. Accessed Februrary 11, 2006 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Citing_sources

Wikipedia. Wikipedia:No original research. Accessed February 11, 2006 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:No_original_research

2 Comments:

  • I am using you for my first comment. lucky you.

    first of all, i think wikipedia is brilliant. that being said, i attended the lecture given at FIS by a promenent blogger, whose name, of course, escapes me. during discussion, it was brought up how some groups of people have actually experimented in intentionally changing facts to see how long they go unnoticed. very interesting. how malicious is this? should we trust that people won't commit acts of sabotage?

    also, in the past political compaigns of the recent past, it was mentionned that people actually monitor the site to judge who is writing what on candidates wiki pages. indeed, they delete what is unsavoury, lickety split. also interesting. seems to me that you could say this about any controversial subject: it gets batted back and forth. at least on wikipedia we can go back and view the track record.

    By Blogger al, at 3:06 AM  

  • Hey Al. I am definitely aware of people committing intentional acts of vandalism on Wikipedia. However, I think that because so many people monitor it, the errors, misinformation, and vandalism get noticed, fixed, and reported relatively quickly. Also, when pages on Wikipedia have been deemed unsatisfactory and possibly biased, there is usually a disclaimer right at the beginning that alerts the reader that what they are reading might not be neutral. Plus, can we really trust what anyone says about politicians? (Except me and W--you can trust me when I say that W is the worst thing to happen to the US in a long, long time.)

    I too think that the idea of Wikipedia is pretty fabulous, and I read an article in the Globe and Mail last week (which I stupidly threw out and therefore couldn't use as a source in my essay) stating that Wikipedia on the whole has about the same amount of errors as a paper encyclopedia. Of course, to ensure the validity of this statement, we would have to examine the research methods involved and the potential biases of the researcher(s)--oh my God look at that shout-out to 1240--but still, I sort of believe in the general decent-sourceness of Wikipedia. That said, I definitely haven't cited it in an academic paper, though for an essay I wrote last semester, I consulted Wikipedia then a paper encyclopedia for some info on diversity in the workplace, and the information was pretty much the same.

    Oh, and Al? What were you doing thinking about Wikipedia at 3 a.m.?

    By Blogger Tasha, at 11:11 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home