Over the last few years, the open-access, free encyclopedia Wikipedia has become one of the best-known and most-used reference sources on the Web. And for good reason: It has nearly 900,000 articles in English alone, and millions more in dozens of other languages.
And because of its community's self-policing nature, in which members take it upon themselves to vet many entries, it is nearly as accurate as the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica.
But over the past couple of weeks, Wikipedia has been dealing with a widespread discussion about its accountability and its credibility. On the one hand, some have lambasted the site for its inclusion of articles that contain deliberate inaccuracies. On the other, it has been attacked for making it possible for people to edit entries about themselves or organizations or technologies with which they're directly involved.
And now comes word, according to Wired News, that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has himself been editing his own biography on the site and removing references to co-founder Larry Sanger.
The modifications were first uncovered by Rogers Cadenhead on his blog, Workbench, the same writer who first publicized the fact that podcasting pioneer Adam Curry had been editing the Wikipedia entry on that technology to play up his own role and play down the role of some others.
"People shouldn't do it, including me," Wales told Wired News, speaking of individuals editing their own Wikipedia entries. "I wish I hadn't done it. It's in poor taste...People have a lot of information about themselves but staying objective is difficult. That's the trade-off in editing entries about yourself...If you see a blatant error or misconception about yourself, you really want to set it straight."
Sanger, naturally, wishes the latest controversy hadn't happened, especially because of his early role in creating Wikipedia.
"I still distinctly recall the dinner in which a friend told me about wikis, and I thought, 'We should use wiki software to run an encyclopedia.'," Sanger told CNET News.com. "Very soon after, when a blank wiki was set up, I proceeded to write the initial pages, publicize the new project in the Nupedia community and elsewhere, welcome new contributors, write and elaborate policy, and point out policy violations. In short, I started the habits that have made Wikipedia a qualified success today."