December 9, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Wikipedia's open-source label conundrum

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is often referred to as an "open-source" project because it is written, edited and policed by a global group of volunteers.

However, the open-source label doesn't really fit Wikipedia. "Free-for-all," in fact, may be a better match.

"Open source," at least the way it's been used in tech circles over the years, usually connotes successful, volunteer projects like the Linux operating system, which has strict controls and is monitored by a handful of people who make the call on what is handed over to the public.

That hardly describes Wikipedia, whose own founder doesn't even like to call it "open source." With Wikipedia entries, no one calls the shots, and anyone, even anonymous users, can make changes to the publicly used product.

Simply put, the kind of confidence attached to Linux shouldn't be attached to Wikipedia, which is more a grand and very subjective experiment in collective writing than a rigid engineering project.

Two scandals have made that point clear. Last week, a former journalist named John Seigenthaler published an op-ed in USA Today blasting the service for an anonymously written article that had been on the site for four months linking him to the assassinations of both John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. Then, former MTV host and podcasting pioneer Adam Curry was accused of editing out references to fellow contributors to podcasting technology in the Wikipedia article on the subject.

In response, The New York Times, for one, has banned reporters from using the Wikipedia as a research resource, according to a posting Wednesday at Poynter Online.

The editors at the Gray Lady who made that decision have a good point. Unlike Linux, Wikipedia has no central editor like programmer extraordinaire Linus Torvalds and his small cadre of managers, who make the final decision on what goes in the software. Wikipedia is always being modified, so there's never really a "production version" that's been tested and deemed reliable. And because Wikipedia makes it easy for contributions to be made anonymously, it lacks the accountability that forces open-source software developers to offer up their best work.

Credit and accountability
Most important, programmers relish taking credit for their contributions. That gives them credibility among other coders, makes them accountable when they produce something that doesn't work, and maybe even helps them land a good job.

"It takes two years to get 'street cred' in Linux software development," said Matt Asay, the founder of the Open Source Business Conference, a series of business conferences on open-source technology. "The time frame might be different with different projects, but the system is basically the same: There are only small groups of submitters. And it all has to be filtered through captains or those who have final access to the code."

See more CNET content tagged:
Wikipedia, open source, podcasting, open-source software, founder


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Wikipedia rife with bias, error
Information found on Wikipedia is often erroneous or riddled
with bias. Even when errors have been corrected, a subsequent
contributor can reintroduce the same or different mistakes. Most
people have little knowledge of the subjects they are
investigating on this or any site, so they cannot detect the
problems. It is a crutch for the lazy, and those who have never
learned to do simple research. It would be far better for people
to use the Columbia Encyclopedia, available free here:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
Reply Link Flag
look forward
It is what it is today, it's not yet an authoritative resource. However, it is not a "crutch for the lazy, and those who have never learned to do simple research." Do a little research yourself. To be fair, the majority of the information there is accurate, especially in high traffic articles. The Foundation that runs Wikipedia needs some changes and several more years of maturity; don't forget that this encyclopedia is a relatively new venture. There's a lot of anti-Wikimedia hype these days because of some high-profile mistakes, but do you really think people are going to stop using it? Nah. Wikimedia has community, and nothing about the Columbia Encyclopedia says community (although I completely respect it as an academic resource). Wikipedia has a few major lessons to learn still, but it is here to stay.
Posted by (54 comments )
Link Flag
Locked In stinks
Wikipedia could easily control their content if, for instance, they maybe were stricter to those who post false info. That way you would have a pretty mature userbase.
Wikipeida is totally amazing. C'mon.
You get the latest information instant; not waiting for some bogged down locked in academias approval.

I'm sure that Webster has allot of erroneous weak information in it too if not very limited. In Wikipeida I get real time cutting edge science and philosophy and then I can discuss in an individual forum. Something Webster could never do.

I think it really has helped the world massively by opening it up to real not televised phony debate and allowing people to discuss their most intimate beliefs about religion and science in the most no POV way possible. Nothing is perfect and I think a Propiatory Encyclopedia would be more imperfect overall.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Link Flag
Bias and error are everywhere
Not to dive off too deeply into "New Age" but information should be free to propogate. Wikipedia is one way there will be others.

From science journals to blogs even the most respected people of our day have and project their bias on what they write and publish.

I like the idea that when there is more than one view of a person or event that it can be published reviewed and amended. Things do change over time as more becomes known and I like that as things become known that older articles can be reviewed and updated or perhaps expanded.

One thing that seems to be forgotten everytime that people slam Wikipedia is that the material in in can be republished and referenced. Most encyclopedias are not very happy about someone clipping their article about something and reusing it.

When the written word publishers decide to attack their users the way that the RIAA and the MPAA have destroying "fair use" in the process the big encyclopedia and dictionary publishers will be the first to want their part.
Posted by albrown (36 comments )
Link Flag
Depends on what information you want
Your encyclopedia doesn't have a lot of the information that I'm looking for.
Posted by (7 comments )
Link Flag
Wikipedia rife with excellent material
Readers should look for themselves. There's an enormous amount of excellent material at Wikipedia. Inspection easily demonstrates that fact. But I'm not going to start an argument here. Anyone who wants to go down that rathole can visit c|net's previous article, "How much do you trust Wikipedia?" [1].

[1] <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by tbc0 (9 comments )
Link Flag
Of course techies like the Wikitoy
People who work in the world of technology are generally among
the last you would want to consult for general knowledge. They
also love gadgets that go Bang and Whoop-Whoop; and the things
they adore tend to have very short lifespans. It's no wonder that
many of them are smitten with a cute but shoddy toy like
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
Link Flag
wikipedia isn't very good.
I tried to EDIT a commment, then DELETED my comment because I didn't want to SUBMIT it, but then the next time I check back to the same article, they say my IP address have violated their terms by editing stuff that doesn't belong to me! I know for a fact that there could be millions of people who are attached to 1 IP address, depending on the time given to them by the domain's admin. Hello? Wikipedia, wake up. Many of the errors should be corrected before being put up on websites. I found many stuff pertaining to historic Chinese people's names which are spelled or romanized incorrectly into English! I tried to make a correction, but then they say I don't have the right to edit contents in the articles (on the fact that someone else who used the same IP address as I, had violated their terms!)
Posted by trien29 (2 comments )
Link Flag
leave them alone you bullies....
The folks at Wikipedia are doing good work. Even if it is not totally accurate; give them a break.

The media is deciding to beat up on the Wikipedia folks today... who is it going to be tomorrow.
Posted by eneusta1 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ignoring a problem does not solve a problem
Your notion that the media "beat up" Wikipedia by revealing that it is "not totally accurate" seem out of character for one who poses the question, "Who is it going to be tomorrow?"
In fact, it may be you ... on Wikipedia ... accused of child molestation, a conspiracy to assasinate the President, tax evasion .... virtually anything. By exposing the potential danger of this free-for-all site that poses (by inference of it's name) as a type of encyclopedia, the media allows credibility to be given where it is deserved and skepticism directed at those who are "not totally accurate."
Posted by guypaul (1 comment )
Link Flag
Difficult Posting Facts
I attempted to edit the Saddam Hussein wikipedia article with
information detailing US relations to Hussein in the 1980s
regarding the sale of bio-chemical weapons. These points were
quickly sanitized from the annals of US dealings with this man.
Seems that if you have enough people to usurp history we all
relapse into a Winston Smith-esqe world with
Posted by (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Methods of editing
If you are going to add controversial material, then here is what I would suggest you do:

1. Introduce the material. Be bold!
2. If it is reverted, then ask why on the discussion page.
3. If the answer is reasonable, change your edit to deal with the criticism. Otherwise, politely say that you disagree and the reason why you disagree on the talk page.
4. Add the maerial back again.
5. If this happens a few times, go to the page <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> and ask for comment on the article
6. Keep talking on the talk page! Make sure you add reliable references, and ask why your material is being removed. Refrain from making personal attacks, even if those commenting are making personal attacks on yourself. Sooner or later, they will get blocked.

I did this with the Jesus article. I had material I needed to add (I needed to have the lead section updated because I felt it was misleading). I ran through this process, and eventually I was able to get a satisfactory response.

Posted by ta bu shi da yu (19 comments )
Link Flag
They have definite regalia
They ban users if they post false information or step outside the lines I think.
Maybe they just need to be stricter.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How could they ban anyone?
You don't have to log in or anything to edit an entry, so banning someone would be a difficult thing. I've posted to fix errors and there's no accountability whatsoever. You're giving them too much credit.
Posted by megan1996 (1 comment )
Link Flag
Does Wiki fact-check using real encyclopedias?
What expertise do the Wikipedia staff have?

How would they know if, for instance, the history of Antigua,
Guatemala was incorrectly posted, as it was last I checked?

Do they have historians and other specialists doing the editing,
as do the commercial encyclopedias?

Do the paid staff of Wikipedia confirm the accuracy of Wikipedia
postings by checking real encyclopedias? That would be ironic,
wouldn't it.

If they are going to ban users for posting false information, they
must have some standard for evaluating falsehood, musn't they?
What is it?
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
Link Flag
You forgot the most important difference
Wikipedia is not a software prject. Although it uses open source software, its end product is content not software. Unless Mr. Wales is trying to associate the project indirectly with the open source community he should emphasize this particular point.
Posted by adamleerasmussen (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The entire concept is a "dumbing down". It substitutes opinion for
fact, and is a total debasement of scholarship. It is no different
than the "hippies" of many years ago who sold their inferior
handmade crap on the corner stating that it was better than
"machine made" products. Garbage is garbage whether it's a stupid
macramé or words.
Posted by billhennigan (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree. Most of the defenses for Wikipedia are political. Many
people just adore the fact that it is a "community," with Wikitoids
that are not copyrighted. The idea of articles written and
rewritted by 5, dozens, or hundreds of people makes about as
much sense as having 50 chefs prepare soup. The result is

The model Wiikipedia defender offers this ringing defense:
"The folks at Wikipedia are doing good work. Even if it is not
totally accurate; give them a break."

The break that "the folks at Wikipedia" get is that they can
continue to post garbage for the amusement of the booboisie.
You can't fool all the people all of the time, but you can fool
most of them most of the time.

The mitigating factor is that people with faith in junk knowledge
have always found sources for it, so we aren't worse off. But a
gradeschool (or, heaven forbid, college) paper should receive an
"F" if it is found to contain Wikitoids.
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
Link Flag
A flawed comparison and ill-conceived generalization
Mr. Hennigan's disparaging remarks are best answered by challenging readers to look for themselves. There's an enormous amount of excellent material at Wikipedia. Inspection easily demonstrates that fact. But I'm not going to start an argument here. Anyone who wants to go down that rathole can visit c|net's previous article, "How much do you trust Wikipedia?" [1].

[1] <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by tbc0 (9 comments )
Link Flag
Is this a troll?
What has Wikipedia got to do with the Hippie movement? In case you haven't noticed, Wikipedia have the following site policies:

1. Neutral POV: this means that Wikipedia does not hold a position on any article. It means that crank theories are documented in Wikipeida, however you'll almost always see the opposing viewpoint. This should usually work vice versa (people being people, it sometimes doesn't work out).

2. No orginal research: this means that noone can make up a theory and add it to Wikipedia. It also means that YOUR opinion can go into an article - this would be original research.

3. Cite your sources: to stop original research, every fact or opinion in an article must have a source. We also frown on weasel words ("some critics say" - which critics?; "some media commentators believe" - which media commentators?) and peacock terms ("it is important to note" - it's best not to say this, and people will remove this sort of thing on sight if you add it).

The problem for Wikipedia has been:

a. cranks adding material: for instance, see <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> They strongly objected when material was added that debunked their views. I should note that we didn't actually debunk their views, we just noted what was said about them and any factual errors they have made. Their response is here: <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

b. volume of edits: the volume of edits is phenomenal. While our volunteers have been very good at catching most vandalism, we literally have thousands of edits a day. Some of the vandalism slips through. There is currently a proposal to create a stable version. This should not mean that content would be locked down - as incorrectly reported in the UK's The Guardian! (a good example of how other sources can get material wrong also - and why you should always keep a skeptical mindset) - instead, we would have a revision that is either excellent quality or reasonably accurate and that we lock down. I see it as a baseline revision of the article that we can compare the current version against, and it stops sneaky vandalism. Whether teh proposal happens or not is under debate at the moment. For more info, see <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

c. Nasty people. That person who wrote John Seigenthaler Sr was never endorsed by Wikipedia. A lot of us feel VERY badly for John that this happened. An administrator removed the comments - ridiculous as they were - from the edit history. The problem here is not with Wikipedia, however. The problem is with the person who wrote the material. Under American law, I understand that cable records can be subpoenaed by a Federal Agency. Perhaps this should happen, and then have civil action taken against those people.

Overall, I do believe that criticisms need to be taken into account and we need to change some things on the site. However, to say that we are "dumbing down" concepts is, to be frank, ridiculous. I see no evidence that we are dumbing down anything!

Scholarship requires:

1. Sources
2. Intelligent commentary
3. Analysis

Most Wikipedia articles do this very well. Perhaps a good example of this would be <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> or <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

If you would like to see other high quality articles, may I suggest reviewing the featured article page? this can be found at <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

Posted by ta bu shi da yu (19 comments )
Link Flag
The problem lies in how (a) Google values Wikipedia ...
[rhetorical verse/haiku sequence]
Once upon a time /"human-edited" meant "good." / NOTE: "Directories."

Humans can't keep up. / Not a volunteer army. / Too much data flow.

Microsoft tested / Looksmart directory links ... / Lowered search quality.

Even ODP ... / Google "did the math" with that. / Too much junk data.)

BUT lately observe / Google - Wikipedia / How links are valued.

That too's a mistake. / There's not enough editors / to "guarantee" facts.

Only the obsessed / will "eagerly" "protect truth" / Who else has the time?

AS LONG AS GOOGLE / remembers "human failings" / there is no problem.

THE BOTTOM LINE: / Wikipedia's human. / Google should not be.

{smile}BOKE /
Posted by BOKE.101 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
This is easy to fix - Use a Swarm
This is really easy to fix.

On every article, add a button that says - "Looks ok to me" and another one that says "I see issues here".

All registered users can click either button.

The results of this voting mean that each article can have a confidence indicator attached to it.

10 OKs and 5 Issues would give a 66% confident rating.

If there are no edits since those people voted, then each vote gets a full weight of 1.

The value of votes degrades with edits. If you add information to the article, the vote weights only degrade a little. If you delete information, the value of past votes degrades quickly.

If a user finds an article with 100 votes and a 95 percent confidence rating, they know they can likely trust the article.

If users vote "I see issues with this article", they should be sent to a second page asking them to participate and fix the issues. If they do, they can change their vote to one of confidence.

It would be important to allow each user to have only one vote on an article, but to be able to change that vote as the article evolves. Something like "You voted OK, do you want to change that vote?"

For more - please see
Posted by rboothby (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wikipedia concept is unworkable
To make a reliable encyclopedic source of information, it's absolutely necessary to have real experts do fact-checking and editing. If Wikipedia doesn't have that, it has myriads of no-nothings, people with agendas, and maybe even propagandists working for one govt or another, or for corporations, putting their claims into Wikipedia.

The allegation Seigenthaler complained about is noteworthy, that he was connected to assassinations. Maybe one should recall Oliver Stone's contention that GHW Bush, while in the CIA, was connected to JFK's assassination. Is THAT in Wikipedia? Or was the allegation against Seigenthaler really a rightwing liar's attempt to smear a close friend of both Kennedys and perhaps try to obscure who may have really been involved? Then there was the suggestion that JFK had himself bumped off because he was dying of kidney disease and preferred a dramatic exit to wasting away in a hospital room.

Wikipedia has no staff of top-notch real experts to evaluate postings. And it would be better to rely on contributions of scholarly experts instead of amateurs.
Posted by RavingEniac (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's old news that Wikipedia is unlike open source software
Old news to me, anyway. See "Why the free encyclopedia movement needs to be more like the free software movement," from Sept. 1, 2002:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

See the whole thread to see how some active Wikipedians responded at the time:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by lsanger (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
...usually connotes successful...
Apparently you don't understand Open Source. Take a look at Home to many/most OS projects. There are tens of thousands of projects that die before releasing a single line of code. So no, Open Source does not connotate success.

"...which has strict controls and is monitored by a handful of people who make the call on what is handed over to the public..."

Wrong again. While that may be Linux's model, there are many that consist of essentially a party of one (look at WebCalendar) and others where community rules (See TikiWiki).

Last point - You make the assertion that Wikipedia is an open source project. They call themselves "Wikipedia is a free-content encyclopedia" and release their content under the GNU Free Documentation License.

Seems like you've written a straw man and tried to knock it over.
Posted by uslacker (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Paid staff?
Apart from a developer, there are no paid staff. I really feel that people don't understand the reasons behind why people edit Wikipedia. I, personally, edit it because I wish to add to the world's knowledge of particluar things. For instance, I'm editing <a class="jive-link-external" href=",_Title_II" target="_newWindow">,_Title_II</a> and I will soon be adding more information to it. I feel that it's an important topic that not many people have explained clearly.

I've also written about technical topics such as <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> and <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> We also have some off the wall articles you'd never read about in a normal encyclopedia, such as <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

I feel that it is a fine effort. I really feel that people should be checking the sources of the article, however. That is what I do when I check an article: I check the notes and references section. I also check the external links section. I would never use Wikipedia as a citable reference in a paper, however I would use the material to:

a. gain a general background to a topic, and
b. find sources so that I can research further.

Posted by ta bu shi da yu (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Call to authority
Ah yes, the old call to authority argument. You write:

"Wikipedia has no staff of top-notch real experts to evaluate postings."

Firstly, let's nail the whole "staff" thing on the head. The staff arer the contributors.

Secondly, what do you mean by "top-notch experts"? How do you define an expert? While I agree that a process of review by experts would be great (I'm thinking of setting up a site that analyeses Wikipedia content for accuracy - still to work out how to do this!) I feel that how good the information in Wikipedia is should not be determined because you are an "expert", but because the material is good an follows mandatory site policies, such as:

* Neutrality,
* Lack of originality (we shouldn't make stuff up),
* Accuracy, and
* Reliable sources.

The other thing is that this was already tried with Nupedia. It didn't work because non-experts couldn't get their material in: the barrier was too high!

With Wikipedia, good articles are usually created like this:

1. Create the article
2. Research further and keep writing. Eventually a structure to the article is found. Sources are provided.
3. The article is placed on peer review (this is NOT like an academic Peer Review - it's more like a "does this make sense, can you see any issues I need to fix?")
4. Article is improved if necessary
5. Article is submitted to <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> (Featured Article Candidates)
6. The article is torn to pieces on the FAC page! All objections on this page must be actionable. FAC articles must satisfy the following criteria:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

The problem with wanting credentially experts to write all your material is two-fold:

1. Experts have biases. This would cause its own problems on Wikipedia, as experts may try to censor dissenting viewpoints to their own, and
2. Nupedia followed this model, and it never took off. Jimmy Wales suck $500,000 into this project and in 2 months they got 12 articles. Hardly awe-inspiring.

However, please note I'm not saying that credentialled experts don't have a place. I would LOVE IT if tehy would review our FA articles! It would be a real boon for Wikipedia. I just don't think that the contributions must ALWAYS come from credentialed experts. Besides, who are you going to get to write about MDAC? What sort of credentials would you need? Do you see the slippery slope you are going down here?

Posted by ta bu shi da yu (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Larry Sanger is right on
He summarized one part of it in this thread [1]. He also wrote an article titled, "Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism" [2]. Also see [3].

[1] <a class="jive-link-external" href=";threadID=12207&#38;messageID=93323" target="_newWindow">;threadID=12207&#38;messageID=93323</a>
[2] <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
[3] <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by tbc0 (9 comments )
Link Flag
What Wikipedia is for
Scientific, Technological and Historical Facts.

Double-check for political, religious or philosophical views, and clicking [Discussion] or [History] usually helps. I find it very useful than any other online or *hard-copy* encyclopediae, and it's usually my starting point when I do my Engineering research. I usually don't have to cross-reference any material and most articles are already referenced anyway.
Posted by (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bicameral Authenticity System
In light of the recent controversies and the long-term need for improving the quality of Wikipedia articles, I am proposing a new bicameral rating system on Wikipedia be implemented to alert readers of flagged authenticity in an article. Composed of a group of elected editors and anyone on the internet, two disparate ratings could be compiled and displayed on a Lichter scale (1-7) for categories like "authenticity", "grammar", "depth", "bias", etc. If you've seen "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire", you'll know the audience almost always gets it right. For when the audience is getting it wrong, the rating by elected editors would be displayed adjacently to the public rating to alert new readers to this fact. An X-Y graph (X being time, Y being Lichter rating) could show the progression of an article's value over time. To avoid the same individual tainting a rating by voting repeatedly, IP addresses could be blocked for a specific amount of time on each article after issuing a rating, i.e., a week or two.

Furthermore, I would hope that Wikipedia pages would provide more links to authoritative sources of information to prevent error and bias.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by JonathanGCohen (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wikpedia: Still a valuable resource
Before we throw out the baby with the bath water, let's remember that even the venerated and peer-checked New York Times has printed erroneous information. My experience, for example, has been that Wikpedia has provided valuable and accurate (and understandable)information on such arcane topics as microdna, Lie groups, SU(2), and even Smallville (a WB TV series). So I say: Do not so willingly rush to judgement. I've found Wikpedia often to be my only source on many obscure topics and so far have found no errors in the topics referenced. Of course, it would be nice to have it peer reviewed, a way, in the long run, it is: by those who consult it.
Posted by schwarz1 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Credit Card ID
Users could identify themselves by having to pay 1 penny/cent by credit card. It might pay for a wikipedia server once a year!

Unfortunate for folks who haven't been granted a credit card yet or who have moral or other reservations about using them. Maybe we should ditch that idea.
Posted by gimmel (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Authors Arbitrate
In some wiki systems, or so I'm told, changes to an article have to be approved by the original author before they go public. Presumably there are mechanisms by which when need be other dignitaries can be brought in either when the original author doesn't respond/dies/takes up fishing in Antarctica or when the subject is on a controversial subject and requires several nods before it's deemed publishable.

There's a lot of flexibility in the Wikipedia system in terms of how authentication could be provided. Lets' not get too hung up about one system for all purposes.
Posted by gimmel (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Internet is full of this...
Is online freedom as good as we thought?
Just came from - aims to produce a bestseller with the help of companies who are hungry for publicity... This is what the internet has brought on us!
Posted by AlexGilad (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
I see you've joined the Wikipedia FUD bandwagon
Every few months, it seems that some contentious issue or another rages across the Internet until it dies from lack of interest, is beaten down by common sense or a new hot topic displaces it. This month, the hot topic is Wikipedia bashing, judiciously mixed with Wikipedia FUD (FUD: "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt," see <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>). Sadly, this article joins the fray on the side of FUD, not on the side of common sense and education.

It's not until the second page, in the sixth paragraph, that there's anything useful to contribute to the discussion. Up to that point, the tone is negative and paints a derogatory picture of Wikipedia by hammering on the "Wikipedia isn't Open Source" idea, repeating hyperbole seen elsewhere on the Web.

In that paragraph you say:

...So in effect, there is no final version of
a Wikipedia entry. They're more like living
documents, always subject to change. Does that
mean Wikipedia is always wrong? Not at all.
But it does mean readers should be cautious.

"But it does mean readers should be cautious." These words cut to the heart of the matter and should be the essence of what we say about Wikipedia. Everything else is FUD -- or frivolous. Sure, mistakes have been made. Sure, there are errors and personal agendas. Sure, there are problems. But at the same time, the majority of the content seems to be accurate. It's a new, growing and unique form of media. It's not the Encyclopedia Britannica (though the moniker would naturally lead one to make this connection).

I'd love to see the Wikipedia rhetoric on the Web slow down a bit and start explaining to people the *facts* about Wikipedia, rather than stirring up FUD about the site.

Comparing Wikipedia to Open Source software development doesn't help. The article admits that Wales (the founder) dislikes the term "Open Source" when applied to Wikipedia. By definition, doesn't this make the comparison, and this point of contention, moot? What's gained by saying that Wikipedia isn't really Open Source? Does it help us understand Wikipedia better? Does it give us new insights with which to judge the validity or value of Wikipedia? Or is it a spurious comparison that contributes nothing to understanding the issues at hand?

Here are the facts about Wikipedia:

1. It's a community-supported repository of knowledge.

2. Contributors can be anyone, from topic experts to non-experts, to vandals.

3. The contributors are human, with human strengths -- and human frailties.

4. The content is not refereed, though most contributors try to be as accurate as they can be.

5. The content, while it may be very useful, should not be treated as the End All, Be All, Final Source for any topic. It should be used, as with *any* research source (even the Encyclopedia Britannica) as one source among many, all of which are cross-checked for agreement and consistency.

6. There are nearly 900,000 articles (that's a lot of information)

7. Use common sense when reading Wikipedia.

This article would have served the public better by focusing on that one sentence ("But it does mean readers should be cautious."), expanding upon it and explaining the value, and pitfalls, of this resource. Comparing Wikipedia to Open Source software development contributes nothing of substance to the debate.
Posted by tdfunk (2 comments )
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... yes, I'm well aware of that K5 article. I must disagree with him somewhat, though I do think that having experts contribute is a good thing. My problem is that "elitism" means that certain topics might not be covered very well in terms of scope. I've seen experts who refused to cover topics simply because they didn't like them. That really has no place on Wikipedia.

I believe in the quality of the information that you are adding to Wikipedia, not the expert who wrote it. Being an "expert" only says that the information MIGHT be more reliable. I would STILL need to check their sources.

Posted by ta bu shi da yu (19 comments )
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