The Guardian Asks: Can you trust Wikipedia?

The Guardian Technology Section asked a few "experts" to rate some Wikipedia entries.
Mike Barnes on the Steve Reich entry, Overall mark: 7/10
Alexandra Shulman on the Haute couture entry, Overall mark: 0/10
Mark Kurlansky on the Basque people entry, Overall mark: 7/10
Anthony Julius on the TS Eliot entry, Overall mark: 6/10
Claire Tomalin on the Samuel Pepys entry, Overall mark: 6/10
Derek Barker on the Bob Dylan entry, Overall mark: 8/10
Robert McHenry on the Encyclopedia entry, Overall mark: 5/10

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How do the print encyclopedias fare?

It would have been great to have them also rate World Book, Britannica, Americana, etc (all blind, of course) and see how the Wiki measures up.

Missing the point

The entire point of Wikipedia is that if you think an article is in need of improvement, you ought to improve it yourself.

Wikipedia analysis

It would have been really interesting if the Guardian or one of the experts would have taken it a step farhter and actually corrected the entries in Wikipedia, instead of just noting problems.

As it is, the Guardian article appears to have already inspired some changes. For example, the reference to Pepys' diary having been been started as a New Year's resolution was removed on the same day that the article came out.

Another interesting question might be what will the experts think of the entries as they exist next month or next year?

Re:Missing the point

I'm not anti-Wikipedia, but I am wholeheartedly tired of hearing this comment and its equivalents.

The user of Wikipedia who's using it to try to learn something is the one who suffers from articles that need improvement--and that user is in no position to improve the article.

If you know enough about a subject to know what's wrong with the article, why would you be looking it up on Wikipedia?

Or maybe I'm reading your comment wrong: Maybe you're right--that the "entire point" of Wikipedia isn't to gather together knowledge in a useful and usable form, but to give people lots of stuff to edit and improve. Seems a little circular, though--and improbable.

I use Wikipedia (cautiously), but whenever I see this standard response to any criticism, I want to scream. Unless Wikipedia is really "the encyclopedia for people who don't need an encyclopedia--great for looking up stuff you already know!"

Re:Missing the point

Meh.I'll always be a "glass is half full" kinda guy with Wikis in general, I still can't believe they work as well as they do.I don't know that this article missed the point, I think the point was to have some "experts" check out the content. Maybe they did miss the opportunity to point out that these experts could've fixed things, but maybe that wasn't the point.I'd say one big point of Wikis is exactly that, "to give people lots of stuff to edit and improve." Certainly not the point, but one of the things that's so great about them (and the same thing that makes them so lousy).

Users are ignorant???

Actually no. I've been a user looking for info, I've gone searching the web for other information and then reposted summaries to wikipedia. Which is what it's there for. Eventually an expert will come around and improve it. Until then, though, the summary will be as good as someone could generate in the time it took me to put it together - which will save them that much work. You build the rim of a wheel, so that someone can build a wheel, so someone can build an axle, so that we can use the cart.I usually check wikipedia information versus other info... and when it differs, then I bring up the differences in the talk pages if I'm not an expert, or widely read, on a particular subject. Sometimes I just end up posting questions on the talk pages, sometimes they get answered, sometimes not.If it just appears to be additional information, which isn't already in the article, I'm bold and I add it.Nobody said Wiki was perfect, but compared to having nothing, or synthesizing your own data from disperate fragmentary web-sources, it's a lot better.Could it be improved? Sure. We could hire librarians and other info specialists to work on it. But who wants to fund that?-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

Typically...

Any articles that make media attention, get fixed up. And fixed up quite spectacularly, and often fast.It's the more eyeballs/shallow bugs thing.The point is, if we get every user to use their eyeballs on everything, then all the articles will be better.Right now you're limited to core people spending time on too many articles.-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

Re:Missing the point

I've contributed to Wikipedia in about a dozen different articles. I usually use it to look up something that I already knew a little bit about. In the cases where I contributed something, there was enough new-to-me info that I learned something, but I found that I also knew something that wasn't yet reflected in the article. I spent a few minutes and added it. I used it to try to learn something and I recognized that it needed improvement and I was in a position to improve it. I don't need to know the recipe for stone soup to know that it would taste better if I added my carrots to it.


In many of those cases, Wikipedia was just one of several search engine hits on the subject that I consulted. I don't believe that the "more authoritative" sources I looked at ever indicated the Wikipedia info to be inaccurate. Incomplete, perhaps, but that reflects more on its method than its veracity.

Incorrect info (not just method)

Sometimes incorrect information *is* put into wikipedia. Urban legends, stuff passed down, etc. Not everyone can cite sources. However, you often see stuff removed out to talk pages and otherwise see contributors asked for sources (I've got one going right now because while I've found the index which references the article, the person disputing wants to know that what the anonymous IP added was actually in that article - haven't had time to mess with that again, even though it's at a local university).But yeah, first you put up information, then you winnow for the truth. Wikipedia is still new, and for something so new - with mostly untrained contributors, it is in excellent shape. Compared to most first-run encyclopedias, who often have editors who've been parts of other projects before-hand, wikipedia is doing great.I want the haters to come back and complain in a decade.-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

Re:Missing the information

I find the wikipedia useful for those areas that encyclopedias and other references don't cover well - or at all. Many areas of contemporary life & many subcultures are simply left out of traditional sources. If I have a need or an interest, they fail me. Many types of information are deemed too ephemeral for inclusion by encyclopedias - many peoples who lack political power are also excluded - so they miss much of current import.

When looking for information on notable transgender people - traditional sources failed me. The wiki had information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_transgender_p eople

Recently - I saw an article mentioning a purported time traveler & their history on the web - - the wiki had information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Titor

Encyclopedias are failing in their missions to be encyclopedic! I'm thankful there is a resource where people who have knowledge and interest in neglected areas can contribute. It fills a gap.

Re: It fills a gap

Good point. It fills gaps, some gaps it fills very well, others, it needs some work. It's not an exhaustive and perfect source for accurate information on every topic known to man, but it's a great source for many people some of the time.

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