Le Devoir has a whole special today on Wikipedia (I’m not quite sure why). Half of it is subscriber-blocked, but the main story is free. Seems they’ve found some errors in Wikipedia articles about Quebec history.
The article repeats the same tired refrain of the mainstream media: Wikipedia can’t be trusted because we found all these errors.
It ignores the fact that Wikipedia has never said it should be trusted. It doesn’t want to be trusted. It asks people – pleads with them – to check every fact in every article (and correct/cite those that are wrong). It is not designed to be a source of information, it is designed to be a summary of information with clear citations.
And, of course, Wikipedia would never have achieved all this popularity if it wasn’t immensely useful as a resource in the first place.
The problem isn’t Wikipedia, it’s that people have been taught to believe everything they read without question. You could argue that this isn’t a proper way to setup an encyclopedia, and if so you’re welcome to use all the other failed Wikipedia-you-can-trust experiments out there.
UPDATE: More from Martin Lessard.
Two stories about wikis hit the news this week:
Guess which one is getting more media and blog attention.
Go ahead. Guess.
The Agence France-Presse news agency has banned its journalists from using Wikipedia and Facebook as sources in news stories. This comes after it was caught with its pants down quoting liberally from a fake Facebook profile setup in the name of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of slain former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
On one hand, many non-journalists might argue that it’s obvious such user-generated sites should not be considered authoritative.
But this story exposes one of journalism’s Achilles heels: In general, we take people at their word that they are who they say they are. Unless there is something suspicious that would lead us to believe otherwise (like someone giving their name as Hugh Jass), we ask people for their names and we trust that they’re not fooling us.
Is this wrong? No matter how good we get at our jobs, journalists will always be vulnerable to pranksters and others who intentionally try to mislead us. (Insert Iraq war comparison here.)
Should we just accept that as an occupational hazard, or should we start checking ID whenever we want to quote someone by name?
Janice Tibbetts of CanWest News Service has discovered the Wikipedia war between inclusionists and deletionists.
My favourite quote:
“…I started to see a sharp, sharp turn in what people considered newsworthy or inclusion-worthy…”
Even though I can’t find anything actually new about this story (no doubt it’s another banked holiday feature), and I haven’t been active on Wikipedia for a while, I’ll add a brief comment:
I’m not sure what camp I’m in. I think it’s funny that there are things like lists of Stephen Colbert’s Words and other pop culture minutiae. But when every article about some aspect of pop culture has a section that denotes what Simpsons or Family Guy episode references it, things are getting out of hand.
A limit has to be set, and sadly we’re still debating where to put that line.
Roberto Rocha today looks at Vinismo, the wine wiki which was first presented to the masses at DemoCamp Montreal 3. (See the video)
Co-founders Evan Prodromou and Nicolas Ritoux (who naturally both blogged about the article) have been selling the site trying to get some publicity (even to the point of emailing me and asking me to blog about it). I haven’t blogged about it for the simple reason that I’m not a wine critic. I don’t even drink the stuff. I have no clue what makes a good wine, so I have no idea if it needs a wiki.
But what I do know leaves me a bit skeptical. Wine criticism is a subjective thing, and trying to build a wiki around things people disagree about is a recipe for disaster. Of course, if anyone could make it happen, it would be Evan Prodromou, who built up the successful Wikitravel.
When it comes to wikis, Wikipedia is king. It’s the one everyone knows about, and the main reason other people think wikis will be successful. But it also means people are going to go there first. So to create a non-Wikipedia wiki, you need to fill a niche that Wikipedia can’t or won’t. And that’s tough.
There are three main reasons why information would be rejected from Wikipedia and it would make sense to build another wiki database of information:
- The information not encyclopedic in nature. This leads to things like WikiHow (the how-to guide), Wikitravel, A Million Penguins (the collaboratively-written novel) or WikiNews.
- The information is too obscure or too technical even for Wikipedia. It takes quite a feat to get information that specific when Wikipedia has over 2 million articles on subjects like Simpsons pop culture references. Nevertheless, this leads to such oh-my-god-get-a-life websites as Memory Alpha (the Star Trek encyclopedia)
and Wikispecies. Wikispecies, which has more serious goals, also fits into this category.
- The information is subjective, biased or fictional. Conservapedia and dKosopedia fall into this category, as does Uncyclopedia (the parody encyclopedia).
If it’s #3, then there’s the problem of how people can trust it and how to avoid edit wars. #2 might make sense if there was a lot more than articles about wines, which are surely allowed in Wikipedia, and it will take quite a while for it to develop enough articles to become the default resource on the topic. And if it’s #1, then comes the question: What is it, exactly?
I hope the website does well. And if it stays out of the trap of becoming a simple subset of inferior Wikipedia articles, then it probably will.