17 People

Weekly #7: In Wikipedia I Trust

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In the battle between Wikipedia and the published encyclopedia, I would choose Wikipedia any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Here’s why:

  • Price: Wikipedia is “the free encyclopedia.” Who can beat free? Wikipedia is proud to offer you a wealth of knowledge for the price of your internet/smart phone bill. Given its cost, I know just what to expect. Wikipedia is not promising me information that has been submitted and peer-reviewed by Rhodes Scholars. The reason it is free is because people like you and me create and edit the entries. Okay, maybe not you and me so much as people like this guy:
  • Updated daily: Wikipedia has the edge over a published encyclopedia because entries can be updated in real-time. It’s like a news feed in this respect. I have a daily devotional book that is about various topics relating to history, religion, math, etc. and so forth. I barely look at it because I assume that the information is outdated. Wikipedia contributors keep content fresh and in doing so make the entries more reliable and trustworthy.
  • Wikipedia Brown Effect: I saw B.J. Novak perform this bit at Cornell, and it was spot on. Basically, he was commenting on how through the links on each Wikipedia page, you can literally go from one topic to another ad infinitum. I’ve spent many a night doing just that. I once started out looking at the entry on Edward Bernays and ended up on the gas vans used by the Nazis. This level of information gathering and information connectedness does not exist with other encyclopedias. Links make it possible with any online encyclopedia, but the fact is that Wikipedia is the largest with articles on just about every topic imaginable, far more than the published encyclopedia. It’s never been easier to learn and about such a variety of topics.
  • Fast and convenient: Wikipedia is user-friendly, returns inquiries quickly, and by virtue of being virtual is super convenient. And that is the number one reason why it wins. I simply search for what I want to know, and there it is. Again, given this, I know what to expect. I don’t order chicken nuggets from McDonald’s for their all-white natural meat; I do so because it’s fast and convenient.

Of course, Wikipedia is better than McDonald’s because it doesn’t claim to be something it is not. It is very clear that anyone can add and edit almost all entries. That is why I use Wikipedia as a starting point and do not take what I learn there as the final answer. I check the citations and keep looking at other sources. Sure, not everyone does this and more than a few believe everything they read on Wikipedia. But people misuse tools and technology all the time. That’s no reason to get rid of them or stop using them altogether.

I will choose Wikipedia over the published encyclopedia any day, but do I really trust it more? To trust Wikipedia is to trust people – a lot of people. It is the creation of millions of faceless names instead of the traceable hundreds to thousands of editors and experts who work on published encyclopedias. Those in the publishing world are motivated by money and held accountable by their bosses and other experts to provide verifiable, accurate information. The millions creating Wikipedia are motivated by the desire to share information and held accountable by its users. When I think about trusting Wikipedia, I think about my trust in people in general. I assume that its creators have basically good intentions, and I assume they want to do right by others. And I think what the creators are motivated by and who they are held accountable by makes them even more trustworthy than the general public.

 

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  1. […] a comment » After our discussion during Class 9, my position on Wikipedia remains unchanged. I still think it’s a great initial source for all topics, including […]


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