17 People

Posts Tagged ‘wikipedia

Weekly #8: Position Unchanged

leave 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 breaking news. Two things in particular stuck out to me from Garrett’s lecture:

  1. Wikipedia values both the crowd and the community.
  2. Journalism is not so much a profession as it is an activity, and that notion is consistent with the interpretation of the First Amendment.

When it comes to breaking news, I find that the traditional media outlet rarely has the facts totally correct in the first hours of the event. Neither does Wikipedia, for that matter. However, what Wikipedia does have that a media outlet doesn’t is the collective wisdom of people who have the common purpose of wanting to spread information as it unfolds. And the amount of contributors can be well into the hundreds within an hour, some of whom are on the ground witnessing the event first hand. These early contributors tend to belong to the crowd, and not each contributor is equally engaged or factually accurate. That’s not a problem, however, because soon the community members of Wikipedia take over. They edit the facts, put them in chronological order, and add visuals to produce systematic coverage of a news event. These are the superusers who are dedicated to making sure the facts are not only accurate but also tell a complete story. They are natural, truth-seeking storytellers.

That same description could be ascribed to journalists. Their professionalism is dependent upon the verifiability of the facts they present in their news stories. So if Wikipedia contributors, specifically the dedicated superusers that make up the community, rely upon the same verification process for news entries, are they not considered journalists too? Even those in the crowd reporting the facts as they receive them for breaking news are acting as journalists. Garrett’s point that the Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment in a way that is consistent with the argument that we can all be journalists was well argued. And it is proven true through Wikipedia every day.

I suppose the next logical question is, should we all be journalists even if we can? I enjoy reading the systematic coverage of a news event on Wikipedia because not only have community members verified the facts, but they have also edited the page and made it a comprehensive story. Professional journalists have the training to create a grammatically correct and engaging story. I’d say that the community members of Wikipedia have this same capability and desire. And they aren’t even paid! So yes, Wikipedia is just as credible as a traditional media outlet, if not more given the multiple sources cited per page.

Weekly #7: In Wikipedia I Trust

with one comment

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.