(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Wikipedia gets punk'd

Monday, August 15, 2005
Boing Boing and no doubt many others are discussing the appearance of an article for 'Jamie Kane' which looks a lot like a viral marketing entry for the BBC's alternative reality gaming thingy Jamie Kane. What looked like the BBC abusing a collaboratively authored information resource has met with a vitriolic and heated response from many Wikipedia users and writers. It should be noted that the person most directly reponsible claims to have been acting on their own volition in writing the article, not on the BBC's behalf.

Now, that aside, I see this controversy as a healthy thing. Why, you ask? Am I a wikihater? Far from it, I think the Wikipedia is one of the most impressive collectively authored informatic resources currently available. However, even with its many safeguards with authors patrolling entries, it's far from perfect. There will always be cases where people abuse the system by messing with or creating new articles that aren't in the spirit of full disclosure. The reason I think this debate and ones like it are healthy is because it creates awareness of the malleability and subjectivity of any information resource (online or otherwise). No doubt there will be a raft of mainstream newsmedia article picking up on this entry and claiming it proves that the Wikipedia isn't useful as an information resource. Wrong. It proves that anything in the Wikipedia should be examined beyond just that article to check its credibility. The 'history' function in wikis is a brilliant tool for tracing the evolution of an article, and if everyone looked at the history page before accepting it at face value (and in doing so, clearly see 99% of malicious entries), that'd be a great start. If everyone used other resources (not just Google, but that's be another good starting point) to check these articles, even better. The best outcomes to these sort of debates/controversies is to take on board that all media and all resources are open to errors and manipulation. The wikipedia is much more public and much more immediate than many in this respect, but it is true of any resource. If users, readers and citizens everywhere took this example as a lesson to be critical of your sources no matter what they are or where they come from, the world would suffer far less misinformation. Critical thinking is healthy, it is desirable, and it makes for better democracies. The wikipedia thus has lessons for us all, far beyond their many excellent entries. [Via Apophenia]


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