(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: Sue or Learn?

Friday, December 16, 2005
With all the furor and debate over Wikipedia recently, there's an excellent opportunity to discuss what it can do well, what it can't, and how we should approach using Wikipedia. Coversations should be happening. The least useful, most pathetic and childish response is WikipediaClassAction.org who are trying to organise disgruntled people who are unhappy with their entries to sue the Wikipedia Foundation. That achieves nothing and is a sad indication of a culture more inclined to sue than to think.

In happier news, the BBC noted an analysis by Nature comparing Wikipedia and Britannica, finding:
However, an expert-led investigation carried out by Nature ? the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia and Britannica's coverage of science ? suggests that such high-profile examples are the exception rather than the rule. The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three. [...] Yet Nature's investigation suggests that Britannica's advantage may not be great, at least when it comes to science entries. In the study, entries were chosen from the websites of Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica on a broad range of scientific disciplines and sent to a relevant expert for peer review. Each reviewer examined the entry on a single subject from the two encyclopaedias; they were not told which article came from which encyclopaedia. A total of 42 usable reviews were returned out of 50 sent out, and were then examined by Nature's news team. Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.

Nature's mature approach, to investigate and suggest ways of improving Wikipedia is the sensible path. Childish court action against primarily a collection of volunteers is not.

Update: Both Futureman and Leigh Blackall of Teach & Learn Online have had very rude responses from the Wikipedia Class Action website to the extent that I'm wondering if it's actually some sort of spoof or hoax?

Update 2: Danah Boyd's thoughts on the Wikipedia debates are spot on:

I am worried about how academics are treating Wikipedia and i think that it comes from a point of naivety. Wikipedia should never be the sole source for information. It will never have the depth of original sources. It will also always contain bias because society is inherently biased, although its efforts towards neutrality are commendable. These are just realizations we must acknowledge and support. But what it does have is a huge repository of information that is the most accessible for most people. Most of the information is more accurate than found in a typical encyclopedia and yet, we value encyclopedias as a initial point of information gathering. It is also more updated, more inclusive and more in-depth. Plus, it?s searchable and in the hands of everyone with digital access (a much larger population than those with encyclopedias in their homes). It also exists in hundreds of languages and is available to populations who can?t even imagine what a library looks like. Yes, it is open. This means that people can contribute what they do know and that others who know something about that area will try to improve it. Over time, articles with a lot of attention begin to be inclusive and approximating neutral. The more people who contribute, the stronger and more valuable the resource. Boycotting Wikipedia doesn?t make it go away, but it doesn?t make it any better either.
[Cross-posted from my eLearning blog.]

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