Wikipedia Grows Up

Cade Metz authors a long, thoughtful assessment of Wikipedia’s maturation as an information source.

I’ve written on Wikipedia before, about a year and a half ago.  Everyone who uses it (and just about everyone who cares about current events, history, or popular culture does) has some reservations about it, but given its aims to be the largest general encyclopedia possible, the improvement that Metz–and others–see in the site is actually there.

I know of no surefire way to correct the potential abuses of having so small a set of editors and writers contributing to the project except by diligently exploiting the mechanism of public contributors already in place, and policing ourselves as we work.  The Wild West days of anybody being able to publish anything in its pages are pretty much over, and the game now is for Wikipedia to be what every encyclopedia aspires to be:  a useful, accurate source of information, with references to books and articles containing more detailed content.

Even the best encyclopedias can be controversial (The Oxford Classical Dictionary‘s latest edition tips its balance far in favor of modern feminism, which doesn’t please many classicists), or somewhat stodgy in its entries (The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics ranges far afield, but could use some freshening in the older articles); it isn’t easy to be everything to everybody,  as a reference work must often be; but I give credit to Wikipedia’s founders for fulfilling the vision that writers like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke had decades ago about technology’s ability to expand and democratize the human search for, and interpretation of, the knowledge we need to live.

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2 thoughts on “Wikipedia Grows Up

  1. ramonawray says:

    I think accuracy is the crux of the matter here, but it has an easy counterpoise in that one can easily cross-reference with other sources. I love Wikipedia – the concept, the evolution, the fact that it’s constantly growing and raising the bar, content-wise. I only wish I had more free time on my hands and be able to make a personal contribution in that sense. Excellent post, John!

  2. You are right: accuracy is the main problem, especially among those lay people who haven’t studied an issue as long as many professionals or scholars have and don’t know.all the facts The problem with scholars and professionals is not command of the facts, but bias. It’s all right to argue a case in a book or an article, but I’ve seen scholars really skew a contentious issue to one side or another in an essay meant to be read by a general audience.

    I don’t know who writes *Wikipedia* articles but, given the improvement I’ve seen over the last couple of years, my belief is that they must have drafted some scholars or knowledgeable lay people to write for them. I, too, like the very idea of the project, and I’ll be checking the entry on “Romania” very soon for traces of your input (something about vampire legends, perhaps). That contribution, I think, would be easy for you to do.

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