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the wiki nature

So, I've been following the debates about Wikipedia's anti-elitism. My position is the same as Clay Shirky's: the whole point of Wikipedia is anti-elitism. If that makes it less reliable than traditional encyclopedias like Britannica, so be it.

I'm a little disturbed to hear some people claim that paper encyclopedias have the advantage of cite-ability. Even if Wikipedia weren't cite-able—although it is, from a technical standpoint—when is it appropriate to cite an encyclopedia? I do see at least a few people pointing out that looking something up in the encyclopedia doesn't constitute proper research.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 6th, 2005 08:23 pm (UTC)
It might become more relevant if Wikipedia spawns a research wiki I guess, although I don't know whether they intend to use the same model for it.
Jan. 7th, 2005 01:45 am (UTC)
I should preface this by saying I haven't followed this at all. I don't contribute to any wikis right now, and am too busy with the new job to keep track of it.

I think part of the problem is that a typical encyclopedia has some respectability and dependability related to it. There are people paid to do the research and make sure that the facts are correct. The whole existence of a particular encyclopedia as a reference material is dependent on the ability of a person to rely that the facts contained within are correct. If the encyclopedia is known to be innaccurate, it will not sell, and will likely be put of of business (or at least become uneconomical).

The problem with the wiki idea in this context is that anyone could contribute. People could intentionally or accidentally poison entries. There's no real incentive (besides being a good citizen) for people to contribute at all, let alone put in accurate info. If the wiki is wrong, where are the checks and balances?

In this respect, citing a wiki is little better than citing any random website on the internet. Could you trust conclusions based on this info? Could you expect others to trust your findings?

I think the idea of wikis is great, but it has some flaws as a reference.
Jan. 8th, 2005 12:10 am (UTC)
Wikipedia is more citeable than paper encyclopedias, not less. Just not directly.

Wikipedia has a revision history. That means you can find who wrote something, contact them, find out where they got their information from, and cite that. If you're lucky, they may have included the information in the links. The problem with paper encyclopedias is that while they're believed to be well-researched, it's sometimes not practical to check that research.

Honestly, how can you compare Wiki to a paper encylopedia? Wiki's main benefit is that its scope far, far outdoes a paper encyclopedia. Cute game to play: try typing in random technical phrases from your field into Wiki. I've been really surprised how few were missing, and the ones that were I'll probably add at some point. Certain fields tend to stay very current (like string theory) in Wiki. Man, if I was in string theory, I'd be using Wiki fairly often anytime I needed a short explanation about what something was.
Jan. 8th, 2005 05:48 pm (UTC)
timing issue
I think there's a problem with timing. By that i mean, wiki pages change over time. The page that someone cites in January will be different from the one someone reads in August. It may have deleted, inserted, or updated information.

And i completely agree that wiki pages are less authoritative. On the other hand a wiki has more peer review. In a pinch, they're very usefull.

:) Brian
Jan. 8th, 2005 11:01 pm (UTC)
Re: timing issue
Actually, Wikipedia's Page history system obviates any timing problems.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )