Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Wikipedia and an interview with the Founding Director of MicroMuse
"I'll have to look it up on Wikipedia." How often does that phrase come up on a daily basis? Wikipedia is a top hit and top return on search engines. It is used as a starting point for information and a place to general knowledge about a wide variety of topics. Many students don't think twice about the credibility of information on the site, despite the fact that most teachers will not allow Wikipedia as an official academic source for research. How credible is Wikipedia?
Dr. Barry Kort, a long-time science and technology researcher and educator, says there is no place in the world of academia for Wikipedia. He says that Wikipedia is a good source for looking up items of pop culture or for finding citations to primary sources, but that it isn't very reliable and you need to double check anything that you find there. Kort isn't the only person that criticizes Wikipedia. Multiple websites, such as WikipediaReview.com, have been set up pointing out the faults and fallacies of the way Wikipedia is run. Even Wikipedia's co-founder, Larry Sanger, has since left Wikipedia to start a competing site, Citizendium which "aims to improve on Wikipedia's model" according to Citizendium's website. Why is there so much controversy? Is there something wrong with Wikipedia's model?
"Wikipedia is an example of a site that lacks ethics" says Kort. He says that Wikipedia is out of control and that it lacks a functional governance system. Wikipedia is known for being editable by anyone but Kort, who is also known as Moulton on the web, says that "Wikipedia is not a democracy. It's an oligarchy." A group of administrators help with the maintenance of Wikipedia, including blocking users and deleting pages and entries created by others. Administrators’ true identities remain anonymous and have a policy of protecting their identities. According to Kort, Wikipedia will kick you off if you disclose that information. Because of this, it is virtually impossible to prosecute Wikipedia or an administrator for slander or false information on the site.
Wikipedia has a list of rules that prevent subject matter experts from contributing to the site. Wikipedia doesn’t allow original research to be added to the site. For this and other reasons, other sites have been created that build upon the ideas of Wikipedia but do it in a manner that contributors and editors are identified and subject matter experts are valued. Examples of these websites are Citizendium, Scholarpedia, and Google’s Knol. These sites are written and edited more like the way encyclopedias are and despite the popularity of Wikipedia, Kort says that the better designs of these sites will eventually supplant Wikipedia.