In defense of Wikipedia

For computer-related companies and developers, Google, Microsoft and Wikipedia replace Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the axis of evil. In my line of work, though, Wikipedia’s sins are the most egregious.

Faculty members at colleges that emphasize in-depth research rightfully label Wikipedia as an evil empire. And for college instructors with lofty research standards, nothing is more painful than reading a student paper that treats Wikipedia like it’s a primary source to be used frequently or even exclusively.

I must admit, though, that part of me marvels at the breadth and flexibility of Wikipedia. I occasionally wonder if 100 years from now historians will look at Wikipedia as one of the landmark accomplishments of our time. Certainly that’s what founder Jimmy Wales had in mind when he asked us to imagine “a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.”

facipediaI used to think that the logical end of Wikipedia’s growth was for it to become the Wal-Mart of information, and that it could conceivably grow until each person on the planet became the subject for a Wikipedia entry. Then I did some quick research (on Wikipedia, of course) and discovered some scholarly models show that Wikipedia may not continue its exponential growth, at least in the number of articles.

Some bloggers and researchers argue that “Facebook and Wikipedia are better at getting crucial information out during emergencies than either government agencies, emergency services — or the traditional media.” I’m skeptical of that assertion, but I do think that a marriage of Wikipedia and Facebook could be even more fascinating than Brangelina (plus, even though such a marriage is unlikely, Facipedia in five syllables has a distinctive ring to it).

So now I have to follow my blog format and conclude with the final verdict. I’m not going to rely on the cliche response that Wikipedia is good for background research but not for scholarly citations. In fact, one could argue that many scholarly debates rage within Wikipedia. When we judge Wikipedia harshly, we often have an idealistic notion of the infallible printed encyclopedia. Most of us agree that animals and languages evolve over time. Wikipedia seems to document a similar evolution in knowledge.

THE VERDICT: PLUG IN to the evolution (except for research papers).

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~ by dbozmedia on November 4, 2008.

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