Raise your hand if you've been tricked
at least once by erroneous information on Wikipedia. It happens. But as
the online, reader-edited encyclopedia turns 10 this Saturday,
commenters are finding plenty to praise about the site as it tries to
find ways to "keep narrowing
the useful-reliable gap." Wikipedia is now an indispensable online resource, though often taken for granted (one reason why Wikimedia foundation launched a $16 million fundraising plea
last year). On the eve of its anniversary, founder Jimmy Wales has
been sharing with the media his evolving vision for the future. Here's how reporters are reacting to the plans, and commemorating ten years of
- Where Will It Be Ten Years From Now? Mike Melanson
at Read Write Web speaks with Jimmy Wales and executive director Sue
Gardner and notes their plans for Wikipedia's growth: diversifying the
languages of entries, building a "truly global" representation of
authors, "robust" partnerships with major academic centers, libraries,
galleries and museums and "more presence in the emerging mobile space."
On the other hand, the site apparently has no plans to challenge
Facebook or YouTube. "The core of what we do is already quite usable,"
said Wiki spokesman Jay Walsh.
- If Wales Had Commercialized Wikipedia, He Could've Been Worth Billions, figures the Guardian's Timothy Garton Ash,
who nonetheless praised the founder as "the best example of online
idealism" available. "Putting it all under the not-for-profit umbrella
was, Wales quipped to me, at once the stupidest and the cleverest thing
he ever did, Ash writes. The best way to define Wikipedia's information
was well put by the New Yorker, he writes: There's an "intriguing
distinction between useful knowledge and reliable knowledge. One of the
free encylopedia's biggest challenges over the next decade is to keep
narrowing the useful-reliable gap."
- The 'Poster Child' for Online
Collaboration The "reliability" and accuracy debate has lost some of
its luster over the ten years that Wikipedia has been growing, finds
Wired's Olivia Solon.
The reason for this is that--since the ranks of Wikipedia entry editors
has grown--"anyone can have instant, free access to the collective
knowledge of hundreds of thousands of people, updated daily" or even in
real-time. And the company is hard at work to make it even easier for
non-computer geeks to share expertise "in a bid to ensure that the
community of editors is more representative of the global population."
Still, prominently placed in Solon's article is a dissenting opinion about Wikipedia by the former editor-in-chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Robert McHenry, who notes:
fatal fallacy in the Wikipedia theory is that a Wikipedia article can
be thought of as an ‘open source’ project like those that produce
software and that, like those, it will undergo steady improvement toward
some ideal state. But the software is clearly identified as
developmental while in this process, and it is constantly tested against
objective criteria: it performs as intended, or it does not. The
article is published to the world in whatever state it may be, changes
for the better or for worse at random times, and is held to no standard
that the user can rely upon.
- Remember: Inaccuracy About Public
Figures Didn’t Start With Wikipedia and "no other means of information
has ever been more correctable," writes Forbes Michael Humphrey.
While this point has been debated ad nauseam, it's important to
clarify. In the same vein, Jimmy Wales commitment to editorial integrity
will "only as strong as the community around it...since the site
overtly welcomes bad articles, it’s a problem the potential solvers
created themselves. And it is by far the trickiest aspect of the Wiki
revolution." Nevertheless, using an example of a neuroscientist who
carefully monitors the Wikipedia entry for "enzyme," Humphrey notes that
inaccuracies many times appear to get fixed. "I can’t help but feel
that this 10-year-old is a pretty noble being, despite its terrific
flaw," he writes.
- Will People Ever Trust the Concept That You Can
Get Substantial Information For Free? That was one of the questions
posed to Jimmy Wales by Esquire's Foster Kamer in a Q&A with the Wikipedia founder. Here's Wale's response:
think people are starting to get used to it. It's sort of a blunt fact.
Just earlier today I had a pretty tough interview from kind of an older
guy: He was peppering me one question after another, super-skeptical
about Wikipedia. We get done and the interview's over and, you know,
off-camera he says to me "I love Wikipedia, I use it every day."
[Laughing] It's like, he can't quite believe it, so he doesn't quite get
it! And he's got these objections, but at a deeper level? He knows it's
actually pretty good.
- 'It Simply Is, an Omnipresent Fact of Modern Living' concedes The Washington Post's Monica Hesse,
who considered writing her profile of Wikipedia "in the style of an
entry on Wikipedia, with elaborate footnotes and heated discussion pages
and a stupid error or two." But, alas, that was so "five years ago."
The fact is that "the accuracy debate is the most important, but in some
ways less interesting discussion about Wikipedia's impact. What's most
revealing might be not the vastness of the articles and the things they
get wrong, but rather how they reveal what things we care about, and how
humanity is both better and dumber than you ever would have expected."
Hesse also makes this observation:
There is a strange
equality of topics on Wikipedia. Because space is endless online,
entries are limited only by the stamina and interest levels of their
contributors, who tend to be young, male and nerdy, which helps explain
why the entry for actress Megan Fox is approximately the same length as
the entry for President Millard Fillmore.
Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments
or send an email to the author at
ehayden at nationaljournal dot com.
You can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.