Thursday, June 16, 2005

Another Wikipedia Data Point

Although I've picked and probed at Wikipedia here and here, I find it a useful tool. But I think it important to understand its limirtations and boundaries. An interesting post from Nathaniel Ward at Dartmouth in that vein:
While doing research for the upcoming issue of The Review, I proposed to Executive Editor Scott Glabe that Wikipedia, a free communal encyclopedia, is a terrible resource. Since anyone can change any entry, a user cannot know whether the current version is accurate. Scott retorted that the encyclopedia's communal nature meant that all errors would be corrected in minutes.

It turns out I was right: it took almost 24 hours for users to notice and correct a deliberate error that made out Benjamin Franklin as the inventor of the printing press.
Although I have somewhat mixed feelings about Wikipedia "vandalism" even for valid research purposes and calling it a "terrible" resource seems overstatement, the data point still seems valid enough. (The "vandalism" in question inserted a common incorrect answer from The Dartmouth Review's recent poll of Dartmouth students about various Western cultural questions.) The highly democratic Wikipedia community implies both profound strengths and significant weaknesses.

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