Posts Tagged ‘encyclopedia’

Wikipedia: Trust But Verify?

I admit. Wikipedia is usually my first stop when I’m looking for information. The fact that its entries are often also the first result in a Google search may also have something to do with it. But let me add that it never serves as my main or only source of information. Wikipedia is an incredibly large repository of information and can help as a roadmap for any research.

wikipedia5I use Wikipedia more for background research and basic information than as a source or to verify facts. What I like about Wikipedia is that it sometimes leads me to a wealth of new information — and more reliable and authoritative sources.

There is definitely value in the collective knowledge, power and wisdom of the community. However, the fact that the Wikipedia entries can be edited by anyone – and is often misused by vandals and trolls – does warrant some caution. Tools like WikiTrust and Wikidashboard help in increasing transparency and evaluating the trustworthiness of entries on Wikipedia.

While the information on encyclopedias like Britannica – vetted and reviewed by industry experts – may seem more credible, Wikipedia’s strengths include timeliness and a much more comprehensive coverage.

Interestingly, in a move towards increased transparency, openness — and web traffic, Britannica, primarily a paid service, is now tapping the power of the community by letting users contribute and edit content. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is tightening the reins on its user-generated content and may introduce ‘flagged revisions‘ to ensure greater accuracy for its users. It will be interesting to watch how these changes play out in the battle between Wikipedia and Britannica.

While it is not without faults, Wikipedia enjoys immense popularity because it successfully harnesses collective intelligence.

Like James Surowiecki says in the Wisdom of Crowds:

“The idea of the wisdom of the crowds is not that a group will always give you the right answer but that on average it will consistently come up with a better answer than any individual will provide.”

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