10 Things I Hate About Wikipedia

On October 31, 2011, in Uncategorized, Wikipedia, by Sam H

Ahh Wikipedia. It’s hard to imagine life without immediate access to understandable answers to the world’s toughest questions. Why is the sky blue? Why is grass green? What is the meaning of life?

(Warning: gratuitous Wikipedia links continue below)

Many of us depend on Wikipedia for all aspects of work and play but, admittedly, it has its flaws. Still, Wikipedia manages to be one of the most visited sites year after year. What keeps us coming back? Is it an addiction to an ever-growing content base and cordial user community? Perhaps a primal urge to voraciously consume and produce knowledge?

 

Wikipedia Problems = First World Problems?

 

Are the problems of Wikipedia solvable? Many have been greatly mitigated but have yet to dissapear. As you continue your Wikipedia editing/using career, here are some issues to consider as the network grows.

 

10. Abuse and Vandalism in Articles

This slots in at 10 as the community controls and norms in place continue to make this less of an issue. Still, if Stephen Colbert believes in change on Wikipedia, it might just happen. Edit wars are still fairly common and can get nasty. While most of the time, users do seem to be acting in good faith, it isn’t always the case.

As the user base continues to increase and people and machines get better at monitoring and fixing abuse, the prospects continue to brighten!

 

Colbert

Wikiality and Truthiness for All

 

9. Censorship

Just because content isn’t centrally created and distributed, doesn’t mean it can’t be blocked or censored. And if anyone can edit Wikipedia, the government and private enterprise can edit Wikipedia. While censorship across different types of content and distribution methods is certainly a concern, the right to access factual information is becoming a more pervasive human right. Because of the nature of Wikipedia’s content, any obscenity or other censorship argument is weakened. Expect Wikipedia to remain at the frontier of free information.

 

8. Neutrality

I know. I know. It’s better this way – presenting facts and the facts of others’ viewpoints but I wish just once we could shake things up and have an article that reads like the YDN editorial page. You can be sure that Paul D. Keane. M. Div ’80. M.A., M.Ed. PS would be very vocal on the discussion page and trolls would abound.

The Neutrality standard, like Abuse and Vandalism above, has continued to be upheld more effectively through norms, moderators, and technological infrastructure. This is no easy task, especially in the case of articles involving current events or controversial issues or both. Like Abuse, this issue is unlikely to be wiped out completely, but its adverse effects are generally felt minimally by Wikipedia users.

 

Controversial and current! (xkcd.com/545/)

 

7. Time Waster

Ok, maybe it isn’t as bad as StumbleUpon or Google Reader, but Wikipedia can really eat up time. This is true for both editing and reading; all those in-text links are just so appealing.  On the bright side, you can’t help but feel like you’re learning something. It just isn’t always clear exactly what you’re learning.

 

6. Not In Paperback

Call me old fashioned, but nothing gets me up in the morning like the smell of leather bound books and rich mahogany. In spite of the efforts of a brave few, it seems unlikely that Wikipedia will be in paperback any time soon. Aside from the obvious factor of not looking like a stud/studette when you pull the Aa-Ac book of encyclopedia brittanica of your knapsack, with Wikipedia you can’t easily see what comes alphabetically before Aardvark!  Fortunately, there’s still the “open the book to a random page and read game” for the 21st century. The benefits of having everything dynamic and on the interwebs is that it can better keep up with our rapidly developing knowledge base. Also, it’s free and available to way more people. Plus it’s packed with way more information (from way more sources). Oh my! I’ll take that tradeoff any day.

 

5. Incomplete

Have you ever been devastated to discover a mere stub article  on Wikipedia when beginning to write a paper? Or worse, “The Page Does Not Exist” Search Result of Doom. In spite of the concerted efforts of many, the impressive information trove of Wikipedia remains incomplete. As our information gathering continue to outpace our information synthesis, this issue is unlikely to end in the near future. However, that makes the fight even more worthwhile. Similarly, arcane topics in Wikipedia can often be overlooked due to lack of interest or lack of people knowledgeable on the subject. This can create articles strongly influenced (and biased) by certain groups or no article at all. I mean, who uses 29Si NMR these days anyways?

 

The task at hand is great; the rewards, immeasurable.

 

4. Innacurate and Untrustworthy

I had to include this as these charges are often levelled at Wikipedia. Fortunately, there is much evidence to suggest high accuracy (roughly comparable to the oft-praised encyclopedia brittanica in science matters). Of course, certain newer articles or articles with less well-known topics  will be of lower quality but they likely aren’t even included in encyclopedia brittanica. Should you need more convincing, I recommend the people of yahoo answers.

 

3. Free

Have you ever heard the expression “you get what you pay for”? Wikipedia is free so might it not be very good? There’s no advertising and no fee-per-use/subscription fee (Spotify?). Too good to be true? There must be a catch you say? I got it! They want you to contribute money and/or time (voluntarily). That doesn’t sound too bad actually (at least to me). Well done, Jimmy, Well done. But still, be a conscientious consumer of the information you get on Wikipedia. Not everything on the internet is true.

 

The Man. The Legend.

 

2. Formatting

There’s definitely something reassuring about the same format, color scheme, and everything on Wikipedia, but sometimes you just want something new and eyecatching.  Sure, there are skins and other websites you could be browsing, but why not be exciting like facebook and change your features and layout every two days? It seems to be working for them. I guess for now we’ll have to live with the search box on wikipedia boringly and predictably sitting in the upper right hand corner of the screen and take the changes we can get.

 

1. Research Papers

What’s the first step of starting an essay? If you answered D) search the topic on Wikipedia, you fall into an ever-growing category of people/college students. Somehow, it still isn’t okay to cite Wikipedia. I guess we should go and check the information in the original source, but then does that count as original research? Moral, legal and ethical dilemmas are everywhere! Not to mention, why should I write a brand-new reasearch essay on Abraham Lincoln when there’s already a good one here? Wouldn’t it be better if I improved that one or used that as a starting point?

 

We’re unlikely to see citing Wikipedia as your main source of information become academically acceptable any time soon. That doesn’t mean it isn’t helpful – it sets up an outline for you to better understand the topic.  In conclusion,it looks like EasyBib will be around for at least a few more years and college students everywhere will be forced to research beyond Wikipedia.

 

Wikipedia and You

In spite of all these grievances, don’t forget one thing! Wikipedia is, in fact, the best thing ever. It makes lives better, easier, and more interesting and demonstrates the immense power of a norm enforced  collaborative network of people with common values. So go have fun and make the world a better place!

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4 Responses to “10 Things I Hate About Wikipedia”

  1. Will P says:

    I think many of your concerns by “splitting” Wikipedia articles into two groups. One set of articles could be marked as “confirmed” or “verified;” articles could only be given this designation after significant vetting. The other set would contain all of the new or controversial articles and stubs. Making this designation could provide a smaller but Encyclopedia-grade Wikipedia while still allowing for growth.

  2. Sam H says:

    There are some subtle (or not so subtle) hints about how vetted an article is – might be tough to split them in a binary way but, like any other source, you need to be aware of the limitations and if something seems sketchy.

    Also see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nupedia

  3. Nick Makarov says:

    I think your point about the negative aspects of neutrality are interesting- I get it, it’s more interesting to read opinonated stuff. But I don’t think that can be the point of Wikipedia (per the definition of encylopedia), and I think the social norm way of solving this might be too complicated as a result of the differing levels of use across different readers (how do I know what’s socially acceptable in a community that I visit rarely?) Still, cool point

  4. Sam H says:

    It’s definitely something I like about other sites – I think you often gain color on a subject through thought-provoking comments (even from trolls) but I definitely think Wikipedia’s neutrality is important as long as they still provide the relevant opinions but do so in a neutral way. I was being kind of tongue-in-cheek but definitely worth considering.