A Royall Juggle

Weekly #7: What’s more important – the WIKI or the PEDIA?

Posted on: November 2, 2010

In an effort to determine what’s more trustworthy, Wikipedia or a published Encyclopedia, I took a trip down the street to the library to see what a printed encyclopedia looks like these days. It’s been a while since I’ve opened one – if I had to guess, it would probably be before the Christmas of 1995. That was the year my dad bought us a Gateway 2000, my first home computer. Here is a pretty humorous excerpt from my journal that year:

“Two days ago was Christmas. I got a cd player, the game Catch Phrase, hair bows, 11 cds, a game for our Super Nintendo, a game for my Gameboy, skates, a Duke charm, BUT the best thing I got was a computer. It’s a Gateway 2000. It’s awesome — it’s got a cd roma.”

OK, I’ll spare you anymore of the details. After that Christmas, I used Microsoft Encarta because that was one of the CDs that was included with my super cool first computer, which has since been discontinued. My neighborhood friends and I had a blast exploring my new computer during the blizzard of 1996 and listening to Gangster’s Paradise on repeat.

If you haven’t noticed yet, just about everything I’ve written about so far has an article in Wikipedia which appears on the first page of search results when you Google it. Wikipedia has the long tail of encyclopedia articles covered and the tail is continuing to lengthen as I type.

According to Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, Britannica (the most renowned published encyclopedia) had approximately 80,000 articles in 2005 and Wikipedia had approximately 500,000 (1.3 million if you include other languages). And now, according to the Wikipedia website, there are now more than 3 million articles. So it’s no surprise that Wikipedia wins the numbers game because “instead of one really smart guy, it pulls from thousands of fairly smart people.”

But, the question of the week is “Who should be considered more trustworthy?” I’ll give that honor to published encyclopedias such as Britannica. After all, their standards are higher for whom they accept as contributors to their published work. An accuracy study by Nature confirmed this: after experts reviewed a wide-range of topics, they claimed that Britannica had 2.92 average mistakes compared to Wikipedia’s 3.86. Even though that may not seem too significant, I think Wikipedia should take a stance to improve its reputation for accuracy. As  Aaron Tippin reminded us in the 90’s, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.”

Wikipedia stands for two core principles: neutrality and good faith, but I think they should have at least one more: accountability. They should ban anonymous contributors and require that everyone registers with the site before they are allowed to make edits. New registrants should be verified by the Wikipedia administrators, or those higher on the Wikipedia power pyramid, before they are allowed to join the community and actively participate in the Wikipedia project. Given that many trolls and vandals are anonymous editors that are difficult to track down, like the one who damaged John Seigenthaler’s reputation, I don’t think the community would be too sad to see them go.

In my opinion, the more relevant question in today’s society is the one in the title of this post. What’s more important the WIKI (a technology for creating collaborative websites, from the Hawaiian word wiki, meaning “quick”) or the PEDIA (from Greek word “”paideia” meaning “education, rearing of a child”)? In other words, is it more important that the information is available quickly and conveniently or that it is provided and verified by experts in the field?

During my journey to the public library, I looked up the word “encyclopedia” in the Encyclopedia Britannica 2010 and was somewhat surprised at what I saw.

“An encyclopedia is a self-contained reference work with two main aims: to include up-to-date knowledge about a particular discipline or group of disciplines and to make this knowledge conveniently accessible.”

Even the published Encyclopedia Britannica helps validate my point! I’m not trying to demean the importance of education and expertise (I am writing this blog as part of my master’s program) but I think the WIKI wins.

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1 Response to "Weekly #7: What’s more important – the WIKI or the PEDIA?"

[…] five pillars. I think the evaluation of Wikipedia as a news source validates some points in my previous Wikipedia post about how timeliness and convenience can outweigh the importance of 100% accuracy that published […]

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