William Beutler on Wikipedia

Posts Tagged ‘Ars Technica’

Super Mario Wiki?

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on September 20, 2009 at 2:18 pm

From the “merits no response” file:

Wikipedia, billed as the “free encyclopedia,” is not really an encyclopedia at all but an online magazine written by volunteers who do not need to have any specialized knowledge on anything at all.

The Web site says the content is mainly based on anonymous contributions. Anyone who can access the Web site can make changes to articles. I find it odd that someone who has extensive knowledge of a subject wouldn’t want the world to know his or her name. Wikipedia specifically states, “Visitors do not need specialized qualifications to contribute.” Does this make anyone else leery? This means an 11-year-old, who thinks Super Mario Galaxy is based on real planets, could write or edit the entry on the solar system.

Yes, well. This is an excerpt from a student newspaper column at the University of Idaho, so perhaps it’s not fair to pick on this particular individual. It is, however, quite obvious that she is not terribly familiar with how Wikipedia works. If the author wishes to believe that information from Super Mario Galaxy would be allowed to stand on the Solar System article, I am not about to disabuse her of this notion.

The rest of the column a) professes that students should not cite Wikipedia articles in class papers, and b) students should take advantage of the university library. I agree with both points, as I am sure do her professors and the Wikimedia Foundation as well.

More likely meriting a response, however, are critiques from a few higher-profile writers. One is Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, who has been writing for several years on what he believes is the impending demise of Wikipedia, as recently covered in Ars Technica. Another is tech writer Farhad Manjoo, who has an article in this week’s Time Magazine called “Where Wikipedia Ends”.

These deserve greater consideration because they are the work of individuals who have some academic knowledge of how Wikipedia works — not to mention the reach they enjoy. As time permits, I may get around to publishing them in this space. If you have any thoughts, drop me a line or leave a comment here.