Oh, the wonderful world of Wikipedia

By Sujay Kumar

“Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject, so you know you are getting the best possible information.” – Michael Scott, The Office

Search: Wikipedia Love

Wikipedia is amazing. Where else can you quickly find facts about the stages of glycolysis one second and Mumm-Ra (the demonic wizard and arch nemesis of the ThunderCats) the next? Sure Google is useful, but you have to sift through a handful of links and an overwhelming amount of text to find what you’re looking for. Besides, the Wikipedia entry for your search is usually one of Google’s top five hits.

Search: Wiki-users

The Wiki-community is composed of “frequent contributors,” meaning registered users who create pages and anonymous editors who only disclose their Internet Protocol address. Wikipedia runs on the assumption that information should be supported by “reliable, published” sources. Ideally, Wiki-citizens, when following established standards inside the open-system, will have “ultimate control” over what is on Wikipedia by deleting diversity, controversy and inconsistency by “homogenizing” voices. Wiki-opinions are not welcome.

Search: Wikipedia criticism

Believe it or not, Wikipedia does have its fair share of critics. Articles are criticized for being poor in quality or just plain wrong. While the editing system catches many inaccuracies, who’s to say that the article you’re reading is edited, about to be edited or failed to be recognized as needing an edit?

The fact that editors do not necessarily have any degrees or credentials is troublesome. Stephen Colbert termed this concern “Wikiality.” Colbert then urged viewers to change Wikipedia to report that the population of African elephants had tripled in the last six months. No elephants were harmed in the editing, but Wiki-vandalism had begun.

Search: Wiki-vandalism

While Wikipedia says that most vandal edits are removed within five minutes, some falsities have managed to go unnoticed. An outlandishly fake entry about Larry King’s uncontrollable flatulence was posted for a month, while a minor error about Hilary Clinton’s status of valedictorian was available for nearly two years.

For example, what if I were to create an outrageous entry about Mrs. Clinton:

“A lover of fine Indian cuisine, Hilary Rodham Clinton has never let her inflammatory bowel disease prevent her from indulging in a spicy dish of chicken tika. While visiting the New Delhi Department of Telecommunications in February 2005, Clinton denied that she was aspiring to be the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee as she sat on a sandalwood toilet, trying to expunge the fiery contents of her colon.”

Theoretically, an article like this should be deleted immediately from Wikipedia, but is Wikipedia to blame if out of the 1,731,000 articles in the English encyclopedia, this happens to be the one that slips through?

Search: Famous Wiki-haters

Former editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Britannica Robert McHenry has compared Wikipedia to a public toilet. He said that if it’s dirty, you’ll be careful or just stay away. On the other hand, sometimes the toilet can look clean and may emit a false sense of security. It’s impossible to know who or what was occupying that stall before you got there.

Dale Holberg, the current editor-in-chief of Britannica warned users that Wikipedia’s overwhelming information could lead to an intellectual weakness in society. He postulated that too many facts, obtained way too easily, would inevitably lead to massive ignorance.

President of Britannica Jorge Cauz (hmmm, see a trend?) said that “Wikipedia is to Britannica as American Idol is to the Juilliard School.”

Wikipedia states that the Juilliard School is one of the world’s premiere performing arts conservatories. Of course I would confirm that “claim” by checking Britannica, but I didn’t pay the $69.95 a year subscription fee required to access encyclopedia entries.

Search: The Verdict

Wikipedia believes that openness and transparency will lead to quality.

That being said, users should not use the popular encyclopedia as the end-all holy grail of information – at least not yet.

Wikipedia is what it is: A free encyclopedia that’s here to stay.