As you may have been able to read all over the place in different weblogs and mainstream news web sites like The Register, there has been lots of controversy on the accuracy of Wikipedia overall, specially since the recent issues raised by the different media. To quote them all would be far too long and probably out of the scope from this particular weblog post. So, instead, I will just reference an interesting discussion, like many other hundreds of them taking place at the moment elsewhere, over at Dave Taylor‘s weblog, The Intuitive Life Business Blog, What Wikipedia Lost: Credibility.
The reason why I am referencing Dave’s weblog post is because of the fact that poses one thought-provoking question that I thought I would share my two cents worth of comments on it. At the middle of the weblog post Dave is asking the following question:
“Can any of us ever trust anything that’s on a Wikipedia article any more?”
And then he comes up to add the following interesting quote:
“[…] I don’t see how Wikipedia can recover from the spate of bad publicity surrounding the popped bubble of this Web darling, actually. Once you realize that it really isn’t the “citizen’s Encyclopedia Britannica” but instead an ongoing battleground of facts, fancies, cockeyed theories and crackpots, even the most benign and innocent page begins to seem questionable. […]”
I agree that with the recent bad publicity Wikipedia may have suffered a bit, including the fact that there must be quite a few people who now do not necessarily trust its contents. However, in my particular case I would still trust its content not only from the perspective of having such a valuable resource online available to us all, but also, and like it was mentioned over at Dave’s weblog post comments, from the perspective that Wikipedia is a fantastic resource to help improve the collective knowledge we all get to share on a more or less regular basis. Indeed, without the existence of such a powerful resource like Wikipedia we would probably not have been able to organise our thoughts and our knowledge in a huge number of topics for which we may not have had enough information in the first place if we would have followed other traditional methods of sharing information. Indeed, you could say that despite all that content may still not be accurate, but that is actually one of the greatest advantages of such a resource: the fact that I can collect all of my thoughts in a single place and available to everyone else so if I am getting the facts wrong or if I have an incorrect concept on a particular topic I can always trust that one of my other fellow Internet friends would spend a few minutes to correct me and improve what I initially said. Then it will be up to me to go back, check what I have been sharing, see how it has been improved and move from there.
I bet that hardly anyone considers Wikipedia the one and only resource for accurate information. All the other way around. Most people are just using it in such a way that it behaves as a starting point where you could go and gather some thoughts that you could use for later when cross checking with other resources. And that, to me, is unique to Wikipedia: the ability to help build up our collective knowledge to then be able to share it, improve it, reuse it with others in multiple other scenarios for whatever the task we have at hand. So as you can see one of the strongest success factors from this particular resource is the trust levels you would put in place for it. That is why quite a few people have been commenting on the accuracy of the resource itself, or, better said, the lack of it. Yet, hardly anybody is taking proactive steps to improve that collective knowledge. Instead, we all get to complain about its accuracy indicating that such model cannot just work. When are people going to start understanding that resources like Wikipedia belong to us all and as such we all have got something to say and contribute to it? After all, it is our knowledge, our information put together over there in a single repository for other people to review and reuse where they may see fit. And in the mean time we all get to learn in the process. We all get to trust each other much more with what we know and what we don’t know.
I am not sure how all this controversy is going to play in the end, specially since because of that same controversy Wikipedia has gone through a number of transformations including the fact that people now need to be registered in order to create new content into the wiki, something which in principle may be against the main rule from every wiki: keep the access open regardless. However, I think that maybe that step was necessary, not from the perspective of locking out those people who just do not get what collaborating in a Wiki is all about, but more from the perspective that maybe that will help increase the trust levels that seemed to have been deteriorating in the last few weeks. Either way, as far as I am concerned and as long as I can benefit from that particular collective knowledge I will continue referencing Wikipedia‘s articles in the hope that we all get to know a bit more on different subjects and where applicable, and where needed, we all get to improve the sources of information to the levels where they should ultimately be. And, yes, folks, it will be down to us to make it happen. Or not.