19.360 Wikipedia defended

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Sat, 22 Oct 2005 08:16:40 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 360.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Sat, 22 Oct 2005 08:09:52 +0100
         From: Vika Zafrin <amarena_at_gmail.com>
         Subject: Re: 19.354 criticism of Wikipedia

Wikipedia is not without its problems, but one problem with
criticizing it by comparing it to extant professionally written
encyclopedias is that it covers a vastly larger amount of stuff.
Stuff that may not even make it into an Encyclopedia of Everything,
but which obviously is of interest to some people.

Wikipedia is hugely useful as a repository of basic information and
references to more information about potentially obscure subjects. If
an article in it is misleading, damage is mostly done to the person
who doesn't bother to look anywhere else. And unlike encyclopedias
that are edited once a year at best, once every decade or so more
commonly, Wikipedia gives us an opportunity to correct mistakes

> improve its
> content by befriending, and not alienating, established sources of
> expertise. (i.e., people who know what they're talking about.)...

...Wow. Since when are known experts the only people who "know what
they're talking about", and what subjects are in question? If I want
to know about l3375p34k, I'd rather ask teenage netizens with actual
experience than a scholar. Again, it's a matter of what you want to
know. Wikipedia is a fount of colloquial as well as academic

> One day Wikipedia may well be the most amazing reference work the world
> has ever seen, lauded for its quality. But to get from here to there it
> will need real experts and top quality writing - it won't get there by
> hoping that its whizzy technical processes remedy such deficiencies. In
> other words, it will resemble today's traditional encyclopedias far more
> than it does today.

There are three assumptions here that I disagree with:

- that "real experts" are a group delimited by some sort of officially
sanctioned fame (see above);
- that "[whizzy] technical processes" are inherently frivolous and
unreliable (social computing, anybody? If nothing else, Wikipedia has
spurred millions of volunteers to contribute, which is nigh unto
impossible to do without learning something); and
- that Wikipedia *should* resemble today's traditional encyclopedias.
That's like looking at Michael Joyce's _afternoon_ and demanding that
it be printed out.

> For now we simply welcome the candour: at least Wikipedia is officially
> out of QD, or the "Quality Denial" stage.

QD can be applied to its critics as well, no? Balanced critique of
Wikipedia is rare. Usually it is regarded either as the kat's miau,
or as complete trash.


Vika Zafrin
Director, Virtual Humanities Lab
Brown University Box 1942
Providence, RI 02912 USA
Received on Sat Oct 22 2005 - 03:27:42 EDT

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