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The Internet

Observer Gives Wikipedia Glowing Report 224

Posted by timothy
from the wiki-wiki dept.
JaxWeb writes "The UK newspaper The Observer is running an article about the open encyclopaedia Wikipedia. The article, 'Why encyclopaedic row speaks volumes about the old guard,' gives Wikipedia a glowing report and mentions some of the issues which have recently occurred regarding the project, including the need to lock the George Bush article in the run up to the election, and Ex-Britannica editor Robert McHenry's comments, as previously mentioned on Slashdot."
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Observer Gives Wikipedia Glowing Report

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  • Finally (Score:3, Insightful)

    by GregoryKJohnson (717981) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:21PM (#11304665)
    It's nice to see a traditional media outlet take a favorable---not just arms-length "hmm"---view of Wikipedia. I hope others follow suit.
    • Re:Finally (Score:2, Informative)

      by Gob Blesh It (847837)
      Just in case you hadn't known, the Economist once mentioned Wikipedia [], in passing, in a favorable light. However, I suspect if the magazine reviewed Wikipedia more thoroughly, it would come down much more critically.
      • Re:Finally (Score:2, Insightful)

        by DrLZRDMN (728996)
        And when you find some thing, you fix it. Because something is wrong or vandalised, that dosen't make it wikipedia's fault it makes it the authors fault and yours for not doing something. Vandalism and inacuracies will be fixed do to the wiki nature. If the magazine sighted specific problem areas such as articles that have been vandalized or are innacurate, they would be fixed with in about an hour.
        • Re:Finally (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Gob Blesh It (847837) <> on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:51PM (#11304859)
          And what of everyone who read the article before someone more knowledgeable noticed the mistake and corrected it?

          And please note I'm not talking of small errors of interpretation or language. I'm talking about honkers like "Prof. George Peabody [] expanded on string theorist [] Brian Greene []'s work to develop rope theory []" (paraphrased)--two months uncorrected when I read it on the Columbia University [] article. You'll find shit like this scattered across the entire encyclopedia, if you're watchful.
          • Re:Finally (Score:3, Interesting)

            by crazyeddie740 (785275)
            Wikipedia is considering a "stable" version, consisting of articles that have gone through a formal peer-review process. The stable version would be locked down, but would be updated from time to time. Problem is, nobody is really sure how to go about doing this. I think this is a good place for the Encyclopedia Britanica to step in. They've been hit hard by the rise of the Internet. From the quote from TFA, it sounds like their trying to spread FUD about the Wikipedia. So apparently they find the Wikipedi
            • Here's how I'd do it: First, we branch it somehow, so there are two copies of each article. Then, alphabetically or some other way, moderators go through all the articles in the "stable" branch. When 3 moderators have approved the stable version, it gets locked. If they disapprove, we grab the "current" version, and then the mods try and approve that, and so on. Eventually we end up with a whole encyclopaedia of locked pages, which can be stable version 1.0. Then we simply have mods periodically check pages
            • 1. Peer review 450,000 Wikipedia articles, checking for accuracy, style, citations, consistency and integrity.
              2. ?????
              3. Profit!!

              I think it might be step 2 that's stopping them....
        • Re:Finally (Score:3, Interesting)

          by RWerp (798951)
          The problem is, you may be doing fools work, as we say here in Poland. What's point of fixing some error on Monday, if on Tuesday somebody inserts the same error, or another one? People are generally willing to help, but if they know that their hard work of creating a good entry may be destroyed by a wanton vandal, they won't put much heart into it. This is something different than submitting patches to CVS.
  • Locking Articles (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gob Blesh It (847837) <> on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:24PM (#11304688)
    Why do the Wikipedia admins need to lock popular, topical and controversial articles from editing? Is it because these articles somehow attract more vandals than well-meaning passersby and contributors?

    Or is it just that these popular, topical and controversial articles make Wikipedia's fundamental flaws more obvious?
    • by DrLZRDMN (728996)
      By locking them they fix a problem therefor making it not a flaw. However I do agreee that locking is not good. These articles re more likely to be fixed as well, because people know that they are a target. once I needed to look at the GWB article for a school assignment and it was vandalised, the article was gone except for something like "stupidest president". I reverted it because I needed to do work but if I didn't someone else would have, soon. Vandalisam of lesser articles is more damaging becaus
      • by Gob Blesh It (847837) <> on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:44PM (#11304819)
        Yes, I've seen obvious vandalism--and I mean obvious--on articles ranging from black hole theory to obscure Norwegian towns. Until I'd come along, they'd typically gone unreverted for weeks or more. And yes, I did revert them, but once you've read that a world-renowned figure skater was a member of GNAA, how can you trust anything you read on that site--especially when vandalism isn't always quite so obvious?
        • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @02:24PM (#11305045) Homepage
          You verify it. Wikipedia has a big fat disclaimer about how it makes no guarantees of validity. If your topic matters, then look it up somewhere else in addition to Wikipedia, and see if the facts seem to match. If you're doing research for something important, do not rely on Wikipedia alone- heck, if you're doing a major research paper or something, you shouldn't be using an encyclopedia, let alone Wikipedia.

          You can also check the page history. Find an old version, see the "diff" between it and the current version, notice what stands out.

          Wikipedia is a bit like the Internet in general. Some information is right, some is probably wrong (whether due to ignorance or malice). But unlike the Internet, anyone can edit Wikipedia to fix something. Now, they can also edit it to break something, but if they do it in a systematic fashion they have a rather high chance of getting caught, tracked down, and banned. We've had a variety of users like that in the past.

          Wikipedia is a "convenience" source. It's excessively convenient. It can provide a useful summary of information, and you can then know what other information you ought to look up.

          • Right, Wikipedia is not a trusted source. I wouldn't cite it in a paper for any schooling about the third grade. However, if you're curious what _____ is wikipedia will often provide some decent information.

          • Re:Locking Articles (Score:2, Interesting)

            by icebike (68054)
            You verify it. Wikipedia has a big fat disclaimer about how it makes no guarantees of validity. If your topic matters, then look it up somewhere else

            You could have stopped right there. If it has no validity, it is worthless for its stated purpose.

            Its very reason to exist therefore is violated and suspect, and its integrity nill. Anything that happens to be correct can not be discerned from that which is not. In short, a huge waste of time and effort.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          how can you trust anything you read on that site...?

          Same way you trust anything you read/see/hear anywhere, on the internet or elsewhere: you don't. Never ever rely on a single source of information, always use multiple sources, preferrably orthogonal to each other, preferrably including a source that opposes your culture (e.g. a communist Chinese source if you're American).
        • by ThousandStars (556222) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @02:41PM (#11305139) Homepage
          The parent post precisely describes why Wikipedia shouldn't be considered a reliable post. The obvious vandalism isn't the worst part, because most readers will be able to discern it. Subtle vandalism is more insidious and ultimately compromises the integrity of articles sufficiently to make it useless to those uninformed about a particular subject -- which is the whole reason to have an encyclopedia in the first place.

          Like the columnist, I'm excited about Wikipedia as an idea and unimpressed with its implementation. Without having real editors, however, it's hard to take it seriously.

          • Well, according to Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia founder), there are indeed people who only check all the changes that are made to articles for their correctness (if they know something about the topic). So, there are editors, but they're not full-time employed, and they don't exist by intention, but came out of the whole Wikipedia community process.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          once you've read that a world-renowned figure skater was a member of GNAA, how can you trust anything you read on that site.

          Agreed. None of the figure skaters in GNAA are all that good and they'll take any opportunity to overstate their achievements.
        • I added some information to the wikipedia article about my home town a while ago. Some time later, I revisited it to discover that the article had become rather innacurate.

          This wasn't the result of malicious action. What had happened was that a succession of well meaning people, despite knowing little about the subject, had edited the article in an attempt to improve the language. Each edit had subtly changed various sentences until, eventually, facts had become transposed and confused. The net result was
    • by DrEldarion (114072) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:49PM (#11304846)
      Locking the articles is quite a good idea, in my opinion, because a lot of people online (well, and in general) are just morons.

      As an example, head on over to and look at some of the "reviews" for upcoming popular games. You'll notice that there can be hundreds of reviews with not ONE person actually knowing how the game is (since it isn't out yet). Fanboy A will come along and say "THIS IS THE BEST GAME EVER" while Anti-Fanboy A will come along and say "WASTE OF MONEY BUY (competing product) INSTEAD!", and the bickering will go back and forth and on and on until the actual ratings are completely worthless.

      The same thing would happen with the wikipedia articles. If every schmuck can come along and throw in their uninformed two-cents about things they only think they know about, the "information" then becomes useless. The more controversial topics attract more idiots, and the ratio of informed people to uninformed people drops to a level where it's hard to keep things managed well.
    • /insert tongue in cheeck/ It is also ironic that another UK newspaper, the Guardian, was probably one of the reasons they needed to lock the George Bush section before the election. /remove tongue in cheek/
    • Why could they not keep a history of the edits so that, if you choose, you can look back over the edited content and possibly even read comments as to why it was edited (should the editor be nice enough to leave it.)
    • by yppiz (574466) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @03:44PM (#11305513) Homepage
      Locking is done as a last resort in the face of persistent vandalism. When a page is locked, ordinary users (anon and registered) cannot edit it. However, administratores can still edit the page. Additionally, the parallel discussion page for the entry is still editable.

      Except for one exception - the front page of the Wikipedia - locks are never permanent, and usually last for 1 to 3 days. This small amount of time is enough for revert wars to cool off and for most vandals to lose interest in the page.

      I haven't looked at these articles recently, but typically, even entries on controversial topics like Osama bin Laden [] are unlocked most of the time.

      I have thought about why articles are rarely locked - it's not just that the community values contribution, but also that the technology makes it so easy to undo vandalism, that many vandals lose interest. Additionally, by giving vandalism a rather short life on popular pages, which is by definition where vandalism would be the most visible, it discourages others from doing the same. The lifespan of vandalism on a popular page is measured in minutes.

      The site makes it easier to undo an edit than to create it. If there weren't a version history and a revert feature, I suspect that vandalism would be a much greater problem.

      --Pat /

    • The popular articles are locked because vandals are willing to constantly vandalise them. Locking is a temporary measure to either persuade the vandals to stop, to block them or to wait until they go away.

      A dedicated vandal can just refresh the article every minute and if anyone reverts him, he can revert it back. With controversial topics it's slightly different - people would start changing the article, while not understanding the topic and the controversy sufficiently, then become angry when someone rev
    • Re:Locking Articles (Score:3, Interesting)

      by legirons (809082)
      "Why do the Wikipedia admins need to lock popular, topical and controversial articles from editing? Is it because these articles somehow attract more vandals than well-meaning passersby and contributors?"

      Well, put it this way: I sometimes edit a "normal" wiki, without the page-locking feature. Thousands of pages are vandalised every hour. You can hardly get up for a coffee before the front-page is vandalised again.

      Now, wikipedia is better than that, but mostly because it's got so many people tending it
  • by waxmop (195319) <waxmop@overlook[ ... t ['.ho' in gap]> on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:25PM (#11304694)
    First, don't attribute a columnist's piece to the newspaper. Second, John Naughton praises wikipedia for what it could be more than what it is right now. He's excited about it as a proof-of-concept.
    • by Pendersempai (625351) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:56PM (#11304887)
      John Naughton praises wikipedia for what it could be more than what it is right now.

      Nonsense. He says he and countless others use it all the time. He says he finds the articles useful and more timely than EB's. He cites the articles of George Bush and Sollog and Tsunami as examples of Wikipedia's enormous success. He even begins the article by comparing Wikipedia to the bumblebee: all of our theory says that it shouldn't work, but it does. This is not a man waiting for things to get better; it is a man who thinks things are great now. Perhaps you only read the last paragraph where he says that someday it will as invaluable and popular as Google. That hardly means he isn't praising its current state. RTFA next time.

    • I agree. Too many people here forget that the only time an opinion can be attributed to a newspaper itself - rather than the opinion of an individual contributor - is if the opinion was an unsigned piece written by that paper's editorial board.
  • How else? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Random832 (694525) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:26PM (#11304700)
    'The premise of Wikipedia is that continuous improvement will lead to perfection,' sniffed EB's executive editor, Ted Pappas. 'That premise is completely unproven.'

    That premise is a tautology given the assumption that "perfection" is attainable by any means.
    • Re:How else? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Stormy Dragon (800799)
      The real problem is how they've chosen to define "perfection". Like any evolutionary system, Wikipedia will evolve into the state best fulfilling it's selection criteria.

      And unfortunately, Wikipedia's selection criteria is not accuracy, but popularity. It works well in situations where there's a high degree of correlation between the two, but fails miserably in cases where there's not. Cases such as issues where there's a lot of controversy (i.e. politics) or issues where there is some fact that's common
  • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:26PM (#11304701) Homepage
    including the need to lock the George Bush article in the run up to the election

    And hey, look! We've locked the article again, since it's been featured on Slashdot. Lovely. :)

  • Heh (Score:5, Informative)

    by pHatidic (163975) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:27PM (#11304706)
    If you go to Wikipedia in the press [] then you can see all the articles about Wikipedia that have been in mainstream newspapers. There really isn't any reason to post every single one, especially since this is probably the fifth article on Wikipedia that has been in the observer in the last year. Granted, I love Wikipedia, but everyone on slashdot already knows what it is so linking to it every week only serves to cause problems for the people monitoring the recent changes by giving them a surge of extra work.
    • Re:Heh (Score:2, Insightful)

      by skybrian (8681)
      But isn't having more people contributing to Wikipedia supposed to be a good thing? Why isn't this "extra work" a nice problem to have?
  • by hunterx11 (778171) <> on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:30PM (#11304730) Homepage Journal
    From TFA:

    According to the laws of aerodynamics, the bumblebee should not be able to fly. Yet fly it manifestly does, albeit in a stately fashion. So much for the laws of aerodynamics.

    Erm, whoops [], yes they should be able to fly. Their cliché is outdated.

  • The Pet Goat (Score:5, Interesting)

    by idiotnot (302133) <> on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:31PM (#11304736) Homepage Journal
    There are editors for a reason -- throwing out a picture that's a central point of a goddamn Michael Moore hit piece shows that some of the content isn't what you'd call, "objective." In fact, it makes Fox News look like an example of journalistic integrity.

    And it's not only this article. I was looking through a few things on Eastern Europe, specifically, the revolution in Romania in 1989. It's one thing to explain what happened -- it's another to assign motivations, for which you have zero evidence.

    Wikipedia is useful for some things, but when it comes to contentious political issues, it's pretty lousy.
    • by khasim (1285) <> on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:55PM (#11304879)
      Wikipedia is useful for some things, but when it comes to contentious political issues, it's pretty lousy.
      It's lousy for anything that people get upset about. It's useful for looking up historical names and dates and events.

      That is all.

      Well, it's also useful for playing games with pages that you don't agree with until they get locked.
    • You know I was sorely tempted to mod you down just for using the words "Fox News" and "journalistic integrity" in the same sentence.
  • by the Dragonweaver (460267) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:32PM (#11304746) Homepage
    Once again, the apocryphal tale [] of bumblebees flying "despite the laws of aerodynamics saying they can't" makes the rounds.

    In truth, the only reason such a "proof" exists is that the laws were applied incorrectly; the scientists involved used the explanations for single-foil flight (i.e. birds' wings.)

    Whether they did so accidentally or as a joke remains the domain of speculation, but the truth is that the laws of aerodynamics can account for bumblebees quite nicely.
  • by Solr_Flare (844465) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:34PM (#11304757)
    Is that the wikipedia is designed around the original intent of the Internet in the first place. Nevermind what the internet has become in the modern era, it was originally designed to share and consolidate information from all its users. The Wikipedia is designed specifically to facilitate that. And, while in its default mode, it does leave itself open to people who want to make an arse of themselves, there are plenty of counter measures and options to such problems. All in all, it is satisfying to see the success of the project purely because it is nice to see the internet used for what it was intended for and do it well.
    • it was originally designed to share and consolidate information from all its users. The Wikipedia is designed specifically to facilitate that.

      OTOH, you can see the currency and objectivity of the corporate approach to information control with this query []. At least it gives you an answer quickly.
    • Who told you that that was the original intent of the Internet? They were wrong. The internet is a method of transmitting data. It was created for military and academic sharing of information, but that sharing was fully accredited, not some random information supplied by John and Jane Doe (no address supplied). It was intended for qualified professionals to publish information - editing came much, much, much later (even later than the web)
  • by Jamesday (794888) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @01:35PM (#11304766)
    "Just as one day kids will wonder if there was life before Google". Well, I'd say it is good that Wikipedia is in the company of Google.:) And also in the top 100 English language web sites according to Alexa. I suppose it's certain that this experiment is doomed to be a flop.:)

    I'm biased, since I'm one of the roots for the Wikipedia/Wikimedia servers.

    I suppose I should ask: any interest in a Slashdot interview on the capacity planning and technical side of Wikipedia? That's my area... of course, that also means I'll say what we'd love to have donated (anyone got a couple of racks and 100 megabits/s spare?:)) Oh, sorry, I'm supposed to have a neutral point of view...:) Or is that I'm supposed to be serious in public? Never can get that straight...:)
    • Naughty Jamesday! Get back to fixing the servers! *whip*

      • Servers? We have servers? You must mean the 40 servers which donations purchased in 2004. Thanks to those who donated.:) Now, if someone could just tell me when we'll stop growing so I can work out whether I need to plan for 200 or 500 by this time next year...:)
        • Servers? We have servers?

          Hehe, that gave me a chuckle. Like you though, I'd love to see a Slashdot interview on the capacity planning and technical side of Wikipedia, both to inform us and to oil the donations machinery.

          Not knowing your architecture, your mention of 40 servers possibly turning into 200 or 500 got me worried. I sure hope that the huge majority of these are caching machines spread across the community, otherwise you have a severe problem. The sort of non-scalability that those 3 numbers
          • Architecture? According to our server page [], we have five database machines (one master and four slaves), six Squid caches, and 23 Apache and memcached machines (to render pages). There are also two "other" machines for things such as images and NFS storage, and three Squid caches to be installed over in France (I believe they were donated there).

            I'm fairly sure Jamesday is exxagerating regarding "200 or 500" servers; there are about ten servers currently being ordered for this quarter.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @02:01PM (#11304912) Journal
    From the article:

    Then a well-known crackpot wrote a Wikipedia page about himself, only to have it, er, rendered more objective by other contributors. This drove him wild. Again the page was locked (in what seemed to me to be an admirably detached state) to prevent further vandalism.

    Does anyone know who this is referring to?

    On a side note, some time ago I tried to create an article [] on the infamous AI crank Mentifex [], but Mentifex himself (who also frequents slashdot []) ended up vandalizing the article repeatedly. It got so bad and was so difficult to maintain that in the end the article was simply deleted [].
  • Was it really locked because too much opinion was being injected into the article, or because the people that run Wikipedia didn't want to run afoul of McCain-Feingold (regardless of how truthful the entry may have been)?
  • Locking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FiReaNGeL (312636) <fireang3l@hotm a i> on Sunday January 09, 2005 @02:04PM (#11304929) Homepage
    Even if locking articles would fix the vandalism problem, it isn't the best solution IMHO.

    Why don't they implement a 'sandbox' where new additions go, getting published after a certain period of time and where previous authors can vote against the addition?
    • That particular method isn't used as it would effectively tend to a forum for unchallenged bullshit.
    • Re:Locking (Score:3, Insightful)

      Why don't they implement a 'sandbox' where new additions go, getting published after a certain period of time and where previous authors can vote against the addition?

      A problem with a straight-up voting mechanism is member bias. For example, if you were to post articles on Slashdot where one said "Bush is evil", it would be modded up whereas "Bush not so bad" would be modded down because of the makeup of Slashdot users: probably 50% lefty, 25% center, and 25% righty. The mods will represent the opinion
  • by xXunderdogXx (315464) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @02:18PM (#11305000) Homepage Journal
    Many people when first informed about the concept of Wikipedia scoff at the idea that you can get factual information from a medium that is open to everyone. Normally I just agre with them that it is a problem that requires some effort to combat.

    Recently I've changed my whole view on reading information online, due mostly to thinking about the Wikipedia concept. Consider Wikipedia to be analogous to asking a classmate a question like "What does ecology mean?" or "Could you explain a null modem?"

    Nobody would decry this as a fruitless effort to gain information, because it is quite possible that your friend knows a lot of information on the subject in question. So you take that information at face value, knowing that there is a possibility he's wrong. If the information "feels right" or "feels wrong" that's all you can tell. It then becomes a starting point for deeper investigation, not the final word on anything. In the end it raises another very important question: Who do you trust to have the final word on something?
  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @02:18PM (#11305005) Homepage Journal
    with Wikipedia, read this []. It seems there are some people who refuse to acknowledge that the other side may have some good points and they try to boil complex social problems into 1 sentence solutions. Now this is not nearly as popular an article as George W. Bush I am sure, but I would be willing to be that a 3rd grader is much more likely to do a report on homelessness than they are Bush.....
  • I am thinking about boycotting Wikipedia until there are more leftwing wikipedia admins
  • by Baldrson (78598) * on Sunday January 09, 2005 @02:37PM (#11305113) Homepage Journal
    One wonders what would have become of the Enlightenment had Guttenberg's press been instantly Wikified so that everything from Luther to Decarte had been subject to immediate editing, retraction and deletion by the the Roman Church, with their only recourse argument with armies of decons, friars, monks, priests, bishops and popes.
  • by argStyopa (232550) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @03:04PM (#11305246) Journal
    What you are seeing in the Wiki fights is simply a microcosm of the conflicts that have permeated western societies since, well, the rise of humanism.

    Who is authority? Who defines truth? Why should I believe them?

    In our pseudo egalitarian society, we can no longer even really understand WHY someone would obey a king, or the concept of Divine Right, except insofar as the king-as-thug interpretation, since he's got all the military power and can threaten us. But the fact was that a great many people believed the king was the king because he DID have the divine right to be there.

    What we see in Wiki is the ultimate in relativism - the 'consensus' decides what's truth, which I think we can all agree is patently absurd. But relativism has so overtaken our societies that no fact can simply be stated without dissent anymore. I that sense, Wiki is merely a symptom, not a disease of itself.

    As the author states, if you use it, you vote for its validity. If you don't, you don't. Personally, I use Wiki all the time, and particularly for 'hot topics' I find it constantly plastered with bias and political correctness. (But then again, so are articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica - more subtle perhaps, but there is a probably bias inherent in any extended presentation of just about anything.)

    Wiki is a useful friend who knows something about everything - you can ask him or her whatever you want and probably get a right answer. It doesn't mean Wiki should be held in the standard of a bibliographic reference tool, any more than a useful friend would be.
    • Personally, I use Wiki all the time, and particularly for 'hot topics' I find it constantly plastered with bias and political correctness.

      I find that for contentious issues, it at least presents both sides of the argument. For instance, look at the UN entry. It discusses criticism and reform of the organization and it actually mentions the Oil-For-Food corruption scandal, unlike most major news outlets which bury that story.
    • ...the 'consensus' decides what's truth, which I think we can all agree is patently absurd.

      This is the funniest thing I've read on Slashdot in days.

  • by j_heisenberg (464756) * on Sunday January 09, 2005 @03:11PM (#11305286)
    this doesn't have to be bad, but it's a fact. Scientific practice around the world works by peer review. If you want to publish, your work is peer reviewed. If you want to get employment/government money, you are judget by peers with better credentials.

    WP lets everyone edit (nearly) every page. The only distinction is time spent online. If you spend 4 hours, you can edit twice as much as with 2 hours. Generally, the quality of WP will converge to the mean of all users, a college education (considering that people with less skills pro'lly won't edit).

    So if you want to "get a clue", WP is for you. If you are a bit above the noob in a topic, look elsewhere.
    • That would only be true if each person was wandering around Wikipedia editing perfectly good articles down to their own level of ignorance. While that concept is comedy gold, it's not reality. Ordinary people encountering a Wikipedia article about something they're ignorant of will read it an learn, not edit it destructively.

    • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @04:16PM (#11305685) Homepage
      Generally, the quality of WP will converge to the mean of all users, a college education

      You presume that each edit would bring the quality level average closer to that of the person who edits it. But really, if I'm ignorant about a certain topic, I'm not going to go through the article about it and "bring it down to my level", so to speak. In the real world, at least some people can realize that the other person writing the article is more informed than they are, and will not clobber the article in the manner you seem to suggest they will.

      And Wikipedia is not about "science". It notably makes several provisions against "original research". Science and research should not be conducted on Wikipedia, though the progress of science and research elsewhere may be reported as such.

      You do have the right idea about how Wikipedia is good as an introduction to an area, but certainly not a comprehensive guide to a topic. It's not supposed to be. It's just an encyclopedia, for crying out loud, not the end-all and be-all of reference works. If I want to learn the intimate details of a topic, I don't run to Britannica, or Encarta, either.

    • by Dr. Zowie (109983) <slashdot AT deforest DOT org> on Sunday January 09, 2005 @06:03PM (#11306224)
      If you want to get employment/government money, you are judget by peers with better credentials.

      Not true. I make my living that way, and as part of my work as a scientist, I occasionally help to review articles for journals or sit on review panels for funding proposals to NASA. Those panels are not full of idiots, by any means -- but the people conducting the reviews are generally not any more senior or experienced than the people submitting the articles or proposing new research.

      WP lets everyone edit (nearly) every page. ... [so] the quality of WP will converge to the mean of all users, a college education (considering that people with less skills pro'lly won't edit).

      No, actually, that argument applies very well to the demise of USENET in the 1990s but not to Wikipedia. In the 1990s, America Online and other ISPs gave exponentially increasing numbers of ordinary people access ot USENET, and most of the interesting unmoderated fora were drowned in a sea of mediocrity and the signal-to-noise ratio dropped to where USENET was no longer useful to professionals and academics.

      While it is not (formally) moderated, Wikipedia is a different type of forum. Most individual posts don't clog up the medium the way that FAQs (the questions, not the lists of answers), contentious idiots, and spam clogged up USENET.

      It remains to be seen whether the noise level will rise enough to drown out the signal, but as Wikipedia gains notoriety it seems to be scaling pretty well.

  • by hey (83763) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @03:13PM (#11305304) Journal
    Notice the Bush entry says he went to Clown College. He certinly must have paid attention there.
  • by hey (83763)
    Can somebody in the UK please explain the relationship between the Guardian and Observer newspapers. Thanks.
  • John Naughton (Score:3, Informative)

    by Roger Whittaker (134499) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @05:12PM (#11305975) Homepage

    John Naughton, who wrote the article, writes regular articles on the internet, software and related matters in the Observer's business section. He is one of the few journalists in the UK who really "gets it", and is also the author of the book "A Brief History of the Future" (published 1999) about the history and future of the Internet.

    In fact his journalism is only a sideline to an academic career.
    His Observer articles can be found archived at [].

    His blog is at [].

  • by sulli (195030) * on Sunday January 09, 2005 @05:33PM (#11306076) Journal
    because they didn't call it "Wikipaedia."
  • people like and use wikipedia because it's online, free and easy to use. There are folks of a certain mindset who of course cherish the "anyone can edit it" aspect of it above all else, and it's certainly a strong point for the wikipedia, but if Encyclopedia Britannica had their own wiki up, they'd probably be either just as (if not more) popular.
  • Oh the irony. (Score:3, Informative)

    by arose (644256) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @09:57PM (#11307310)
    According to the laws of aerodynamics, the bumblebee should not be able to fly. Yet fly it manifestly does, albeit in a stately fashion. So much for the laws of aerodynamics. Much the same applies to Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia written, edited and maintained by its readers.
    A long-held myth of the bumblebee was that, in terms of theoretical aerodynamics, it did not have the capacity (in terms of wing size or beat per second) to achieve flight with the degree of wing loading necessary. This myth became popular after an aerodynamicist in the 1930's stated that a bumblebee was not capable of flight. The statement was based upon an assumption that the bee's wing could be treated as a static aerofoil. However, in reality the bumblebee's flight is characterized by an oscillating wing that shares more characteristics with a helicopter than an aeroplane.
  • Article hogs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rush22 (772737) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @11:51PM (#11307804)
    Then there's the problem of people so stubbornly committed to a Wikipedia article they've worked on that they will never let anyone else change anything but the smallest typo, (usually claiming expert knowledge--though that doesn't mean expert communication skills) Even if everyone on the talk pages says "this article is crap," or "I don't understand this part" or, god forbid, changes anything, the article hog will revert it back. It eventually just comes down to who can hold out the longest, and you end up with a poorly written article by one person, not a community. They may even have their facts straight, but that doesn't mean it's written well and easy to understand.

    These people end up not just managing, but micromanaging the article and won't let anyone else get a word in edgewise. It's not really community-based when there's a dictator running the show.

    • Re:Article hogs (Score:3, Informative)

      by fbform (723771)
      Well, wouldn't such a person be violating the three revert rule often? Wouldn't he/she be subject to being banned temporarily or permanently (if it went on for long enough that is)?

      I edit Wikipedia articles regularly, and its weak spot IMO is not vandalism - blatant or sneaky, vandalism is easier to rectify than content disagreements. Read the page history of "Clitoris" and "Male circumcision" for instance - edit wars of almost operatic tenor, but no vandalism. But Clitoris is in decent shape after the wa

Some people have a great ambition: to build something that will last, at least until they've finished building it.