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Wikipedia Founder Sees Serious Quality Problems 459

Posted by Zonk
from the wiki-this dept.
Juha-Matti Laurio writes "The Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has acknowledged there are real quality problems with the online project. From the article: 'Meanwhile, criticism from outside the Wikipedia camp has been rebuffed with a ferocious blend of irrationality and vigor that's almost unprecedented in our experience: if you thought Apple, Amiga, Mozilla or OS/2 fans were er, ... passionate, you haven't met a wiki-fiddler.'"
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Wikipedia Founder Sees Serious Quality Problems

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:22PM (#13821759)
    It's clearly benefited Slashdot. The story quality and lack of dupes proves it.
    • by Jason1729 (561790) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:26PM (#13821802)
      I know this was intended as a joke, but it might be good for wikipedia.

      Lately I'm finding more "missing" articles than problem ones. Topics that should be there but aren't. Maybe they could have some sort of bounty system to get people to write these missing articles. Of course, that would require paid editors to approve the entires before a payment can be made.
      • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:50PM (#13822038) Homepage
        Jimbo started by trying paid editors; it was called Nupedia []. After three years and... well, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, I guess, they had a whole 24 articles!
        • "Nupedia was characterized by an extensive peer-review process designed to make its articles of a quality comparable to professional encyclopedias"

          Well, at 24 articles they have Wikipedia beat.
        • by theLOUDroom (556455) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @10:09PM (#13823457)
          Jimbo started by trying paid editors

          What wikipedia needs to do is have both "stable" and "unstable" branches of wikipedia, like the linux kernel does.

          Make searches default to the stable page, with the option to add in the more recent changes by clicking a button.

          This has a number of advantages:
          • Removes the immediate payback for defacing a page.
          • Makes it possible to cite a stable version of a wikipedia page in an academic work without it being completely screwed up at a later date. (They should be archived quarterly/yearly/whatever).
          • Still allows up-to-the-minute information to be accessed by those looking for it.
          • (personal belief here) It would increase the credibility of the information. It's easier to research and verify a small set of changes to a stable page, than to check out a whole page. It's better that this research is done BEFORE some hapless individual uses incorrect information.
          • This is a really terrific idea, as it allows for the wiki ideal to continue, while at the same time reducing the possibility of defacement, errors slipping in.

            You could allow articles to move from unstable to stable, allowing stuff to move when it has been moderated by two people with the wikipedia equivilent of good karma (100 accepted changes, or something like that). You could even be relatively smart about this, pushing moderation of pages in the physics area to people who edited other physics pages. (A
          • by FirienFirien (857374) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @05:28AM (#13824939) Homepage
            Makes it possible to cite a stable version of a wikipedia page in an academic work without it being completely screwed up at a later date. (They should be archived quarterly/yearly/whatever).

            You can do this anyway. You click 'history', you click the most recent version, and it gives you a capture of the page at time of reading.

            Yes, it's two clicks rather than one; but in the same way as citing a normal web page runs the risk of having that page change later. Google's cache is similar to this system but will be lost the next time the crawler crosses the page; in this way citing Wikipedia is more reliable than citing the web.

            In response to your last point, it is the fault of the 'hapless individual' if they rely dogmatically on an editable webpage; more so since it's so easy to cross-check facts on the web once you know what they are. If you search for a fact from wikipedia, it should - other than in the most obscure areas - be findable on the web, as simply as googling for the fact. I'm a researcher myself, and I know damn well that if you only get one version it's fairly likely to be biased (whether by simple wording, by author viewpoint, or wherever the author read it from), missing small bits of information, and so on; if you're going to present ANY data as fact then more fool you if you didn't verify it first.
          • I'd love to have a crack at designing a peer review system for wikipedia, with reputation (karma). It seems to me the more edits a page has gotten, the closer to "right" it should be. So maybe a new article, anyone can write. But an article that has been around for a while, your edit goes into a reivew queue and needs 1 vote (meta mod) to become the live version. An established article, maybe 2 votes. maybe it's (number of edits/5)+1 votes, or some formula. The point is, established article should cha
      • by Spetiam (671180) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @07:27PM (#13822398) Journal
        Wikipedia is worthless, from anything other than a triva perspective. Silly me, I once tried to include literature citations in the entry for Julius Caesar, they were promptly deleted and someone re-entered demonstrably false information.
        • by ComputerSherpa (813913) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @07:37PM (#13822481) Homepage
          Wikipedia works best for geeky subjects. Take a look at the articles (well, more like article hierarchies) for Star Trek and World of Warcraft - you won't find a more thorough or more carefully woven source of information anywhere else.

          Wikipedia will never replace Britannica or Encarta. That's not what it's good at. Its strength is in compiling information from hundreds of opinions to present a (mostly) cohesive article. If the type of information it presents is "trivia" to you, then use a different encyclopedia.
          • Wikipedia works best for geeky subjects.

            Yes, Wikipedia reflects the interests of its readership, that's why it needs to attract people from different backgrounds, and I think that this is slowly happening, that's why the quality is improving en other areas.
          • Featured articles (Score:4, Informative)

            by harmonica (29841) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @02:58AM (#13824562)
            Wikipedia works best for geeky subjects.

            I don't think that's true. Wikipedia's featured articles [] come from all categories. That's certainly not a perfect proof of my point, but an indication.
        • by User 956 (568564) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @08:15PM (#13822767) Homepage
          Silly me, I once tried to include literature citations in the entry for Julius Caesar, they were promptly deleted and someone re-entered demonstrably false information.

          Yeah, no kidding.

          Point 1. The system doesn't favor true information, it favors whoever can be the most obstinate, anal-retentive, vindictive prick. Take this dipshit [], for example. Imagine having a flaming, bitchy drag queen editing your stuff. Not to make it better or more correct-- changing/deleting/removing content just because he didn't like edits to other, unrelated articles you'd done.

          Point 2. Then you get the tools that label your factually correct additions as "vandalism". They'll delete whole paragraphs just because they consider the article to be "their" article. This is especially prevalent by the older users towards the newer users.

          Point 3. Then there's the "vote for deletion" nazis. See Tverbeek [], above. Again, as "revenge" for some perceived past slight, these mental giants will put your stuff up for deletion with the rationale that it belongs on uncyclopedia, this is the typical rationale for deleting topics relating to fiction or pop-culture. Why then, do certain "uncyclopedia-quality" articles (i.e. the Klingon dictionary) stick while others don't? See Point 1.

        • I once tried to include literature citations in the entry for Julius Caesar, they were promptly deleted and someone re-entered demonstrably false information.

          Demonstrably false? Did you demonstrate that it was false then?

          The same thing happened to me last week. A technical article incorrectly stated that something was introduced in a particular version. I corrected the version. Then somebody "corrected" it back. Instead of complaining about it on Slashdot, I fixed the article again and include

        • Silly me, I once tried to include literature citations in the entry for Julius Caesar, they were promptly deleted and someone re-entered demonstrably false information.

          That's like giving up driving because someone honked at you.

          Check your ego at the door. Wikipedia, like the society around you, suffers from politics, the process of decision making that tries to exclude violence.

          That said, perhaps what everyone's bitching at here is that for all the mostly technical progress, we seem to be right where ou

  • What's scary is... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mtec (572168) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:26PM (#13821790)
    I'm seeing more and more people use it as their de facto source for information.
    • by Kelson (129150) * on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:33PM (#13821876) Homepage Journal
      Hey, as a starting point or casual reference, it's not bad. Your chances of finding inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading content on Wikipedia are no worse than your chance of finding it on a general Internet search. If you're doing serious research, you should be following it up with other sources -- preferably primary sources as much as possible -- which ought to help you catch any misinformation you got from a bad Wikipedia article.

      The real challenge is finding the volunteers to fix all the obscure articles. I recently stumbled across an article with a typo in its outline structure that had been there for about a year, and no one had noticed it in that entire time. It's kind of like getting someone to do serious UI design or end-user documentation for an open-source project. People work on what they find interesting, and if no contributors find a topic interesting, it's not going to get fixed.
      • by julesh (229690) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:38PM (#13821918)
        Too true. Only today I fixed an article that described "artex" as a type of wallpaper (it isn't, it's a fluid that sticks to walls or ceilings and dries into a solid surface, similar to plaster but much more versatile). The point is, it's an utterly dull subject. So nobody's bothered correcting the blatant error that a minute's research with google would tell you.
      • by CristalShandaLear (762536) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @07:24PM (#13822365) Homepage Journal
        The real challenge is finding the volunteers to fix all the obscure articles. I recently stumbled across an article with a typo in its outline structure that had been there for about a year, and no one had noticed it in that entire time. It's kind of like getting someone to do serious UI design or end-user documentation for an open-source project. People work on what they find interesting, and if no contributors find a topic interesting, it's not going to get fixed. Isn't that the beauty of the Wiki? If you see the occasional grammatical error or typo, you can simply hit the edit link and fix it. I'm not a Wiki editor or even a regular contributor, but I do find Wikipedia fascinating and I have done my fair share of typo/grammar correction. Even the smallest contributions to a project of this magnitude can be helpful? Why pass up the opportunity to pitch in? I think Wiki is not the quintessential encyclopedia but it can definitely give you a nudge in the right direction, especially when you want some starting details on the recent buzz. Need to know more about Rove and Plame-gate? Start at Wikipedia. Trying to figure out why your kid is going on about a "horcrux"? If you had Googled the word "horcrux" in July 16 you would have had a one-word google whack. Google that word now (starting just after July 17) and the first entry is at Wikipedia. Wiki is not just an online encyclopedia but it has been for me a great reference of what Wiki readers and contributors are really interested in and want to share. An eye into the mind of everyone.
      • by Dogtanian (588974) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @07:32PM (#13822439) Homepage
        The real challenge is finding the volunteers to fix all the obscure articles. People work on what they find interesting, and if no contributors find a topic interesting, it's not going to get fixed.

        The problem is that a lot of the obscure stuff that *is* there is in areas where geek (or rather nerd) types have interests, and it's not always that well-written. In fact, I think this is arguably at the top of the (otherwised unordered) list of problems with Wikipedia:-

        (1) The anal-retentive "fact"-adding tendency. Those who'll add obscure/unused abbrevs to a *disambiguation* page. They don't get that some facts are more important than others, or that simply adding information to an article doesn't necessarily make it more helpful. They'll create lots of small stub articles, when they'd be better combined in a single article (placing them in context). If there's one thing I've learned as I get older, it's that leaving stuff out is *hard* but very important. You can't include everything. And you have to order that information well. The self-indulgent factoid geeks don't know or care about this.

        (2) Change for change's sake. I'd be interested to see the amount of "churn" that goes on in some articles simply caused by people changing stuff for the sake of it. It's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just pointlessly wasted effort over a minor issue.

        (3) *Potential* subversion by those with an agenda, including professionals. I've seen at least one instance of what appeared to be a PR person editing anonymously. This is dangerous, because most zealots with an agenda are transparent; PR and the like are professionals, and more likely to slip under the radar.

        (4) Vandalism; annoying, but usually pretty obvious

        (5) Lack of citation. This is very rare, and whilst normal encyclopedias don't normally include citations, Wikipedia's credibility would be much enhanced with more of them.

        There are probably more, but my brain is full; that's enough to be going on with...
        • As a regular Wikipedia contributor, I would agree with much of the above. With regards to leaving stuff out and unnecessary churn, check the edit history of the Computer article []. After doing a rewrite (which I fully admit isn't perfect but was much clearer than what was there before) I end up reverting quite a lot because somebody decides that some obscure aspect of computing history deserves three paragraphs. Another particular annoyance for me is "X in fiction" sections, where teenagers with way too mu
        • by Moraelin (679338) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @03:44AM (#13824669) Journal
          (6) The idiot who thinks he's funny. In fact, so funny, that _everyone_ should find his stand-up comedy act when seriously searching for information. In fact, heck, everyone should be mandated by law to read his jokes, but finding them instead of actual info is almost an acceptable substitute.

          I still remember one article in the German wikipedia... about cloning didgeridoos. Complete with a picture of tiny little digeridoos in test tubes, and a paragraph about how they live longer than the ones born naturally. About a year later, it was still there. (Now it's finally gone, though.)

          OK, so it's a sorta the bastard child of your points 3 and 4. Except while the PR professional knows they're subverting and polluting a resource for profit, and the vandal knows they're defacing, the "funny" idiot might actually think he's doing a public service.
    • by p2sam (139950) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:38PM (#13821920)
      Wikipedia is an excellent online source of information. But because of its name, critics hold Wikipedia to the same standard as an encyclopedia. I certainly don't think it's the same thing as an encyclopedia, a wiki's open and collaborative nature is fundamentally different from the construct of an encyclopedia. It's not better or worse, it's just a different thing.
      • Wikipedia is an excellent online source of information. But because of its name, critics hold Wikipedia to the same standard as an encyclopedia. I certainly don't think it's the same thing as an encyclopedia, a wiki's open and collaborative nature is fundamentally different from the construct of an encyclopedia. It's not better or worse, it's just a different thing.

        I have foudn that encyclopedias are often similarly biased, just as often incorrect, and not nearly as broad.
      • by nwbvt (768631)
        I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you are not supposed to cite traditional encyclopedias as your de facto source either. They are intended to be easy to use references, not as the basis for something you write in a paper.
      • by xgamer04 (248962)
        Come to think of it, Wikipedia is basically Slashdot in encyclopedia form. You have a bunch of anonymous zealots who think they know what they're talking about and who will debate you with non-arguments until you give up. The only difference is that on Wikipedia, the people writing the articles have to at least attempt to remain neutral, if only to avoid a "biased" tag on the page.
    • It really depends on what you need the information for. If I'm looking for some information about a topic that interests me I favor quantity over quality, espacially because wikipedia offers information on topics I would never find in an encyclopedia.
      However, if I'm looking something up on wikipedia for a presentation or to simply prove my point to a friend I'll double check it with more traditional sources, because I know that I can't really trust the wiki article.
      IMO people look at this project the wrong
    • by nwbvt (768631)
      In defense of the Wikipedia, thats not all that new of a problem. People have always tried to take the easy road in terms of finding sources. Once it was World Book, then it was first web page that came up from a Lycos search, now its the Wikipedia.

      Whats truly scary is the number of people defending the use of the Wikipedia as a de facto source of information.

      • by PenguiN42 (86863) <taylork@alum[ ] ['.mi' in gap]> on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @08:23PM (#13822812) Journal
        Whats truly scary is the number of people defending the use of the Wikipedia as a de facto source of information.

        Where are all these people? In any conversation about wikipedia the grand majority of the comments are either:
        1) wikipedia is useless!, or:
        2) wikipedia is a good starting point for research but make sure to follow up!, or:
        3) wikipedia is a good collaborative effort that's not finished yet!

        These crazy wikipedia zealots that you're afraid of seem to be much exaggerated in your mind.
  • What other encyclopedia chronicles the history of slashdot? []
  • i'll second that. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CDPatten (907182) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:26PM (#13821801) Homepage
    I've debated people here and they use wikipedia facts that were wrong as proof they were right. It drove me crazy... he wouldn't take any other source no matter how many, wikipedia was the spoken word. Yikes.

    In a perfect world wikipedia would work, but people aren't perfect, and people have agendas... that is why it will never be taken seriously with anyone outside the community.
  • by ubrgeek (679399) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:27PM (#13821807)
    It's still one of the best destinations and tools on the Net. Everytime I show it to someone who has never seen it, they're blown away.
  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:27PM (#13821811) Homepage
    'Meanwhile, criticism from outside the Wikipedia camp has been rebuffed with a ferocious blend of irrationality and vigor that's almost unprecedented in our experience: if you thought Apple, Amiga, Mozilla or OS/2 fans were er, ... passionate, you haven't met a wiki-fiddler.'

    These people still can't hold a candle to Jack Thompson.
  • Of course there's a lack of quality. Anybody can come in and edit anybody else's work.

    Step 1: Create an account
    Step 2: Do whatever the hell you want to the whole place

    Maybe a level system ought to be put in place. Create enough new entries and then you can edit other users' work. It's not a perfect solution, but it would cut down on some of the nonsense.
    • You mean like this [] where they even go so deep as to do computer forensic exercises in order to match the guy's butt wart with a usenet poster?
    • Step 1: Create an account
      Step 2: Do whatever the hell you want to the whole place

      True, except for the Step 1 part.

    • by abh (22332) <> on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:37PM (#13821913) Homepage
      Actually there's only one step. You don't need an account. Gee, what other site do I know that allows anonymous random folks to spout off nonsense... *looks around*
    • You don't need to create an account or log in. I've edited many a page anonymously (removing references to Spongebob Squarepants [] from an article about Leif Erikson Day, for example.
    • by PingPongBoy (303994) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @07:04PM (#13822190)
      Just hold on for a minute!

      Wikipedia is far from a thousand monkeys pounding on typewriters. Yes, some contributors are not the most experienced, but if many contributors, even those ignorant about a particular aspect of knowledge, try to self edit and get the details right, over time the result will be so positive that conductive breakdown will occur and lightning will happen.

      Consider this. When Hardy saw Ramanujan's [] for the first time, he figured that "a single look at them is enough to show that they could only be written down by a mathematician of the highest class. They must be true, for if they were not true, no one would have had the imagination to invent them". Similarly, Wikipedia info is no joke - there are so many serious articles that people put enormous effort into. This should encourage anyone who really cares about any shortcoming to put some work into making the marginal improvements that ultimately benefit us all.

      A message to people who have poor communications skills - just express yourself. Do not give in to embarrassment. Put in your knowledge and take a look at other articles. Even copying someone else's style will enable you to enhance your input. If someone edits your work, that's supposed to be a good thing, as long as you maintain the attitude of writing with higher and higher quality.
  • by benna (614220) * <mimenarrator@g m a i l .com> on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:28PM (#13821819) Journal
    Wikipedia usually works, in my experience, especially on popular or controversial articles. Just within the last hour, another editor and I had a dispute [] over whether "dry mouth" is a negative or neutral effect of marijuana []. We went back and forth a few times but we eventually agreed to combine that postive and negative effect lists, and now it is all settled. Such compromise is not always possible but it is much of the time and the system usually works.
    • by CaptainCarrot (84625) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:46PM (#13822000)
      In my experience it's exactly the controversial issues that Wikipedia handles least best. Your example is one where it worked, but very often such disputes force the inclusion of some far-out whacko idea with no credibility that an encyclopedia with a more controlled editorial policy wouldn't even consider worthy of mention.

      The trouble is that the whacko editors have far more free time on their hands than the sensible ones, and can just keep hammering away at an article until their POV, silly as it may be, is presented on a level with a more reasoned viewpoint.

      • You mean the controversial articles like, oh, the ones on abortion [], or evolution [], or apartheid [], or the Israli-Palestinian conflict [], or same-sex marriage [], or alleged cults []...

        You have it exactly the wrong way around. These articles are some the best of Wikipedia, not the worst.
      • Last year, I tried to put in some information about John Kerry - negative information. Whoever was god of that page took it back out with the comments that it had no references and was probably nonsense, also stating that the book reference I did give probably didn't exist (of course, a few seconds spent at Amazon would have allowed that to be checked).

        Being too busy to meet an imposible standard of references to satisfy a clearly biased wikipedia crowd, I just gave up. I knew that the internet world was la
    • by Skippy_kangaroo (850507) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @07:02PM (#13822170)

      Wikipedia usually doesn't work on popular or controversial articles. Ever heard of edit wars? Those controversies don't go away just because the article remains stable for a week or so. Instead, the losers in an edit war continue to try and white ant the article and you end up with a hollow shell of an article.

      Given that your comment is modded informative I'll assume you aren't being sarcastic. But, come on, Wikipedia works because you can work out your differences on the question of which column to put a particular effect of marijuana in? That is about as useful as the movement of a comma in the article.

      Care to talk about something controversial? What about the possibility that there are long term problems with mental health? The main article it links to Health issues and the effects of cannibis [] seems a reasonable article on a quick scan. But the summary in this article is "The findings of earlier studies purporting to demonstrate the effects of the drug are unreliable, as the studies were flawed, with strong bias and poor methodology." This comment has absolutely no references other than a link to 'Junk Science'. Furthermore, it does not reflect the contents of the main article at all. The main article states "There has not currently been enough scientific study of the drug's effects to come to a definite conclusion." (with respect to mental health effects) - it does not state that all the research pointing to negative effects was junk science. Thus, the summary is not a useful statement for a reference work - it is a point of view. Care to try and fix that one and put something reliable in rather than a point of view?
    • by sco08y (615665) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @09:46PM (#13823341)
      We went back and forth a few times but we eventually agreed to combine that postive and negative effect lists, and now it is all settled.

      What really happened was you all went out to gather empirical evidence and everyone forgot where the article was.
  • by bersl2 (689221) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:30PM (#13821838) Journal
    A solution I liked was to make the publicly-editable entries into an unstable branch, and to promote versions of pages that have been fact-checked and have been agreed to be up to Wikipedia standards into a stable branch. Redirect anonymous viewers to stable pages if available, and mark each version as to which branch it belongs to.
  • Who actually think Wikipedia is going to replace various standard sources of knowledge, and will eventually be the greatest and most accurate repository of knowledge in human existence?

    It never will. And that's OK.

    Wikipedia can be valuable even in mediocrity. I've used it as a "jumping off" point for knowledge about things that aren't covered in more traditional sources. Want to know the origins of "all your base are belong to us"? Wikipedia is great for that sort of trivia. Want an in-depth explanation of Relativity? You probably don't want to necessarily trust Wikipedia for the last word on it, but you might be able to find a few pointers to some good books.

    Wikipedia is what it is. As long as everyone understands what it is, it'll do fine.

    • I agree. The fact that it has to be read with a discerning mind doesn't detract from its usefulness in areas where it is strong.

      The argument that it should be judged by its weakest content is false, and wilfully ignores the fact that Wikipedia actually provides a source of information on many things that simply aren't covered elsewhere - particularly not in traditional reference works. Net culture is one of these, and as far as I'm concerned it's just as important to have a store of knowledge on that as i

    • Who actually think Wikipedia is going to replace various standard sources of knowledge...

      It has on /. [].

      I'm just sayin'...


  • Now I'm not an expert on everything but there are a few things I've seen that is not so much incorrect as it has a bias to how it is written. There needs to be more control from a professional literary stand point. Proper referencing to original sources, unbiased commentary. It always cracked me up how much detail is put in writing an article about slash culture but yet you look at something like the demographical information of some third world country and it is sparce at best. Now I agree this is an envol
  • revenge (Score:2, Informative)

    by jzeejunk (878194)
    slashdot reports on wikipedia's quality hm... first thing i wanted to check was what wikipedia said about slashdot.

    Slashdot is often criticized for posting story summaries that are inaccurate and/or misspelled, and for intentionally posting articles that many find highly biased, and/or defamatory and often incite flamewars, while ignoring news or commentary on issues which outsiders may consider more serious or important (see Slashdot subculture). It is also infamous for the Slashdot effect, when thousan
  • 'wikki-fiddler'? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aurelian (551052) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:34PM (#13821877)
    I've never understood why the Register staff seem to have such a personal vendetta against Wikipedia. I've no problem with them reporting inaccuracies or criticism such as this, and I know that a lot of their content is opinion rather than reportage, but 'wikki-fiddler' is a pretty juvenile and unprofessional term to use.

    Regarding Wikipedia itself, I find it to be pretty useful as a repository of widely-known information (dates, names etc), very useful on computer-related information, and perhaps not so useful or reliable on other things. But that's still a net positive. Why the hostility?

  • by AJ_Levy (700911) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:36PM (#13821899) Homepage
    Could there be a commercial opportunity in forking Wikipedia, and then having an advertising-supported business hire some editors and professionals to verify Wikipedia articles, perhaps in conjunction with other content? Or perhaps having a university fork Wikipedia and then flag which edits have been verified, or edited, by students or professors of the subjects covered by a particular article? Or perhaps introducing a Slashdot-style moderation system (where you can by default, for instance, only see edits which are rated 5*'s or higher?)
  • Trend? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ZachPruckowski (918562) <> on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:38PM (#13821916)
    It seems like this is sort of a trend. I mean, didn't vandalism and trolling force the introduction of the moderation system here? And didn't that happen nearly everywhere on the web as discussion boards increased in size? Anyone see a trend? It seems that once it goes from a clubhouse to a gym, you start to get bad apples.

    Another poster suggested a leveling system, and I agree. I think that wikipedia should establish a system whereby articles are ranked, i.e. culture - specialized - mainstream or something. That way, as you start out, you can work on culture articles, then work your way up. Or maybe base it on page views and specialization. People who just joined can make new articles (to fill the missing ones) or can work on general articles that are rarely viewed, then work their way up.
  • by nweaver (113078) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:41PM (#13821956) Homepage
    It's not like the Register doesn't have accuracy issues either.
  • by dslauson (914147) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:47PM (#13822012) Journal
    By it's nature, Wikipedia is no good for academic research or as the final authority on anything. That said, if I want an overview of what something is all about, and the information doesn't have to be 100% accurate, then Wikipedia is the way to go.

    Think about the information you would get by just Googling something. You're just as likely, probably more likely, to come up with garbage information. The difference at Wikipedia is that it's been reviewed by many eyes, and it's not under the sole control of some random dude with who has a web page.

    Users should, of course, be aware of the potential for bad information. In fact, I'd recommend to any user who hasn't yet, you should read their What Wikipedia Is Not [] page.
  • Some people do have really serious doubts [] about the credibility of wikipedia [] content.

    On the other hand, wikipedia people do have doubts about these other lads [] as well. Hmmm, looks like circular distrust to me...

  • Here's a classic example that I just came upon (from the Mythical Man Month page []):

    Though Brooks does not outright say it, he clearly implies in the book that he favors contract workers by suggesting that implementers may only be hired once the architecture of the system has been completed (a step that may take several months, during which time the implementers may have nothing to do). It stands to reason then that if written today, Brooks might have written in favor of outsourcing software jobs in the Unite
  • Work in Progress (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SoupIsGood Food (1179) * on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:50PM (#13822049)

    Dissatisfaction with the quality of an article in Wikipedia is not a fatal flaw... it's the engine that makes Wikipedia work. If a user needs information on a topic, and the information is incorrect or incomplete or poorly presented, the user will, in some cases, just go out and research what they need to know using other sources... ...and then they'll contribute what they learn back into Wikipedia.

    Wikipedia does not hold to the standards of print references because it's not finished. It's a work constantly in progress, and you get to see the work in progress as well as a finished product.

    Bearing that in mind, Wikipedia must not be judged by its worst entries, as those entries will be brought up to par eventually... in a few hours or a few years. Bad entries will be made into good entries as the right editor for the job steps forward.

    This requires information filtering abilities on the part of the reader, and these abilities have too long been dormant in most readers... in a polished and professional publication, mistakes aren't acknowleged as such. There's even a sentiment that if it's in print, it's an absolute irrefutable fact, rather than the best information available to the publisher.

    In Wikipedia, the reader knows that what they are reading is a collection of the best information available to the writers... and they can modify it if they see a mistake, or have more to add to the topic. That sort of dynamic interaction with the source material is very, very powerful, and can lead to a depth impossible in a regular encyclopedia on obscure topics... everything from Hallucigenia [] to Indian Clubs. [] Try getting that info out of your Brittanica.

    Wikipedia is great as a point of departure for further study. It will, at the very least, provide the reader with a notion of what the scope and nature of the subject is, and the incompleteness and error of the artivle will be corrected as people who know what they're talking about step forward over time.

    SoupIsGood Food
  • by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @06:53PM (#13822074) Homepage Journal
    The articles may be wrong, but where they are, they are DEFINITIVELY wrong. On the other hand, there are many articles that are genuinely accurate, very readable and thoroughly researched. Usually, these are for arcane subjects, obscure villages and hamlets, etc. In other words, stuff that only a very self-selecting few would ever know enough to discover the page on, never mind edit!

    A case in point is the Wikipedia page on the village of Mellor [], a small village that has languished on the edge of obscurity for 14,000 years and I'd swear it still had some of its original inhabitants walking around. The odds of there being more than two or three on Slashdot who have ever been there is virtually nil.

    Because of the limited editing it gets, the accuracy is probably higher than normal. HOWEVER, any inaccuracy probably lasts longer than normal, for the same reason.

    Pages that get edited frequently probably lose errors a lot faster, but gain new ones equally fast. In that sense, it is no different from computer programming, where rapid development cycles create as many (or more) bugs than they fix - although, they're usually different bugs the next time round.

    I think Wikipedia would benefit from some sort of development cycle, where an "in progress" copy of the article is maintained, then occasionally snapshotted to create the "official" copy. For "non real-time" articles, I would suggest that pages not significantly edited for, say, 36 or 72 hours be treated as a "final revision". (A minor alteration would be the adding/removing of symbols such as commas and apostrophes.)

    This would give you the "anyone can edit" freewheeling anarchy of the current system, the live, raw feel that some apparently crave, and yet also provide a version that has some semblance of consent behind it, something that maybe isn't perfect but is good enough for now. It's not exactly QA, in the usual sense, but it's still QA, in that you've got to not find any showstoppers within some deadline.

    A "traditional"(!) wikipedia with deliberately de-synchronised mainstream version would probably not be the best solution, but I honestly can't think of a better one while keeping the current approach.

  • by melted (227442) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @07:01PM (#13822162) Homepage
    Hey, it's not like "paper" encyclopedias don't have problems. Just open up encyclopedias printed in the 60's-70's in the US and in USSR and read a few chapters on socialism and communism. :-)
  • by SEE (7681) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @07:08PM (#13822225) Homepage
    Register: Wikipedia Inaccurate, Badly-Written
    Pots, kettles war over who's the blackest

    [Story body here]
  • by Everyman (197621) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @07:12PM (#13822256) Homepage
    Jimmy Wales runs Wikipedia from the profits that come from Bomis [] and from donations. is a porn directory network with an innocent-looking front end, and a huge number of ads and paid links.

    Wikipedia is straining under the load from a massive increase in traffic. This is due to the buzz from the media, as well as impressive rankings in Yahoo and Google.

    Most of the insider administrators are anonymous, and they can use their editing privileges to stomp on any initiatives from the unwashed masses that they find objectionable. The word "cult" comes to mind. Recently there is a move on to require footnote citations for most assertions, in order to make the articles appear neutral. However, in my experience last week with Jimmy and one of his top anonymous admins, SlimVirgin, it seems to me that if the citation itself looks like an opposing opinion, then that's good enough. No one over there actually reads the stuff they cite -- no time for that.

    The only defense the unannointed have is to put together their own list of CGI proxies, and give them a hard time for a couple of days. But the admins have many more "rollback" weapons to make it easy to "revert" any changes, which makes this too much trouble for any single unprivileged person.

    I predict that before Wikipedia breaks under the traffic load, Jimmy will start running AdSense or Yahoo ads. At that point a lot of editors will probably leave, since their work is volunteer and they might now see Wikipedia as something quite different. Look at what the Google tie-in did for Mozilla Foundation, for example. Potentially millions per year would be generated by ads on Wikipedia.

    Then he'll bank most of the money, buy some more bandwidth to keep it going as long as he can, but ultimately let it run down. I don't for a minute believe that Jimmy is motivated by this:

    "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing." -Jimmy Wales, July 2004
  • I disagree (Score:3, Insightful)

    by johansalk (818687) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @07:28PM (#13822403)
    I will no longer read the register. I have been too annoyed by 'articles' I read in the register that I found quite bitchy and immature. Yes, I'm annoyed when in dispute with someone else they try to prove their point by linking to wikipedia, which I consider to be of little value as a proof, BUT, it's nonetheless useful, and here's why - wikipedia, and I have RTFA on the register and here's where I disagree, does NOT need to replace the web. It does NOT need to be authoritative and conclusive; it only needs to be a *starting point* to introduce a topic and its range to someone. Accuracy, as far as I'm concerned, is a far lesser concern. In real life an encyclopedia would be the first thing you read when you research something, NOT the last! It should be no different for wikipedia.
  • by birge (866103) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @07:45PM (#13822543) Homepage
    I agree that there are quality problems, but it seems to be worse recently. I've noticed, in the past few weeks, a rash of vandalism on articles that never had any problems. For example, last week or so some vandal went around randomly deleting little snippets from the Swarthmore College article. You'd never notice it, and most didn't, continuing to just add their own edits. But after several edits, the vandal had deleted over half the article, and nobody noticed! I checked the IP of the anonymous user, and they'd done the same thing at various college websites all over Wikipedia.

    I've also noticed a trend whereby people will do stealth vandalism, changing one tiny fact or number. This is far more insidious than the harmless dorks who replace an entire article with "Brent Stevens eats babies". This is clearly an effort by people to discredit the very idea of Wikis.

  • by minkie (814488) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @09:32PM (#13823268)

    I've heard people say, "Wikipedia is like a public toilet; when you need, you're glad it's there, but you never know who was there before you".

    I've been editing Wikipedia for about a year now, and while I find some of the utopian aspects (i.e. allowing anybody, even anonymous users, to edit) to be intellectually appealing, the result is, without a doubt, mostly crap. Instead of spending my time improving quality, I spend my time fighting blatant vandals, well-intentioned idiots, and clueless newbies. And what time is left over gets eaten up in silly beaurocracy.

    Like many /.'ers, I do software development for a living. No software development project (or any big project, be it buiding a space ship or digging ditches) would survive with the attitude that anybody can do anything they want. People need to both be educated as to the right way to do things and prove themselves trustworthy.

    Wikipedia is a great resource. I turn to it often to get background, or find out interesting facts about almost anything. But I wouldn't trust it for anything important.

  • by jbn-o (555068) <> on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @10:08PM (#13823449) Homepage

    The "tortured prose" of this Register article is apparent in their lack of details on how the Bill Gates and Jane Fonda Wikipedia entries are "unreadable crap" (in Jimmy Wales' words). We're merely told this repeatedly, but the Register never backs their argument (or Wales'). Also, one sees another instance of the double-standards which are tolerated for judging Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica.

    "Wikipedians point to flaws in the existing dead tree encyclopedias, as if the handful of errors in Britannica cancels out the many errors, hopeless apologies for entries, and tortured prose, of Wikipedia itself."

    If "[s]omething that aspires to be a reference work ought to be judged by the quality of the worst entry" then why are we only allowed to judge one encyclopedia—Wikipedia—on that basis? With such a ridiculously high bar, it's easy to hand-pick articles one knows a great deal about and see if the encyclopedia in question measures up.

    • When I look up "gnu", "free software", or "free software movement" on Encyclopedia Brittanica's website I expect to find at least some stub article telling me that if I pay them I can read their complete entries on these topics. Instead, I learn that they have no such entries. Their substitutes are simply inadequate to explain the past 20 years of history, what philosophical differences exist, and who are the main players involved. The closest I can come to learning about the GNU operating system is to look up "linux" where EB talks about "Linux" as an operating system. But Linux isn't and never was an operating system. Linux is properly credited as a part of an operating system called a kernel. Such a view of history has no role for GNU, which predates the Linux kernel by years.
    • EB has an article on "open source" but its description uses the term "public domain" in a way that is, at best, ill-advised. I saw no mention of the differences between the free software and open source movements—the kind of information that would help one understand why one movement is mentioned by name in the most important free software licenses, what these licenses say, and how these licenses came to be.
    • EB apparently has nothing to offer about "GNU" in the context of an operating system or operating system project.

    Which brings me to the next problematic criticism of these encyclopedias: drawing conclusions by weighing too small a sample. I recall that EB's former editor used exactly one entry to conclude that Wikipedia is akin to filth one is likely to find in a public bathroom (or words to that effect). The Register article's critique centers on reviews of two Wikipedia articles—Bill Gates and Jane Fonda's entries. The only way to reach the conclusion that EB has a "handful of errors" (as the Register says) is to do a survey; you can't judge articles you've never read. It seems to me that a proper review of a large encyclopedia would require a far larger sample size than a "handful" of articles in order to justify any reasonable conclusions about quality, no matter what those conclusions were.

    Finally, the Register article mentions a few "respon[ses] to criticism" but doesn't actually critique these responses with a proper explanation. Just because one is told something like "this is what my critics will tell you" doesn't mean you have reason to dismiss the criticism. If one is interested in learning what's really going on, one has an obligation to think about the critique and weigh it on its merits. I "welcome the candour" as well the Register does, but I certainly want my candour to come with examples to back up points. When I evaluate EB using the guidelines I'm told to evaluate Wikipedia by, I come up with the conclusion that EB is merely different from, not better than, Wikipedia. And this conclusion I arrive at without giving any credit to Wikipedia for being free (as in the freedom to share and modify) which EB most certainly isn't. So, if I happen to be a victim of EB's "HUAC", I can't do anything to improve EB without going through the gatekeepers that registered their unwillingness to examine the above topics at all.

  • by Ingolfke (515826) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @10:17PM (#13823494) Journal
    by the Uncyclopedia [] as the one true source for all knowledge.
  • by geohump (782273) <> on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @10:50PM (#13823667) Journal
    All Jimmy Wales actually said was that two articles were terribly written. Wales has always had a goal of high quality in Wikipedia. Having two poorly written articles out of over three quarters of a million is hardly an admission of "Quality problems" except for the two particular articles cited. (yes, there are other articles that need work as well.)

    The real issue here is the repeated attacks by this reporter: Remember Andrew Orlowski is the same reporter who wrote about Wikipedia :

    """"It's the Khmer Rouge in diapers," ... which seems as good a description as any to us."""

    Clearly Andrew has found that Wikipedia bashing is an easy meal ticket and that is the actual source of his over-exaggerated headline writing. Orlonski needs to get paid and he needs his editors to view him as a positive asset, drawing lots of eyeballs to the Register website. A quick Google for Orlowski and Wikipedia shows a long, slanted history for our boy Andy.

    There is a verb for this: "Dvoraking" "To Dvorak"
    "The act of trolling by a supposedly 'professional' journalist in order to draw visitors to a webpage generating hits for the paid advertisements."

    In fact, given this background information Andrew Orlowski has less real credibility than, say, your average slashdot poster. :-).

    Orlowski isn't a total waste of time however. After all he has noted that: "Segway's brains head for toy robot", "Microsoft FAT patent rejected - again", and the incredible "Police stake out bar, hoping to catch man drunk"

    Wow, Andrew! Whats next? I wait in breathless anticipation.

    (What, proofread this? not worth the time, Andrew.)
  • by HerbanLegend (758842) on Tuesday October 18, 2005 @10:54PM (#13823688) Homepage
    I'm not flaming here - but I don't think it's that big of a deal if an article on Bill Gates or Jane Fonda is inaccurate. I'll bet the one on Evolution isn't too great, either - but this is what Wikipedia is about. Let me explain:

    To hear EB talk about it, you would think that the only good encyclopedia entry on Bill Gates would include factual information about his birth, life, finances, etc. That's fine if you are writing a history book for schoolchildren, but what Wikipedia does is actually captures the cultural moment around an issue - the fact that Bill Gates' article is inaccurate is because there is so much contention surrounding him.

    To my eyes, Britannica is enforcing a cultural imperialism that the only right information is Politically Correct whitewashed facts. While that certainly is important, for instance, if you are really looking for the best definition of "evolution" or an impartial recounting of facts about Jane Fonda, that's not what Wikipedia does.

    It captures the fullest dimension of the issues - the facts (as they are percieved) and all the culturally significant alternate views as well. Imagine what value future anthropologists might glean from a snapshot of Wikipedia - they wouldn't care who Bill Gates was in any kind of factual way - they would want to see what the world thought of him. Or the WTO, the World Bank, Greenpeace - you get the idea.
  • by dantheman82 (765429) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @12:43AM (#13824158) Homepage
    OK, some have argued well that an Encyclopedia is really not a valid source of information for writing an article worth publishing. So, in that sense, both Wikipedia and other Encyclopedias (Britannica, etc.) offer starting points to point you in the direction of other more relevant sources of information.

    Experts, including dead-tree encyclopedia authors, are definitely biased despite their voluminous amount of knowledge. They will *refuse* to look into some areas of study any further because they don't want to do so. The "peer reviews" may simply be a group of people patting each other on the back and not seriously attempting to counter the bias. The advantage of Wikipedia is not that it is unbiased, but that, given some time and effort, you can use the diff tool to find out what else each other has written and determine the bias. In other words, authors can't necessarily hide behind their biases.

    Wikipedia of course has its stronger areas and weaker areas, but it is one resource among many that can be useful when doing research. As some have mentioned, it is kind of like running a Google search on something.
  • Why the hype? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BenjyD (316700) on Wednesday October 19, 2005 @03:50AM (#13824691)
    Why does every project like this have to be "the next big thing". Why do we have to compare to the E. Britanica and rabidly defend Wikipedia with ever more elaborate answers? Wikipedia is an interesting project, and extremely useful as a starting point for research. That's good enough for me - leave the "Wiki-religion" outside.

Wasn't there something about a PASCAL programmer knowing the value of everything and the Wirth of nothing?