Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

Interview Looks at How and Why Wikipedia Works 168

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the better-than-britannica dept.
driehle writes to tell us that he recently had a chance to interview Angela Beesley, Elisabeth Bauer, and Kizu Naoko. All three are leading Wikipedia practitioners in the English, German, and Japanese Wikipedias and related projects. The interview focuses on how Wikipedia works and why these three practitioners believe it will keep working.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Interview Looks at How and Why Wikipedia Works

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:43AM (#15689549)
    I know at my university, professors frown on (and sometimes penalize) the use of wikipedia because of its less-than-authoritative nature
    • Probably Not (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wasted (94866)
      The Professors' view is understandable, since qualifications to edit a subject aren't verified. And yes, I have seen a false statement or two, and edited the one I knew for a 100% fact to be false. Others may have quoted the statement for their academic research prior to the edit, so I see your professors' point
      • Re:Probably Not (Score:5, Insightful)

        by 15Bit (940730) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:26AM (#15689672)
        As with all sources, the facts on wiki must be considered with your brain turned on. I've read plenty of peer reviewed research papers which contain glaring inaccuracies/mistakes - no source should be taken as fact.

        In recent times i've actually started to consider wiki as not being so bad. This is mainly because it has grown up, and is no longer the repository of knowledge of america's teenagers, as it seemed to be to start with. Its still a bit weak in some areas, and perhaps a bit too technical in others. But all in all its a pretty decent effort.

        Unfortunately, its greatest strength (dynamic content) is also the reason it cannot be used as a definitive academic resource. In essence, the content that a student or researcher references is not necessarily the content that someone down the line is going to read. So if i reference a synthesis technique or method thats on wiki, someone who tries to duplicate my work might not be following the same recipe that i did. Reproducability is the keystone of research (even incorrect methods/results must be referenceable), and so university people get understandably annoyed by wiki references. Its a great resource, but for academics it can only ever be an interface to static content from somewhere else.

        • Re:Probably Not (Score:4, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:34AM (#15689694)
          This is not a valid argument; you can just report which revision you worked from. One advantage this has over encyclopedias is that you can then compare that version with the most recent to see how knowledge has changed over time or to spot corrections.
        • Re:Probably Not (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Moraelin (679338) on Monday July 10, 2006 @04:09AM (#15689767) Journal
          As with all sources, the facts on wiki must be considered with your brain turned on.


          Having a brain turned on isn't going to help you if you don't already have the data to judge that stuff as true or false. You can be the most logical person in the world, and still lack the data on which to use that logic.

          E.g., if you're not a historian and I start telling you about the achievements and pyramid of the great pharaohs Tutankhbast and Bastmeses... how do you know if they even existed? Or maybe it's just me pulling your leg and telling you what happened in my last Children Of The Nile games? You may even know enough about pharaoh names to notice that they _are_ built in the same manner as some real pharaoh names you may have already heard of. One means "Living Image Of Bast" (same as Tutankhamun = Living Image Of Amun) and one is "Born of Bast" (same as Rameses = Born of Ra). But how do you know if they actually existed or I'm pulling your leg? I'll tell you in this case that it's the later. It's the cat-loving dynasty names I've used in a computer game.

          See, that's the whole problem. Sometimes having a brain and having it turned on won't help you much. You'd also have to do the research and dig up the data to judge whether the stuff on Wikipedia is believable or not. At which point, frankly, why bother with Wikipedia at all?
          • Re:Probably Not (Score:5, Interesting)

            by 15Bit (940730) on Monday July 10, 2006 @05:39AM (#15689936)
            A good point, and i agree. Your argument also holds true for all sources though, so what you're really saying is that a completely ignorant reader should research several independent sources (wiki included or not) before coming to a conclusion you. i.e. good basic research.

            I generally use wiki as a reference text for something i already know, but can't completely remember. Something like the derivation of a commonly used function, or an exact date for an event etc. I wouldn't use it for more specialised "professional" information (i'm a research scientist). Basically i treat it like an encyclopedia rather than an authoritative reference text. It has value in that context, but i agree with your point that in other ways it doesn't.

        • Re:Probably Not (Score:5, Informative)

          by Gherald (682277) on Monday July 10, 2006 @05:41AM (#15689940) Journal
          Unfortunately, its greatest strength (dynamic content) is also the reason it cannot be used as a definitive academic resource. In essence, the content that a student or researcher references is not necessarily the content that someone down the line is going to read. So if i reference a synthesis technique or method thats on wiki, someone who tries to duplicate my work might not be following the same recipe that i did. Reproducability is the keystone of research (even incorrect methods/results must be referenceable), and so university people get understandably annoyed by wiki references. Its a great resource, but for academics it can only ever be an interface to static content from somewhere else.
          Then just learn how to cite wikipedia [wikipedia.org].

          • Well, from that page:

            As with any source, especially those of unknown authorship, you should be wary and independently verify the accuracy of Wikipedia information if possible; see also Caution on academic use of Wikipedia and our General Disclaimer page.

            Also, the first thing they teach you at University is that, although you can cite webpages, it will generally be frowned upon and should be avoided at all costs.
          • by Gnostic Ronin (980129) on Monday July 10, 2006 @08:47AM (#15690665)
            Better yet -- don't cite webpages and encyclopedias. You deserve to be marked down for not using good references. That means a book on the topic by an expert in the topic, or an article in a magazine, NOT some webpage that can be accessed and altered by anybody, and not a general use encyclopedia.

            For one thing, even with a more static webpage, you don't have any idea who wrote it. None. With Angelfire or Geocities or some other freeware webbuilding site, I could make a professional-looking webpage that proclaims that hyperdrive is physically possible. I could BS a theory based on quantum mechanics or string theory, and have a "schematic drawing" of an engine running on said principals. I could probably have a few references to Sci-fi to show it's a joke (no my name really is Cochrane). Wikipedia takes that and multiplies it times 200 -- because now it's not just some yahoo with internet access and free time, it's millions of yahoos with internet access. And if you're stupid enough to quote a webpage post-junior-high-school, frankly you deserve to flunk. Even reading one wikipedia discussion page will put you off trusting Wikipedia forever.

            And quoting the enycyclopedia has never really been acceptable for serious papers. Not even Britannica. All that shows the teacher is that you're too lazy to go to the library, or even to access Lexis-Nexis to find journal articles related to your subject. Chances are that the paper in question was assigned months ago. Fine by me if you chose to screw off on the project until the week before, but quoting an encyclopedia makes it obvious that you waited til the last minute.

            Long story short, the Web is probably ok for a starting point (if you have a good bullshit detector), or your topic is related to nerd popculture (redshirts from ST, Jedi fighting styles). it's not reliable enough for serious research.

      • by Moraelin (679338) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:51AM (#15689731) Journal
        The German Wikipedia used to sport a whole article about cloning didgeridoos. Complete with a picture of little didgeridoos in test tubes, and pseudo-science stuff like whether they live longer or shorter than natural born didgeridoos. The thing stayed up for more than a year.

        It's stuff like that that put an end once and for all to my illusions about the value of Wikipedia to actually learn anything.
        • by Riktov (632) on Monday July 10, 2006 @04:44AM (#15689839) Journal
          So you're rejecting everything in Wikipedia just because of some obvious joke articles?

          Imagine you had heard about those cloned didgeridoos not from Wikipedia, but rather from a friend or a family member or someone else you trusted. Would you believe it?

          Of course not. You have (I assume) the basic common sense to identify patent nonsense, and can do so whether the source is trusted or not.

          Or suppose you actually believe the story of baby didgeridoos because, after all, it was in an e-mail from your father. Then you find out later that it was a big joke. Do you stop trusting your father forever after that?

          Of course not. You have the the basic common sense to identify earnest, essentially true information.

          Certainly, there are areas in Wikipedia where the factual information can be incorrect, as shown in the Siegenthaler article controversy last year. But then that level of misinformation is probably no greater than that of the internet in general, the news media, or your friends and family.
          • The problem is that if such a joke can stay on Wikipedia for a year, what smaller mis-information can stay there just as well?

            And see my other post again: you can only judge something as a blatant joke or not, if you have the data on which to base that judgment. Didgeridoos are easy, but are you sure you'd immediately spot the joke if it were about history or quantum physics? I'm sure I could come up with a joke involving ancient Egypt or China or Messopotamia that wouldn't look like a joke to anyone who's
          • The theory of Wikipedia is that nonfactual information will be spotted and corrected by others. If a completely nonfactual article stays up for a year that says something about the theory.

            It doesn't say very much when the subject is that obscure, though. The article probably survived just because nobody saw it. There would have been rapid correction to any edit that said that Linus Torvalds is a cloned didgeridoo.
          • > So you're rejecting everything in Wikipedia just because of some obvious joke articles?

            No, he's rejecting Wikipedia as an institution. Not everything in it. Can you notice the distinction?
        • The thing stayed up for more than a year.

          I'm not familiar with this particular article, but dubious articles that survive for a long time generally do so because they are nearly unused: they get little traffic and aren't linked from anywhere. Wikipedia article quality is usually a function of eyeballs, so you can take comfort that few people see a bad article, even if it's up for a while.

          But if you're going to rule out a source because there's an obvious joke in it, you may have to cut your media diet subst
    • The better-than-britannica department, which operates under the umbrella of the bigger-than-jesus department.
      • Wikipedia is already "slightly cheaper" than the Encyclopedia Britannica; now all it needs is to have the words "Don't Panic" inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover, and it'll surpass it as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom in the Galaxy.
    • Wikipedia's information might not always be 100% correct, or even consistent for that matter, and it's not easy to refer to a certain revision of the document.
      But that doesn't mean the wikipedia can't be used for school\university research. Wikipedia articles are usually very link rich. Explore these links for more information and hints for "proper" references ("propper" as in what you teacher\prof thinks is propper).
      Wikipedia can also give you some information about related subjects, these can often also b
      • "Wikipedia articles are usually very link rich. Explore these links for more information and hints for "proper" references"

        Link rich...great phrase! And that is exactly what /. has been for me for years.

        Some of the most intense differences of opinion on/. are often armed with links from multiple disciplines, multiple countries, radically different perspectives based on everything from technique to culture.

        Follow the links, RTFA's and cull, cull, cull! That is research and has taught me more then any prepa
    • professors frown on (and sometimes penalize) the use of wikipedia

      Either your professors are idiots or you've misinterpreted them. There's nothing wrong with using Wikipedia. There is, however, a lot wrong with citing Wikipedia or not checking your facts with primary sources.

    • I know at my university, professors frown on (and sometimes penalize) the use of wikipedia because of its less-than-authoritative nature

      You will find this perspective outside your university in real life as well, so long as you don't spend too much of your real life on slashdot, where the opinions on wikipedia are rather skewed.

      Lookit, no denying, it's a great place to start a query on a topic, and if you're looking to get up-to-date info on compression codecs or an overview of season five for "Buffy the Va
      • by Eivind (15695)
        It depends. For any one topic, there are usually better sources. That is as it should be, it's an encyclopedia after all, and no work attempting to cover all topics can be as specific as works covering one very very narrow topic.

        For many things a traditional encyclopedia is useless even as a first search, because it quite simply has no entry at all.

        Wikipedia is most commonly used when you hear something, and want a quick ivdea what that's all about. You won't find out what RFC1777 is in Britannica, infa

        • A incomplete and imperfect article beats NO article any time of day. Usually, once you've read what Wikipedia has to say on a subject, you also know enough to have some idea where to search for more detail.

          So an article that is inaccurate, false or misleading is better than no article at all? Jeebus. Get out from under that rock and smell the clean air.
          • Yes it very often is. It depends on what you want to use it for offcourse.

            If you see some reference to, say Draupnir, and have no idea what or who that may be, then an article telling you that it's an arm-ring worn by Odin the norse God, forged by Brokk and Eitri and originally set of a gift-triple consisting of this, Mjollnir and Gullinbursti.

            Now, it migth be it was actually worn by Loke, that Brokk had no part in the forging and that Eitri made it alone. Nevertheless you'd now connect this to norse my

    • by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Monday July 10, 2006 @05:06AM (#15689886) Journal
      No encyclopaedia should appear in your references for an academic paper whether it's Britannica or Wikipedia. However, there's nothing wrong with using one to START your research into a specific subject: encyclopaedias are great places to start but really shouldn't be used as a reference: not because it might be inaccurate, but because that's not what it's there for!
    • Well, that really depends on the nature of authority.

      Even science is prone to be wrong and really wrong. My History/Anthopology Professor (a Dr.) railed against the establishment because of all the politics he sees done in archaeology where they leave out evidence that doesn't conform to the theories currently in vogue and if you try to publish an article that really goes against the establishment, good luck finding a reputable publisher.

      There is no "ONE" authority.

      Wiki is so good because, previously, when
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Less-than-authoritative because of its changing nature? Well guess what - print does as well. Ever notice that for many non-scientific books, there's an 'errata' list? Ever notice that some books are in their 10th edition, with no apparent real change over the 1st edition, except when you read really, really closely and notice that a 1,000 was supposed to be a 1.000? Worse yet, ever read scientific journals, say 1998 editions, that refer to a 1994 edition article as having a minor error? And how the he
    • by 9x320 (987156)
      Really? I know of professors that penalize the usage of both. The founder of Wikipedia once said, "For god's sake, don't cite the encyclopedia," and he was misquoted by Wikipedia haters to mean Wikipedia, when in actuality this referred to his belief that an encyclopedia, whether Britannia, Encarta, or Wikipedia, should not be quoted in academia because an encyclopedia has compiled information from other sources, which would be better to cite in a research paper. The difference is that Wikipedia articles u
    • I know at my university, professors frown on (and sometimes penalize) the use of wikipedia because of its less-than-authoritative nature

      I know at my university, professors frown on (and sometimes penalize) the use of any encyclopedia or other tertiary source because of its less-than-scholarly nature.

      Seriously, the reason that Wikipedia should not be used in your college-level paper is the same reason Brittanica shouldn't: it just isn't scholarly to glean reference material from a multitude of referenc
    • One of my professors had a pretty high opinion of Wikipedia until I showed her that a date for a major treaty was off by decades and had been that way for weeks.


      Another reason that it should never be used in a research paper is that the author can simply write whatever he wants and include it. Even if it is edited again later, the writer can still cite the time that it really did say what he quoted and use it.

    • I know at my university, professors frown on (and sometimes penalize) the use of wikipedia because of its less-than-authoritative nature

      I also recall that professors would usually penalize the citation of any encyclopedia in a paper for the same reason. An encyclopedia is not a primary or authoritative source. Encyclopedias are just a way to get up to speed on a particular subject quickly and in one place. The day that any encyclopedias be it wikipedia or britannica are accepted as proper references in a
    • I know at my university, professors frown on (and sometimes penalize) the use of wikipedia because of its less-than-authoritative nature

      When I was in college, my professors would frown on citing any encyclopedia. Encyclopedias, in general, aren't authoritative. They provide a good summary of a topic, and perhaps a good place to get general information, but if you're using them as your main sources on a research paper, you haven't done any real research. For this purpose, Wikipedia is usually better than
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:44AM (#15689553)
    This is how Wiki works:
    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19 [penny-arcade.com]

    Or at least, this is the only way to explain the sheer amount of article defacement and trolling. People + anonymity = total asshats.
  • Convenience (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BrickM (178032) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:46AM (#15689559)
    Wikipedia works because it completely satisfies our need for getting information that's probably *mostly* accurate with little to no effort. And, since the internet is practically filled with people who think they know more than you, there's an endless supply of folks willing to type of wiki entries! =)
    • And, since the internet is practically filled with people who think they know more than you, there's an endless supply of folks willing to type of wiki entries! =)

      The problem lies in the fact that too many people think that Wikipedia is fact based when it is often mearly one persons opinion of something. I wish there could be a fact or fiction tag that clarified which claims are verified and which are not.
      • Re:Convenience (Score:4, Informative)

        by Bogtha (906264) on Monday July 10, 2006 @04:25AM (#15689795)

        I wish there could be a fact or fiction tag that clarified which claims are verified and which are not.

        That is what Template:Fact [wikipedia.org] is for. If you see an article that claims something that isn't backed up by a citation to an authorative source, hit it with that, and "[citation needed]" appears, and the article is listed in the "Articles with unsourced statements" category [wikipedia.org]. You can read more about this at Wikipedia:Citing sources [wikipedia.org].

        • Re:Convenience (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Bogtha (906264)

          Also, I forgot to mention Wikipedia:WikiProject Fact and Reference Check [wikipedia.org].

          Wikipedia's Achilles' heel is the perception that Wikipedia is not a "good" source of information, and that it is a less "definitive," or "authoritative" source than others.

          • Wikipedia's Achilles' heel is the perception that Wikipedia is not a "good" source of information, and that it is a less "definitive," or "authoritative" source than others.

            Well, the underlying Wikipedia philsophy is that "Any information is better than no information. (Look how many articles we have!!!)" This runs counter to the normal academic method where only substantiated information is allowed. Until Wikipedia normalizes their approach and starts actively removing uncited content (even if it 'seems ri
    • Re:Convenience (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Instine (963303)
      For everyone who thinks, and says BEWARE THE WIKI! for it is not academically sound. Thre's nothing sound about academia. There are as many lecturers who believe they know more than they do, as there are wiki contributors.
    • Some of the articles are amazingly good. Extremely well written and very reliable. However, sadly you could find less about some African countries than you can find out about some odd device that only showed on the TV screen for ten seconds in one episode of Stargate SG-1. But, honestly, if you need to look up some rare element in Starwars, LotR, Startrek, Stargate or any of a number of other fairly arcane things it is an invaluable resource. So the article on grazing is stub, whereas the article on Yuuzhan
    • Hey wait, I thought that is the reason that TV news still survives?
      In general people prefer resources which are easily accessible.
      In general people prefer resources that reinforce what they already believe is true.
      In general people will believe things which enhance their own self-image.
      Wiki*'s are demographically unique resources which accomplish the above. Thats why they succeed. The German wikipedia isn't just a translation, its a whole different Flavor
      A professional historian would read wiki citat
  • Commons (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cerberusss (660701) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:54AM (#15689578) Homepage Journal

    Wikipedia is of course an excellent resource. However I'd wish that people would also have an eye for Wikimedia Commons [wikimedia.org], a giant multimedia library to which everyone can upload files, all perfectly categorized. More importantly, every file that's in there can be linked to by Wikipedia.

    From the help page:
    The Wikimedia Commons (or "Commons") is a repository of free images, sound and other multimedia files. Uploaded files can be used as local files by other projects on the Wikimedia servers, including Wikibooks, Wikinews, Wikipedia, Wikisource and Wiktionary.

    • Commons - perfectly categorized? I'm sorry, but I have to strongly disagree. I like commons a lot (I'm one of the 140-odd admins there) but, IMO, the categorization system is far from perfect. The categorization system for music is an unmitigated disaster. Photos are better, but inconsistent.

  • by IANAAC (692242) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:56AM (#15689584)
    is that's it's not really unbiased, as is claimed. Of course, nothing really is unbiased, so why claim it when it's untrue.

    I'm willing to bet that at some point we'll see more and more incorect information, as the system struggles with being crushed under its own weight.

    The sheer number of roles is daunting.

    And further on in the interview, I read "there is increasingly a distinction between 'normal' authors and 'high-end' authors who are explicitly trying to get their articles 'featured'."

    I don't know... that statement right there speaks volumes as to how unbiased a system Wikipedia can really be.

    • Two things I have observed:

      (1) The distinction isn't clear cut. There are some people who write mostly or exclusively on a small number of articles to try to get them up to featured status, there are some people who divide their time and once in a great while might try to get something featured, and there are people who have never been to the featured article candidates page. (Full disclosure - I'm the person who oversees the whole system); and (2) The distinction is entirely self-selected. Nobody is forced
    • by interiot (50685) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:07AM (#15689606) Homepage

      Wikipedia doesn't put a sign up that says "we are totally unbiased". They DO put a sign up that says "we're working towards being unbiased, so we'd prefer if you don't add any edits that clearly work against that goal". Just because any work can never become totally unbiased doens't mean they shouldn't try have a goal of trying to become as unbiased as possible.

      • The problem is that Wikipedia is quoted as if it was a perfect source.

        No college student should quote the Encyclopaedia Britannica in a scientific paper, but they quote the Wikipedia. Every blogger links routinely to wikipedia articles, because it is so easy. Wikipedia contents are the first result on Google, MSN and every other search engine. And no one puts this sign on these references.
        • No college student should quote the Encyclopaedia Britannica in a scientific paper, but they quote the Wikipedia. Every blogger links routinely to wikipedia articles, because it is so easy.

          The college student is screwing up. The blogger is not. The former is attempting to cite a source to back them up, but bloggers just link so that you can obtain more information. Wikipedia is perfectly suitable to give a brief overview of a subject.

          Wikipedia contents are the first result on Google, MSN and ev

        • Wow, please don't compare Scientific papers to Blogs - It is perfectly alright for bloggers to link to wikipedia, it is completely unacceptable for Scientific papers to do so.(unless you are writing a paper about wikipedia) I think it would be a valuable sign for telling how bad a paper is, by seeing if they have links to wikipedia.
        • Students obviously shouldn't quote Wikipedia (unless they verify with a more reliable source). Most reasonable websites stopped putting a disclaimer on external links a long time ago... slashdotters more than anyone should know random links can lead to crazy places. Google rank... *shrug* That's under the control of Google, they could hard-code a tweak to their algorithm if they believed such a tweak would better serve their users.
        • The problem is that Wikipedia is quoted as if it was a perfect source

          No it isn't.

          No college student should quote the Encyclopaedia Britannica in a scientific paper, but they quote the Wikipedia.

          So what, that's Wikipedia's fault for being free?

          Every blogger links routinely to wikipedia articles, because it is so easy.

          And what were they linking to before Wikipedia existed - the free online version of Encyclopedia Britannica? Of course not - it was random webpages. Which brings me to the next point:

          Wikipedia
          • Where have I written something about Wikipedias "faults"?

            So what, that's Wikipedia's fault for being free?

            No it is no fault, but it is one reason why wikipedia is quoted so much.

            And what were they linking to before Wikipedia existed - the free online version of Encyclopedia Britannica? Of course not - it was random webpages.

            Not random - they linked to some pages they found on google instead. Or they linked to no web page at all for certain expressions that are routinely linked to wikipedia now
    • Wikipedia is not so much unbiased as it is all-biased.

      I do think that your comment about the system collapsing under its own weight is valid. A great example of this is the recent Great Userbox Fiasco, where you have clearly non-encyclopedic, community-exclusive content extending far beyond its original role, incurring the ire of older admins, who then take unilateral action (speedy deletion), which in turn incurs the ire of many newer users, a good portion of whom are positive contributors to the encyclope
      • I'm not really sure what you mean about "all-biased", unless you're getting at the need to have every point of view represented, or at least both major sides. I remember reading one on pseudo-science that had along with every clear statement about how dowsing is a load of ideomotor-based nonsense, for instance, there was also "supporters claim it works due to quantum crystal harmonic string theory".

        I also remember seeing an example where a troll was vandalising, basically, a Japanese entry with totally fals
    • I use wikipedia a lot since I can get quick, accurate-ish info. But at the same time, I am aware that if I really want some authority behind the facts, I have to go elsewhere. Wikpedia is a good starting point though.

      Wikipedia is great if you keep this in mind, in fact it might even be better that people use a less perfect sorce of info if it keeps them on their intellectual, critical toes and does not accept anything printed as "the Truth(TM)"
    • by babbling (952366) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:19AM (#15689649)
      You need to read this. [wikipedia.org]

      As for "being crushed under its own weight", the fact is, it's working now. It has been working well for a number of years now. That doesn't mean it will keep working indefinitely, but your prediction (correct me if I'm wrong...) doesn't seem to be based off anything in particular.
      • Now, go look up someone like Carly Fiorina. She's fairly controversial, right? So what's the first thing you see when you hit her page? "This article may not conform to the neutral point of view policy. A Wikipedian has nominated this article to be checked for its neutrality."

        Which is all well a good (considering a sizeable number of us probably agree with the content), but how often do you suppose that happens? I'm betting often. Or worse, that it will be so common in the future as to be considered

        • by mdwh2 (535323)
          So what's the first thing you see when you hit her page? "This article may not conform to the neutral point of view policy. A Wikipedian has nominated this article to be checked for its neutrality."
          Which is all well a good (considering a sizeable number of us probably agree with the content), but how often do you suppose that happens?


          Isn't it good that Wikipedia openly admits when there is a POV problem, compared with "authoritative" sources which will do everything they can to deny any bias?

          Or worse, that
    • by daniil (775990) <evilbj8rn@hotmail.com> on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:22AM (#15689663) Journal

      "there is increasingly a distinction between 'normal' authors and 'high-end' authors who are explicitly trying to get their articles 'featured'."

      Wikipedia, just like many other community sites, has some elements of a game [lostgarden.com]. This can be both a good and a bad thing. The good thing is, this sort of rewards usually encourage more people to participate in the site by creating new content. The bad thing is, more and more people will eventually come to realize that it's just a game, and start taking advantage of this -- and of other people -- in order to 'win' (on Slashdot, this could mean Karma or Friend whoring). This, I think, can seriously hinder them from reaching (or even working towards) their goal of creating an encyclopedia "of the highest possible quality". We won't see more incorrect information because of this, but we might start seeing (or not seeing) more and more behind-the-scenes fighting, which could eventually lead to many people leaving the 'game'.

      • Wikipedia, just like many other community sites, has some elements of a game.

        True. However, I imagine that the people who work at Encyclopedia Britannica aren't only interested in the veracity of their work, they're also trying to do better than their coworkers so they can get the raise, or the promotion. They too, are playing a "game". Just like the folks of wikipedia.

        The difference is that if that the fighting is fairly transparent on Wikipedia, whereas we'll never know about who hates who at Encyclope
    • They don't claim to be unbiased. They claim to strive for the absence of bias, which is true and laudable.

      The problem with most criticisms of Wikipedia is that they predict a turning point followed by catastrophe. But the things people predict will bring it down aren't novel. Wikipedia has had every problem people complain about for years now, and they're all being dealt with constantly. If anything catastrophic was going to be triggered by increasing popularity it would have happened already, before

  • How Wikipedia Works (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Raul654 (453029) on Monday July 10, 2006 @02:58AM (#15689590) Homepage
    One Wikipedia contributor, David Gerard, did a nice job of summarizing Wikipedia's dirty little secret of how it works: 'On Wikipedia, the reward for a job well done is another three jobs' [wikipedia.org]. Once someone establishes himself as being reliable, trustworthy, comptentent, 'etc, they tend to get handed a lot of responsability in short order. A relatively small number of people tend to wear many hats. (Myself included - I'm an administrator, burecreat, arbitrator, checkuser-weilder, member of the communications and press committees, handler of email via OTRS, 'etc)
    • So learn how to say "No".
    • by FirienFirien (857374) on Monday July 10, 2006 @05:12AM (#15689895) Homepage
      Handed? Offered. As you must know, adminship and so on on wikipedia are granted by nomination and acceptance, pending a majority of community trust. Anyone can turn down that nomination for any reason they want, including "I just don't want to".

      If you're reliable, trustworthy, competent, and are happy to wear those hats, you will get your hats. The reward for a job well done is the offer of another three jobs, which don't affect your current job if you decline them. It's not like a company, with an upwards hierarchy. When it comes down to it, an anonIP's edits are as valid as yours, with the only difference being that you've accepted other tools to handle the misedits and issues from other users. Adminship on Wikipedia is not glorious - it's a janitor role. That's embodied in the 'you have been entrusted with the mop and bucket'. Both that and the bunches of keys you get later with other positions are your own choice, and utterly rejectable if you don't like it. Don't make out like it's a chore that was forced onto you for doing good edits.
    • Congratulations, that's not just how Wiki works. That's how the WORLD works.

      The corollary being that once you have accepted the expansion, you keep getting handed jobs until you cannot accomplish them - a variant of the Peter Principle. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle [wikipedia.org]

      You have two choices - you can become cynical, underperform, and pat yourself on the back how you're getting a 'free ride' on all the other stupid patsies, or, you can simply do whatever you can and not be afraid to say "sorry, I
  • by localman (111171) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:14AM (#15689631) Homepage
    Because despite our cynicism, and contrary to our oft stated negative perception of the world, good people far outnumber bad people. By a huge margin, actually. For the sake of argument I'll assume we all know what I mean by good and bad here. Sure, there are bad people, and they can destroy things and do so in a loud manner. But the fact remains that most people are content to just keep to themselves and do no harm unless provoked. It's why society works. It's why Wikipedia works. It's not because of laws or punishment or any of that. It's because most people don't want to be assholes unless they have to be. It's because being an asshole doesn't usually result in anything positive. And being a nice person usually does. It almost gives me some hope for humanity or something.

    Cheers.
    • by Moraelin (679338) on Monday July 10, 2006 @05:02AM (#15689878) Journal
      Because despite our cynicism, and contrary to our oft stated negative perception of the world, good people far outnumber bad people. By a huge margin, actually.


      Yes, and that cynicism and perception is based on the amount of damage that that small number of people can do. And they can do it precisely _because_ the rest of the people are nice and believe in being nice, so you can get away with doing a _lot_ of harm before someone gets over their niceness to stop you once and for all.

      It's why society works. It's why Wikipedia works. It's not because of laws or punishment or any of that.


      Cute, but you're massively underestimating the kind of damage someone can do if they don't give a shit about society working. At the risk of tempting Goodwin, although in this case it's an on-topic example, look at WW2 to see what destruction a small group of psychopaths can cause if they can get in a position to. (Hitler was diagnosed a psychopath during WW1. I don't know if the others were ever diagnosed, but some, e.g., Himmler, show consistent sociopathic behaviour.)

      Other smaller scale examples include stuff like the gangster mobs in the 30's, employers shooting employees on strike also back then, etc. Or in the non-violent spectrum, see the scams ranging all the way to Enron and the like. Don't underestimate the extent of damage and death a few people can cause if they end up in a position where they can expect to get away with it.

      In a nutshell _that_ is why we needed laws, police, punishment, etc. Because nice people are easy prey for ruthless assholes. So at one point society decided to make a set of rules and a police force and, basically, say, "Ok, these are the rules, if you refuse to live by them, we _will_ throw you in a dungeon cell."

      And to return to Wikipedia, due to its very nature, it needs to deal not only with "assholes", but also with the kind of nerd who isn't "bad" as such, but has to have the last word and be perceived as "right", no matter what. There are a ton of people who aren't into destruction and defacement as such, but built their whole self-respect on being right about _everything_. If he's read somewhere that the Aztecs conquered China (probably in a parody about Civ 4), and doubly so if he's said it once, he'll devote any disproportionate amount of energy to having the last word about that and establishing his authority on the subject. It's not that he's "bad", it's that in his mind he's by definition right, thus if you disaggree with him you must be the ignorant simpleton.

      And with the fanboy or zealot on an ideological crusade to save the wold. And no means or disinformation are too much for such a "noble" goal.

      And with the kind of joker who isn't inherently "bad", but thinks he's funny and you should stop taking yourself so seriously. It's the kind who'll write a whole article about cloning didgeridoos or insert a paragraph about how Bush shot Kennedy, just because he thinks he's funny. In fact, he thinks he's hillarious. The whole world should stumble upon his gems of pure comedy and laugh their arse off.

      And with the paid shill or PR guy who isn't in it to be an "asshole", but to sell you a bottle of snake oil for good money. They already have no remorse in creating "news" for more traditional media. In fact, at least in America, _most_ news you read are just veiled PR campaigns. What makes you think they won't do the same pollution on Wikipedia, if it makes a buck?

      Etc, etc, etc.
      • I never said there weren't bad people or that they can't do great harm. I fact I said the exact opposite. My only point was that the rest of us overpower them eventually, sometimes at great cost, sure. And you're right, it can be pretty demoralizing to see how much damage a few assholes can do. But doesn't it give you the slightest bit of hope to realize that, on average, such people don't really get far?

        More importantly, don't you think it's good public knowledge to spread the word that assholes usuall
      • excelent post. i nominate it for post of the day.

  • Does it? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:26AM (#15689673)
    Wikipedia is fairly balanced and accurate when it comes to topics that interest a lot of people. When there is a potentially controversial article like a biography of some well know politican an ideological debate or something of that sort there are a lot of editors representing various views and blocking most extreme ones out. However when there is a relativley obscure and exotic topic a bunch of cynical people can just about write any crap they write.

    I actually personally noticed a very curious effect. Articles relating to my native Ukraine are constantly assulted with rabid natonalistic Russian point of view, the vast majority of it comming from a small bunch of trolls. The few Ukrainian are simply outnumbered by the aggressive nationalist Russians editing and the few Brittons or Americans unable to notice the bias. On the other hand the coverage of Ukraine related topics on the Russian language wikipedia, although of course with a clear bias, is actually somewhat more neutral as there are simply more normal people interested in the topic and somewhat familiar with it but without a malicous agenda.
  • by Chatmag (646500) <editor@chatmag.com> on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:27AM (#15689676) Homepage Journal
    I found myself and Chatmag.com in the middle of an argument over one of the more controversial Wikipedia entries, that of the online vigilante group Perverted-justice.com [wikipedia.org]

    Even though the controversy has not fully ended, it has slowed to the point that we reported it as concluded [chatmag.com]

    I am convinced that the discussion feature works in that all parties involved have had more than their share of chances to defend their positions. The self correcting format of Wikipedia, in both the editing and discussions, sets Wikipedia in a class of its own.
  • by Somnus (46089) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:30AM (#15689682)
    I was just reading this:

    DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism [edge.org] by Jaron Lanier [edge.org].

    While acknowledging Wikipedia's usefuless, criticizes its exalted status among the digitally connected.
  • by Raindeer (104129) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:43AM (#15689713) Homepage Journal
    I've been fiddling [blogspot.com] (my blog) with wiki's to see if they can work at work to tackle knowledge management problems that I'm experiencing in a large organisation. I came to the following points why wiki's can work there:

            * They center work on a topic around a group of webpages
            * They are easy to use. Socialtext is just a double click on a page
            * They open up information to the entire organization through simple searches
            * Information entered into them for the benefit of the project group is immediately also of benefit to others. So when doing my job, I unintended also help others
            * They enable sending e-mail to and from pages, enabling e-mail repositories and lists of useful links on the relevant page.
            * By sending an e-mail to the relevant project page, you add both metadata to the page and to the e-mail.
            * They are free form, but can be structured
            * If one co-worker doesn't update his page, because of time constraints or just being dead, others can.
            * They can be about such highly critical information as: Best restaurants in Berlin, travel suggestions to Kiev, the latest law and its implications, biographies of important people, a list of insultants, the next project meeting or the office Christmas party, without requiring a central command and control structure.
            * They don't assume where knowledge is in the organization.

    For a review of Jotspot, Socialtext and Wetpaint see here [blogspot.com]
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday July 10, 2006 @03:49AM (#15689728)
    It works for everyday use. If I want to know when someone was born that died recently, to check how old they were, or when I want to find some background information about a topic, the Wikipedia is certainly the first place to go. It's very useful, it's faster than looking it up in a book and it's most likely more complete than any kind of encyclopedia.

    It does not work for scientific purposes. Because of its very nature. Anyone could change a "fact". It could have been edited only once (because aside of me and the autor nobody cares about the subject), and he got it wrong. Not even maliciously, he just made a mistake. If it's a disputed topic, from religious to political matters, and of course to entries about companies, you can not rule out that you'll get incomplete or biased information. Even if you take the whole history and discussion page of the article into account.

    What you can do, though, even if you need the info for a scientific paper, is to check the Wikipedia for its reference section. More often than not, you'll find links to "scientifically acceptable" sources there.
  • by solferino (100959) <<hazchem> <at> <gmail.com>> on Monday July 10, 2006 @04:06AM (#15689760) Homepage
    If you don't read the whole article it's worth noting that there is mention made of, and a link to an interesting page [wikipedia.org] on the cultural differences between the English and German wikipedias.
  • On many subjects -- especially various historical figures -- Wikipedia IS Britannica. After all, how much of the life story of King Henry II has changed since 1911, which IIRC is the date on the open-source Britannica Wikipedia uses.

    About contemporary people and the like, Wikipedia is often far superior to Britannica, due to its currency. Of course, there can be a lot of spin in those articles, as there are still people alive and in many cases editing Wikipedia who benefit directly from that spin. But it
    • When I complained to the online editor, he said that he regarded Wikipedia as authoritative, and pointed me at their definition, which indeed was ridiculously expansive. So I went and edited it to something more reasonable, and told him. He then circulated email to all the bloggers saying Wikipedia's definition of "enterprise applications" had changed, and since that was authoritative, their usage should conform to the new definition.

      Sounds like Wikipedia needs a short "authoritative" entry about him su

  • False positives (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tom6a (871216)
    I've seen several discussions about how wikipedia works and in general I think it does work very well. There is one issue that I've come across recently that illistrates one of the flaws where a site IMO was improperly blacklisted. In this case, one user was trying to promote a site that he was an admin for on wikipedia. Unfortunatly due to his actions, the site (not the user) was blacklisted. It happens to be a site that has been featured on Slashdot several times:

    Crunching the Math On iTunes - http:// [slashdot.org]
  • Its not so great (Score:3, Informative)

    by crossmr (957846) on Monday July 10, 2006 @09:44AM (#15691091) Journal
    Having gotten familiar with things on wikipedia over the last few months, I've found myself less than impressed. Its all too easy for a few individuals to push point of view, or keep any random pointless garbage article by muddling concensus. Most articles put up for deletion don't get massive attention, and half a dozen individuals dropping by and claiming keep for irrelevant reasons like "I find it useful" while turning a blind eye to the policy violations in the article, results in garbage finding a home there. When coupled with admins who just tally the opinions rather than read the debate (but they're very adament about it being a discussion and not a vote) it ends up being a gong show.
    The same thing can occur in pushing poit of view in articles, and other agendas people want to push. its a nice read, but there needs to be some reform there to account for people who want to use wikipedia as a soapbox, and other dumbassery.

  • and is it related to Wiccan practitioners?
  • Shedding MySQL? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by leandrod (17766) <l.dutras@org> on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:22PM (#15692682) Homepage Journal
    how Wikipedia works and why these three practitioners believe it will keep working.

    Does that mean they will shed MySQL? Sorry if it sounds like trolling, but quite often Wikipedia problems (and problems at other very high load sites such as /. itself, my email provider etc) are traced back to MySQL. Or is MySQL getting so much better so soon?

  • by CityZen (464761) on Monday July 10, 2006 @01:50PM (#15692875) Homepage
    I've wondered if it would be a good idea if Wiki never deleted anything. Instead, all revisions of an article would be kept, and you could choose which you wanted to see. Then, to make this worthwhile, you need a system of rating which revisions are the "best". This is the hard part, of course. A voting system seems like a good idea, but you need a way to keep the vote meaningful. Knowledge is not a democracy; it doesn't matter if the majority of people think the world is flat. Basically, you want to limit the voting to people who are "qualified", meaning that they are knowledgeable and neutral (heh, if only we could do the same for public elections). Now, how do we decide who's qualified? I suppose you need some kind of karma system. Hmm, this is all starting to sound a bit familiar...

Old programmers never die, they just branch to a new address.

Working...