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A Wikipedia WIthout Graffiti 290

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the dog-without-a-bone dept.
Frequent Slashdot Contributor Bennett Haselton writes "I'm a Wikipedia junkie. There's nothing more fun than switching back and forth between reading about the history of human evolution, and following the latest speculation about the identity of the mysterious R.A.B. in the Harry Potter books, and Wikipedia is the best site to find it all in one place. But as a fan, it's always been frustrating for me knowing that Wikipedia could never improve beyond a certain point -- as it becomes more popular, it becomes more tempting to vandalize, and in turn becomes less reliable, a point that many have made already. That's why I'm excited that sites like Citizendium are approaching the same problem with a different model, one that could enable them to become what Wikipedia almost was, but which its intrinsic nature kept it from being: a central, reliable source of freely redistributable information about almost anything. The main difference is that Citizendium articles, after initially being built up through the same collaborative process that Wikipedia uses, will go into an editor-approved stage, at which point an editor (publicly identifiable on the article's history page) signs off on the accuracy of the article, and further edits also have to be approved by an editor."

Editor control over articles is controversial within the "radical collaboration" community; the Wikimedia foundation lists five "foundation issues that are essentially beyond debate", which includes "Ability of anyone to edit articles without registering". (In practice there are some safeguards in place to protect articles that are frequent targets of vandalism, like the George W. Bush entry.) But I'm fanatically results-oriented in my thinking, and I always ask: What are the purposes of this project, and how does this feature help achieve those purposes? It seems to me that a free online encyclopedia fills four main needs:

  1. A source of information about pop culture that can be fun to read even without being 100% sure that it's accurate (like who R.A.B. is)
  2. A source of information that can be freely and legally redistributed, e.g. by printing out copies for a class to read
  3. A source of information on subjects where you need to be close to 100% certain that the information is reliable -- at least as certain, say, as you would be if you read the same fact in several books
  4. A source of information that you can cite in a school paper as being reasonably authoritative and reliable
Anonymous authorship and real-time edits don't affect #1 or #2, and they actually hinder #3 and #4. Citizendium founder (and former Wikipedia board member) Larry Sanger said in a comment for this article, "There is no reason that [projects like Citizendium] even need be collaborative. What we're mainly interested in is reliable, independent/neutral, and free information." Such a statement -- "no reason that they even need to be collaborative" -- may be regarded by some Wikipedia devotees as heresy, but I think it hits the nail on the head. The purpose of such a project is defined by the quality of the information it produces. Collaboration is a possible means to that end, but collaboration itself is not the point.

For the reliability problem, I can't improve on this priceless sentence from Wikipedia's own "Citing Wikipedia" page:

For many purposes, but particularly in academia, Wikipedia may not be considered an acceptable source. [ citation needed ]
Wikipedia has actually done much better than I would have expected -- a study done in 2005 found that Wikipedia averaged about 4 errors per article compared to Britannica's 3, which is pretty good for a site where anybody can write that Columbus sailed to the New World in ships named the Ninja, the Pinto, and the Santa Fe. But for a site that harnesses the efforts of volunteers all over the world, I think the goal should be to surpass what has been done before, not just to tie with Britannica. And even if Wikipedia's error rate someday beats Britannica's, under its current model Wikipedia can never have the key property that Britannica has, which is that you can cite it as an authoritative source without sounding silly.

Citizendium's model of editor-approved articles, and editor approval of further edits to those articles, can help to achieve the benefits of collaboration, harnessing the efforts of volunteers, without falling into Wikipedia's traps. Assuming you can verify an editor's credentials (and we'll get to this in a minute), having an editor manage an article means two things: (a) you know the page wasn't vandalized in the last five minutes, and (b) you ought to be able to cite the work as a reference in a paper if your teacher isn't a total Luddite and you can explain to them how Citizendium works. Meanwhile, volunteers can still contribute without their own credentials being checked out; they can write as much as they want for an editor-approved article, as long as it's approved by the editor before going live.

There are still loopholes, of course. Currently Citizendium asks people to edit under their real name, but says that "we will use the honor principle to begin with", so anyone could claim to be a professor or a lunar astronaut. But the key words are "to begin with"; the difference between Wikipedia and Citizendium is that Citizendium views this as a loophole and not an intrinsic "community value", and loopholes can be fixed. To make the reliability as airtight as possible, I hope that Citizendium will eventually implement some sort of verification system, such as checking a professor's contact information on a Web page in the "faculty" section of an .edu Web server. I'm not instinctively thrilled by the thought of checking out volunteers' contact information, but it seems like the only way to achieve goals #3 and #4 above, so if it's as simple as sending a verification e-mail to an .edu address, that's a lot of gain for little effort. (Remember, this only has to be done for editors who sign off on articles, not for all volunteers. A non-editor volunteer could still ask to have their credentials checked out, so that they can be cited by their real name in the "end credits" of an article that lists volunteer contributors. But impersonation among regular volunteers is not likely to be a problem, since the editorial approval process ensures that only value-adding edits will be allowed, and it's unlikely that Alice would pretend to be Bob so that Bob can take all the glory of Alice's contributions to the project!)

Besides verifying authors' credentials, the one change that I hope Citizendium considers in the future is to give authors and editors credit at the top of each article -- or, for articles with many contributors, perhaps editors would be listed at the top and the "end credits" would list all contributors, on a separate page if necessary. This is because credited authorship for an article can help improve the article's usefulness in two ways -- the article can be cited as a reliable source, and the "name up in lights" factor rewards people for contributing more and better articles. Having authors listed only on the history page of an article, as they are in the current model, achieves the credibility benefit but not the "name up in lights" benefit. Larry Sanger suggested that having authors listed at the top of each article might put off readers from submitting edits -- if an article is perceived as being "owned", then others might feel like it's rude for them to change it. For me personally, this could go either way -- on the one hand, I might not realize that I was welcome to edit an article, but on the other hand, I think I might be more inclined to submit edits if I knew there was an editor in charge to keep someone else from frivolously overwriting my edits later. But in any case, to address this problem, each article could carry a banner at the top saying "Readers are encouraged to submit edits and other suggestions", and each paragraph could be accompanied by an "Edit" link, similar to Wikipedia (except that edits would go into a queue to be reviewed by the editor instead of going live). This would address the ownership-intimidation problem without taking away from the "name up in lights" factor. Sanger says that the Digital Universe Encyclopedia -- comprising the Encyclopedia of Earth and an Encyclopedia of the Cosmos, under development -- has plans to join with Citizendium and will use the credited-author model on their version of the site.

You might say that editors having their "name up in lights" would be an ego thing for editors, and I think you'd be right -- but I don't think this would be a bad thing, inasmuch as ego would motivate more people to become editors and do their best work. Perhaps I'd be wrong about this. Maybe a limited experiment could be carried out with two sites that are similar in every respect except that one allows editors and authors to take credit for their work, as might turn out to be the case with Citizendium and Encyclopedia of Earth. The point is that I don't think such a suggestion should be judged by whether it goes against the "spirit" of the project (as it certainly does in the case of Wikipedia!), but rather whether it helps to achieve the projects goals, such as goals #1 through #4 listed above.

There are still some problems that Citizendium's differences from Wikipedia won't solve. Many schools discourage citing Wikipedia not because it's written anonymously or because it contains errors, but because it's an encyclopedia. Yale's guidelines for citing Wikipedia state:

As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia is written for a common readership. But students in Yale courses are already consulting primary materials and learning from experts in the discipline. In this context, to rely on Wikipedia -- even when the material is accurate -- is to position your work as inexpert and immature.
Presumably many academics would have the same objections to a student citing Citizendium. I understand what these teachers mean, but I think this is a case of not thinking in terms of results. If the purpose of an assignment is to collect and present information, then any means of accomplishing that goal should be valid, including the easiest method of looking up the information in an encyclopedia. To make a student look beyond the encyclopedia, an assignment can simply require depth of research that goes beyond what the encyclopedia would provide. (Students, if you're worried that your teacher will take this to heart and make your assignments harder, just be happy that your teacher is hip enough to be reading this in the first place.) Some things are hard, but they should only be hard if they're intrinsically hard, not because you handicapped yourself with arbitrary rules.

But there is another, more permanent problem -- even with verification of authors' credentials, how do we know that the information in Citizendium articles is accurate? How do we know the author didn't make a mistake, or lie? This gets into deeper issues because these problems exist no matter what source you're consulting. There are books in print that deny the Holocaust or the possibility of evolution, and they're printed on real paper, with ISBN numbers and everything. Some of them even make it into libraries. How skeptical should we be of we read in books? In January two advocacy groups presented a report to Congress in which many government scientists said they felt pressured by the Bush administration to downplay the global warming threat in their statements. Does that mean statements from government scientists are inherently suspect?

And almost anyone who has had more than two articles written about them, knows the feeling of reading the article and reacting, "Wow, I had no idea that I was a transgendered NRA member who volunteers with the Moonies!" The New York Times is hosting an article about me from 2000 claiming that I was fired from Microsoft, when I actually quit. I showed them a copy of my personnel file with "Voluntary resignation" printed on it, but they have still refused to change the article. (When I first wrote to the paper's "Public Editor" about the matter, created to restore "reader credibility" after the Jayson Blair scandal, they replied that they wouldn't change the error because it never appeared in the print version of the paper. Huh?) I put up my own webpage to tell my side of the story, but if you were a Wikipedia or Citizendium editor and you had conflicting information from different sources, who would you believe, the New York Times, or a Web site called PublicEditorMyAss.com?

And yet, I freely admit that even today, I would trust a fact from the New York Times more than a fact from Bob's Bait And Tackle Shop And Technology Blog. We instinctively trust sources because of their reputation; we figure that they must have gotten their reputation somehow. This is not a great algorithm for deciding trustworthiness, but it may be the best that we can do -- in a world where we can't verify every fact firsthand, what choice do we have but to rely on sources that have provided mostly-reliable information in the past? (Wikipedia vandals are able to hack this mental algorithm because we think of Wikipedia as "one source" with a high average reliability, when it's really comprised of many sources, some of whom are deliberately less reliable than others.)

So, I think the Citizendium model is a move in the right direction -- taking into account the limits of what we can know from third-party sources, and doing the best we can within those limits. The least we can do is to know who has signed off on the accuracy of an article, so we can factor that into our decision to trust it. Last month Citizendium released their first editor-approved article, a single article about Biology. It may not look like anything revolutionary right now, but the difference between that and the Wikipedia entry is that you can't change the title of the Citizendium article to LARRY SANGER IS A BUTT BRAIN HA HA. You have to go through an editor for that.

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A Wikipedia WIthout Graffiti

Comments Filter:
  • by Reverse Gear (891207) * on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:04PM (#17922496) Homepage
    I think this very interesting article has a very good point when it says that it would be nice if contributers were allowed to recieve credit for their work. Especially if this credit would result in being allowed to have a link from your name like it does here on /. (the part with the link is my addition to what the article talks about)

    I know and agree that in the perfect world it shouldn't matter, but this world is not perfect. For those with a steady income and a good job they are happy with it doesn't matter so much, but for someone like me a link to my homepage often means the difference between if take the time to contribute or not.
    Traffic on a homepage equals income, at least for me and I do at times have to count the cents.
    I would really like to contribute with something worthwhile now and then and the link to my homepage justifies that I do spend the time on doing so.

    Right now I do not live from my web pages, I don't know if I want to, but with my present job status those returning visitors I do have on my webpage and blog are quite valuable to me as they might be the start of what I may have to turn to make a living, at least for a time, if no geophysics work shows up here soon.
    • by djh101010 (656795) *

      I think this very interesting article has a very good point when it says that it would be nice if contributers were allowed to recieve credit for their work. Especially if this credit would result in being allowed to have a link from your name like it does here on /. (the part with the link is my addition to what the article talks about)

      Maybe I'm missing something - but, I edit wikipedia articles with my real name, so my name is linked to my work. I suppose I could even put a link to my homepage in my user: page on wikipedia if I wanted to. I'm not sure how this differs from what you're talking about, functionally?

      Right now I do not live from my web pages, I don't know if I want to, but with my present job status those returning visitors I do have on my webpage and blog are quite valuable to me as they might be the start of what I may have to turn to make a living, at least for a time, if no geophysics work shows up here soon.

      No reason you couldn't put a "Check out my contributions to wikipedia, at (this link)" on your own pages. That's more likely to work for you anyway, rather than trying to get people to chase you down from the other direction

      • by xappax (876447)
        I'm not sure how this differs from what you're talking about, functionally?

        I'm pretty sure what the GP was asking for was the ability to plaster a link to their site on every page that they edit or significantly contribute to. I think this is a terrible idea for a couple reasons - mainly, it's an unrelated link, and therefore has no place in an encyclopedia article about something else. Allowing the authors of pages to include links to their blogs/affiliate sites/etc creates more unnecessary noise.

        Se
        • by djh101010 (656795) *

          I'm not sure how this differs from what you're talking about, functionally?

          I'm pretty sure what the GP was asking for was the ability to plaster a link to their site on every page that they edit or significantly contribute to. I think this is a terrible idea for a couple reasons - mainly, it's an unrelated link, and therefore has no place in an encyclopedia article about something else. Allowing the authors of pages to include links to their blogs/affiliate sites/etc creates more unnecessary noise.

          Ah. I was thinking the motivation was altruistic but wanting to get some sort of recognition for themselves, which as we both seem to be saying, exists but doesn't meet his goals.

          Second, it's a volunteer project. Nobody else expects to get paid, but for some reason this person is basically saying that they would only be willing to contribute if it would make them money. There are plenty of people willing to contribute to free encyclopedias for nothing but the satisfaction of having done so - if some people expect more compensation than that - it's probably not the pastime for them.

          Good point. I guess I'd rather have someone contributing for the love of the project, than someone who sees themselves as entitled to something for doing so. I guess I was being too ...what's the word, trusting? in my interpretation of the parent post's question. On rereading it, I can see that what you're saying makes more

        • by Teancum (67324)
          So what is wrong with including a link to a blog on your own user page? I fail to see what the problem is there, as external links are quite common on user pages from what I've seen, as long as it is about you personally in some manner. Even then, user pages are usually quite open and very rarely do admins even enforce the few rules that do exist on them. BTW, I do include a link to my blog on my user page.

          About the only hard rule about user pages is that you shouldn't go messing around with another user
      • Wikipedia treats the users pretty anonymous. So whether you get points or not I don't see any real gain. The vandalism sucks but the image licensing is the real problem. You can never upload an image to satisfy their licensing scheme. They change the fair use licensing every year and they send some bot over to undo everything you ever did. It's annoying. Practically anything that is not a screen shot gets challenged. Last thing I need is another admin to challenge my edits.
        • by Teancum (67324)
          It sounds like you are uploading images that you don't own the copyright over. If you own the copyright (as in you took the image yourself or personally know the person who did and has given you permission to upload the image), uploading an image to Wikipedia is not a problem at all. Or if you can clearly demonstrate that the image is in the public domain. Or as good can demonstrate that the person who does own the image has given copyright permission (usually in the form of the GFDL or something compata
        • by djh101010 (656795) *

          Wikipedia treats the users pretty anonymous. So whether you get points or not I don't see any real gain. The vandalism sucks but the image licensing is the real problem. You can never upload an image to satisfy their licensing scheme.

          I disagree - I've uploaded quite a lot of images, it just takes a few minutes of research to understand which license they fit under, to state that, and to use the correct tagging.

          They change the fair use licensing every year and they send some bot over to undo everything you ever did. It's annoying. Practically anything that is not a screen shot gets challenged.

          My direct personal (and recent) experience differs from that which you are describing.

          Last thing I need is another admin to challenge my edits.

          I think perhaps that wikis are not for you, then; that's kind of the whole point, that people fix problems and improve articles.

    • This would be bad, as it would turn wikipedia into the internets largest for-profit site advertising campaign. People would edit an article and add true information that doesn't really add a whole lot in order to get their page linked to. Think Karma-whoring for profit.
  • ...the watchmen?

  • by JackHoffman (1033824) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:08PM (#17922566)
    The immediate publication of changes is a big motivator, not just for spammers and pranksters. It adds a reward to the work that people are doing. Remove that and you lose many contributors, and without an abundance of contributors you lose the second motivation as well: Completeness. Nobody wants to work on something that continues to lack in breadth. In turn that means you need to provide other motivations, which usually means paying people for their work.
  • This sounds similar to a reputation system for editors combined with a moderation system. Changes to an article or entry would need to be passed up through a chain of editors with increasing rank or rep. Use the best of vbulletin and slashcode to fix wiki. (Gotta love all the buzzwords)

    Vista Help Forum [vistahelpforum.com]
  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:09PM (#17922582)
    Unfortunately, in the real world they do.

    But that's a nit- it's a fundamental problem of ANY reference (be it the news, university research, or even good old Britannica).
  • by 314m678 (779815) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:11PM (#17922618)
    Download vandalFighter http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:VF [wikipedia.org]


    Watch a livefeed of edits in real time.


    Click on suspicious ones to check them out, and revert when apropriate. It's easy, fun and satisifying.

    • by imsabbel (611519)
      Wow. Thanks for the link. I knew there was an IRC channel for all those edits at some point, but never found it.

      Its really cool to see 5-10 edits per seconds happening in realtime.
    • You don't even have to have any software install. You can simply subscribe to the recent changes' news feed. it's available in RSS and atom form. Just subscribe to it, refresh the feeds and there you go. A nice list of what's changing in wikipedia and who is changing it.
  • by beady (710116) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:12PM (#17922626)
    The rules regarding non-citation of material gathered from an encyclopedia isn't arbitrary. It's because encyclopedias are not authoritative, in that they do not research information but merely collate it. As such, they are not sources of information in and of themselves. Hence, you cannot reasonably question the logic of what is said there, just question the source of it. It is vital in any reasonable paper to be able to question and argue with the findings.
    • by neo (4625)
      It's because encyclopedias are not authoritative, in that they do not research information but merely collate it.

      By this criteria, a Dictionary is not authoritative either. It only collates information about common usage. However I dare you to write a resume and skip on spell checking against a Dictionary...
  • by MMC Monster (602931) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:14PM (#17922644)
    All that needs to be done is have a "second face" to wikipedia, where the article visible to the general population is the "last good version" okayed by an administrator or long-time user. This is being done on one of the foreign wikipedias already (wasn't there a /. article about it?)

    Besides, who wants to reproduce all the wikipedia knowledge into a new database? Let's just improve the one we have already. (Yes, the new database can just copy wikipedia's content, but they then have to credit wikipedia indefinitely.)
  • and call it Nupedia... and then scrap it because Wikipedia was better? :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:16PM (#17922686)
    Just imagine what that woul***ERIC IS A FAG***
  • Moo (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chacham (981) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:18PM (#17922722) Homepage Journal
    Wikipedia made a huge mistake. It figured that everyone can contribute *and* edit, and that editors were also contributors. Nope, contributors are mostly good contributors, that Wikipedia got right. Editors, however, either want to present information, ot just their own POV.

    Letting contributors be editors is asking for poor presentation. Asking editors to be contributors is begging to be hurt. The "but more people will fix it" response may be true, but that's is a kludge, not an answer to the problem.

    Therefore, there needs to be a separation between contributing to a page and editting it. Allowing people to edit the main page is silly. Allowing them to edit a candidate is an excellent idea. As a candidate begins to differ from the main page (or possibly a certain amount of time has passed), there can be a process ot make it the main page. This process, whether by hand, by vote, or who knows what, should have different rules than fully open contributions.

    The only real drawback is who gets to decide what goes live is not a more limited pool and be even more easily usurped by a group that decides they want to "own" a page, or bias of the responsible editor. It'll be interesting to see how it works out, and then how the finished product differs from Wikipedia.
  • by Genjurosan (601032) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:19PM (#17922732)
    This really sucks. I use wikipedia for the sole purpose of proving to my wife that I'm right 100% of the time by editing articles, publishing them, and quickly showing them to her before someone can change it.

    Quick, mod article away!!
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by bmajik (96670)
      Given the nature in which you contribute to the problem, it's not surprising the wikipedia article on "successful marriage" has apparently been edited to be purposefully incorrect.

      The correct article clearly, in large friendly letters, states the following: "In order for your marraige to be successful, your wife is ALWAYS RIGHT". That the current article doesn't seem to include this sugggests that someone, perhaps someone like yourself, has intentionally defaced the article to try and make a point.

      Irrespec
    • by eosp (885380) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:56PM (#17923240) Homepage
      When your wife is a Realdoll, you need _that_ even?
  • by MrAnnoyanceToYou (654053) <dylan&dylanbrams,com> on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:21PM (#17922766) Homepage Journal
    I just wanted to read a few articles. I can't. Sorry, but that means I have to give you an e-mail address. Major flaw, sorry, game over.

    I can't even be bothered to read into the docs to find out whether they're going to try and make money on this somehow. Well written Slashvertisement, but Wikipedia is obviously a very good source or not so many would use it. Semi-anonymous editors seem to be hammering out the graffiti pretty well regardless.
  • I think the trust would go down if it had a single editor. They can be centralized, and bought out like MS is doing, and the likes. I think they need a voting system sort of like http://www.grapheety.com [grapheety.com]. This would allow people to filter maybe by quality.

    I think also the original contributor should have some moderation rights, but not ultimate... Maybe based on your level, you can moderate, or over-moderate other people?

    • by xappax (876447)
      Maybe based on your level, you can moderate, or over-moderate other people?

      Sweet idea! So you can start as like a level 1, and if you slay enough vandals you can gain XP which you use to increase your various editing powers! Once you get powerful enough, you can get into the PvP game, where you use your high editor powers to revert and censor other editors!

      But seriously. Giving people varying levels of "credibility" or "trust" or whatever really does turn a collaborative effort into a power game. E
  • by Chairboy (88841) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:29PM (#17922866) Homepage
    The editorial is interesting, but I found myself stuck on something: The author appears to be imbuing Citizendium with an inordinate amount of credit before it has even come into existence.

    Consider the story of the Phantom console [wikipedia.org]. Slashdot collectively said "Interesting, but let's see some proof". The more flowery or adrenaline pumped the prose, the more skeptical we should be when there's nothing we can actually get our hands on. This article about the greatness of Citizendium falls into the same trap, and our response here should be to hold off on our praise until there's something that can be evaluated.

    One other thing is the issue of graffiti. It's given quite a bit of exposure, heck, it's even in the title of the article itself. But realistically speaking, how big of a problem is it? Wikipedia has a pretty darn good response time when it comes to defacement/graffiti. There are vandalbots that autorevert some changes that meet certain heuristics, there are groups of people who skim through the latest changes, there are IRC channels that make it easy for people to see a feed of what's happening... I'd like to suggest that vandalism isn't really a _problem_ in the sense that it hurts the project, because even though there's lots of vandalism, it's nipped in the bud so quickly that 99.9% of the end users who are just _using_ the project don't see it. I think there are people who perceive vandalism as a bigger issue that it is because they either take the knowledge that vandalism is possible and logically extrapolate that it must therefor be widespread, and the other group are the folks who specifically fight vandalism, and because of that, it's the only thing they see on the project.

    Citizendium is a neat idea, but I hope that as a community we'll let it succeed or fail on its own merits and not because we want to "teach wikipedia a lesson" or because the PR behind that project is controlling our feelings.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      In terms of vaporware, I'll just point you to one approved article [citizendium.org]. It's in PDF form because that's easier than screwing with the HTML and making a portable reference. Compare that to the Wikipedia article on Biology and see what you think.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        No offense, but the Citizendium Biology article reads like a (not very good) first day lecture in Bio1A. Here are some selections that are particularly grating:

        "How does life begin? What features separate something that is alive from something that is dead or inanimate? Biologists use science to approach such fundamental questions, questions that also concern the
        philosopher, the rabbi, the iman, or the priest - as well as every person who retains a sense of wonder." Ick... could we get more touchie-feelie?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by LordVader717 (888547)
          Mod parent up!!

          The Citizendium article is exactly what I do not want to read when I look in an encyclopedia. It's just a hokey writeup, and contains very little information about the subject, but goes on endlessly about philosophical aspects which might be of no interest to the reader.

          Compare it to the Wikipedia article, which is considerably shorter, but contains links to different disciplines, history, interactions and diversity. I can click whatever I want and find out about the things that interest me.
          T
  • by pashdown (124942) <pashdown@xmission.com> on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:29PM (#17922868) Homepage
    The problem this site and other self-congratulatory sites like Digital Universe face in replacing Wikipedia is dislodging a recognized central repository on the Internet. The Internet is really good at decentralizing control and information, but if you manage to do the reverse, then its very difficult to change that. Many have created better auction software than eBay, but they're not likely to replace eBay because it has the largest audience for sellers. Wikipedia has plenty of critics, but none of them have succeeded in replacing it. Nobody looking for information is going to replace Wikipedia because there is more authoritative editors or tighter control at another site. They're going to go where the information is. Vandalism is not enough of a reason. As Stephen Colbert proved, Wikipedia has this under control because again, they have the largest audience controlling it.

    That said, Mr. Haselton's article smells an awful lot like astroturfing.

  • As an encyclopedia, Wikipedia is written for a common readership. But students in Yale courses are already consulting primary materials and learning from experts in the discipline. In this context, to rely on Wikipedia -- even when the material is accurate -- is to position your work as inexpert and immature.

    This applies to any encyclopedia. Whatever your source, you have to think about who might have written it, what their incentives were. For some applications, a Wikipedia citation might be adequate. For a Yale dissertation, you would want to find the sources cited in the Wikipedia article, and maybe follow that link onwards to as near to a primary source as you can get.

    I rather welcome the fact that you have to think about whether a Wikipedia article is accurate. You should apply the same evaluation for *an

  • Citizendium will go the way of Nupedia. Or worse, the way of enciclopedia libre, the languishing spanish language fork of wikipedia; if you manage to load the page (seldom possible due to technical problems all the time), you'll see it has about 20% as many articles as the spanish wikipedia, which is by no means among the top 5 wikipedias.

    Schemes that foster collaboration are key here; Nupedia was too closed; it's no wonder that both citizendium and enciclopedia libre are far more restrictive than wikipedia
  • Compromise? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rrohbeck (944847) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:34PM (#17922938)
    I always wonder why Wikipedia doesn't keep some kind of "merit" number for articles.
    Registered users could have a merit number based on how long they've been around, how many edits they made etc.
    Also, registered users could mod authors as well as articles (and, hence, their authors.) That would give each author a semi-reliable merit value. Then you could calculate a merit figure for an article from how much was contributed by whom and any mod points for the article itself.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by beoba (867477)

      I dunno, I could see some users going into pissing matches with each other because they have a bigger karma value. Something along the lines of "well, I'm right, because I have +40 and you only have +5". It would become an issue of whose point score is larger, rather than whose input is factually correct (and easy to understand).

      I don't really have any idea how such a system pan out, this is just how I see things going.

  • I think wikipedia solidly has the model right (even if the reviewing system is poor) about what's encyclopedic. The big point is pop culture and five minute stories arn't encyclopedic. The story about R.A.B. is a very special case as there is an encyclopedic nature to how the story was leaked, even there it's debatable if it will remain in the wiki (I don't see much there ).

    No matter what site it is you won't be able to cite it. Many schools will not take any encyclopedia as a primary source in the first
  • First, let me be yet another person to say that I won't use any encyclopedia that forces me to register before I can read. I know that's probably a temporary flaw, but it's a major one.

    Second, I'm intrigued by the editor approach. But Wikipedia is not only known for the occasional inaccuracy -- it is also famous for arbitrary decisions, using a star chamber of editors, about what is worthy of inclusion. The webcomic world is up in arms [schlockmercenary.com] about arbitrary, nonsensical decisions involving comics. Will Citizen
    • First, let me be yet another person to say that I won't use any encyclopedia that forces me to register before I can read. I know that's probably a temporary flaw, but it's a major one.

      You are correct that it is a temporary situation. Currently we're only open to contributors. You can get a small sample here [citizendium.org]. Obviously, that'll change, because we want people to read our stuff.
    • by Raindance (680694) *
      One of the central ideas behind Citizendium is to defer to subject experts for key decisions (such as inclusion/exclusion) that fall within their area of expertise.
  • by Everyman (197621) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @01:00PM (#17923294) Homepage
    One of the top administrators at Wikipedia goes by the name of Essjay. In an article by Stacy Schiff, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Essjay is described as follows in the July 31, 2006 issue of The New Yorker magazine:

    "One regular on the site is a user known as Essjay, who holds a Ph.D. in theology and a degree in canon law and has written or contributed to sixteen thousand entries. A tenured professor of religion at a private university, Essjay made his first edit in February, 2005.... Essjay is serving a second term as chair of the mediation committee. He is also an admin, a bureaucrat, and a checkuser, which means that he is one of fourteen Wikipedians authorized to trace I.P. addresses in cases of suspected abuse. He often takes his laptop to class, so that he can be available to Wikipedians while giving a quiz, and he keeps an eye on twenty I.R.C. chat channels, where users often trade gossip about abuses they have witnessed."

    The information in The New Yorker came from his user page that he developed over the previous year. He pushed all the correct Wikipedia buttons: he said he was gay, an expert on Catholocism but an elder in a liberal Protestant church, he and his partner had both a cat and a dog, and he was past 30 but not yet 40. From credentials like this, and from his mind-boggling level of activity on Wikipedia, he became administrator, bureaucrat, checkuser, oversight, and last month was named a community manager at Wikia.

    Perhaps because he is employed by Wikia now, Essjay has coughed up his real name. He doesn't have two PhDs, and he isn't a tenured professor. He's a 24-year-old living near Louisville, Kentucky. The New Yorker, famous for its fact-checking, got it all wrong.

    Incidents like this illustrate the limitations of the Wikipedia approach. It's not an encyclopedia, but rather it's a video game that escaped from its box, and is now influencing real people in the real world.
    • by Chapter80 (926879) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @02:51PM (#17924884)
      "Everyman" says:

      Perhaps because he is employed by Wikia now, Essjay has coughed up his real name. He doesn't have two PhDs, and he isn't a tenured professor. He's a 24-year-old living near Louisville, Kentucky. The New Yorker, famous for its fact-checking, got it all wrong.
      I read your post with great interest. My jaw dropped to read such a story. Then I though, "hey wait. I'm supposed to believe you?
  • Wikipedia will always, by nature, be more reactive to world events than Citizendium. Minutes after a major event occurs, the related wikis are updated. Once articles have been tied down and relegated to an editor, it falls to the editor to react to changes in content relevance. If that "editor" consists of the entire earth's population (minus jerkweeds that have been banned), high, real-time relevance is maintained. Thus, Wikipedia becomes an extension of news media, adding immense value to a news story
    • Wikipedia will always, by nature, be more reactive to world events than Citizendium. Minutes after a major event occurs, the related wikis are updated. Once articles have been tied down and relegated to an editor, it falls to the editor to react to changes in content relevance.

      Correct. That is one trade-off. However, having a better article a week or two later is useful for a lot of other purposes. 90% of the articles we intend to have are not going to be rapidly changing. It's rare that we're going t
      • by imsabbel (611519)
        The mere fact that you guys have a "executive board" before you have any content really talls a lot, especially in a slashvertisement like this.
        • We have content. Who said we didn't? If you want to see an approved article, here's our first [citizendium.org]. If you want more, ask me or someone else in the project, or just get on the wiki.
  • MyEditors (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @01:07PM (#17923410) Homepage Journal
    Who are these "trustworthy" central editors? And why can't I have a Wikipedia with edits applied from only those editors who I trust, or who my trusted friends trust?
  • Two clarifications (Score:2, Informative)

    by jespley (1006115)
    1. In the original article, it states that qualifications to be an editor on Citizendium are currently being accepted on an honor basis (i.e. if you claim to be a professor they just accept that). When I signed up to be an editor, I had to send email from my @nasa.gov email and link to my CV. 2. Some comments have complained that you have register to see the articles. That's because it's not open to the general public yet. They're testing things on a closed pilot program first. So, stay tuned!
  • Interestingly, you cannot read Citizendium's privacy policy unless you sign up and log in. Defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

    Also, you can't even contact the editor about it.
  • by mschuyler (197441) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @01:13PM (#17923506) Homepage Journal
    "Wikipedia is the best source of what the masses believe is true at any given time."

    Paraphrase. I don't know who said it first, and perhaps a little better than I remember it. But the point is that Wikipedia has an IQ of 100. To claim that blatant mistakes in Wikipedia will eventually be corrected is, I think, statistically unlikely.

    Where Wikipdia is especially good is in straight factual information with no need for "interpretation." For example, where is Barcelona, Spain? It gives you latitude and longitude; you can check it with Google Earth and correct if necessary. Sometimes Wikipedia will give a coordinate in the middle of the ocean, It's not always accurate, but it is easily verifiable. It's also good where it has 'incorporated' text from other sources. For example, much of the historical information on Roman civilization is from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, still considered one of the best efforts ever produced. It is in the public domain. Wikipedia copied it. An interesting point when 'studies' show Wikipedia's error rate better or worse than Britannica.

    Where Wikipedia is especially poor and unreliable is in political issues and debates. Tenacity and anger count far more than accuracy. Extremists tend to win these battles because they are so adamant and, for them, so much is at stake for them to ensure Wikipedia "gets it right." Antagonists accuse their opposite of "changing history," because, of course, God's on their side. Anyone who uses Wikipedia to learn accurate information on political issues is, as Cowboy Neal says of using Slashdot polls, insane.
  • And even if Wikipedia's error rate someday beats Britannica's, under its current model Wikipedia can never have the key property that Britannica has, which is that you can cite it as an authoritative source without sounding silly.

    Britannica doesn't have that property either.

    You can't cite encyclopedias, full stop. It's as simple as that. An encyclopedia gives references though, you simply go and read them (to confirm they do in fact make the statements claimed) and then cite them.

  • I predicted very early in the development of the Web that editors would be essential to its success. Here's why:

    (1) The Wikipedia approach to gathering collaborative information is inherently flawed, as this article points out. The temptation to post erroneous or slanderous material is just too strong for some. Review by a subject-matter qualified editor is the only workable solution.

    (2) Google's approach to indexing information on the Web is also flawed. By relying only on popularity and other questionable
  • Imagine (Score:2, Funny)

    by d_54321 (446966)
    I'm trying to imagine a Slashdot headline WIthout typos.
  • How anyone can think that another community-based encyclopedia can succeed, while Wikipedia already exists, is beyond me. The accurate, edited resource that people are looking for is called "books." Unsurprisingly, you can use Wikipedia (and Google) to find them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Larry Sanger (936381)
      I am extremely puzzled why people think the author of TFA was "shilling for CZ." I'd never met him in my life when he came to us and started asking us questions, saying he was writing an article about us for /. He's working for /. or so he said--not for us.
  • by Comboman (895500) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @04:52PM (#17926392)
    As it becomes more popular, it becomes more tempting to vandalize, and in turn becomes less reliable, a point that many have made already[theonion.com]

    Linking to a satirical, fake news article in theonion.com as evidence of the unreliability of citing Wikipedia as a source; I applaud your brazen audacity sir.

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