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Is Wikipedia Failing? 478

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the everybody-successful-is-failing dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A growing number of people are concerned about where Wikipedia is heading. Some have left Wikipedia for Citizendium, while others are trying to change the culture of Wikipedia from within. A recent essay called Wikipedia is failing points out many of the problems which must be solved with Wikipedia for it to succeed in its aim of becoming a reputable, reliable reference work. How would you go about solving these problems?"
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Is Wikipedia Failing?

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  • Editorial board... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BWJones (18351) * on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @09:44AM (#18010720) Homepage Journal
    What can be done to change the system?

    Now that Wikipedia has reached a critical mass, the time has come to establish a trusted editorial board that can vet articles to established experts in the field of subjects. This board could then also solicit articles by experts and find other wikis that host specialized information to link to the common Wikipedia. This will prevent much of the vandalism and uninformed disasters that seem to befall certain subjects or topics when they are edited by people who are not competent to be making edits in certain topics. As a professor in the biosciences, I've seen more than one article/entry on Wikipedia, written by an expert in that field that has been absolutely, shamefully and quite inaccurately edited or altered by well meaning individuals that absolutely have no idea what they are doing/saying.

    • by minus_273 (174041) <aaaaa@NOSPAM.SPAM.yahoo.com> on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @09:49AM (#18010772) Journal
      of course having people work specifically on wikipedia requires money. It cant be free and have employees at the same time. The amount of money raised right now is hardly enough. I guess this is the point where idealism meets the real world.
      • Agreed (Score:3, Insightful)

        by arcite (661011)
        You get what you pay for. Sure, some experts may volunteer to edit a few articles in their off time, but that is hardly enough to make most entries anywhere near credible.

        I predict that WIKI will become more of a 'pop-culture' database. Forget reading properly researched and documented articles on 'global warming' or 'evolution'. Rest assured though, crazed fans will document every nuance of Babylon 5 or Star Trek info that exists. Want to know how many PIPs Data has on his shirt in the last season of st

        • Re:Agreed (Score:5, Insightful)

          by h2g2bob (948006) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:49AM (#18011432) Homepage
          Have you even read the global warming [wikipedia.org] article, or the evolution [wikipedia.org] article!? They're damn good - in fact the science articles are some of the best.

          Wikipedia is just like any other encyclopedia - it should not be used as evidence, but as a starting point to find out more.
          • Re:Agreed (Score:5, Informative)

            by DJCacophony (832334) <.v0dka. .at. .myg0t.com.> on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:43AM (#18012104) Homepage
            This "citizendium" is nothing like Wikipedia, specifically because it does not allow anonymous editing. It doesn't even allow anonymous viewing. They made people register just to SEE the site, simply because they wanted to boost their registered user count to look like they are actually a notable website, instead of just another wiki.
          • Re:Agreed (Score:5, Interesting)

            by bcrowell (177657) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:59AM (#18012344) Homepage
            in fact the science articles are some of the best.
            Generalizations are always dangerous, but IMO science articles on WP tend to be some of the worst. I've worked on a lot of the physics articles. (I teach physics at a community college.) Typically they fail to put things in context, use too much math too early, and focus on irrelevant equations and derivations rather than the important concepts. I think this is symptomatic of what's wrong with WP in general: articles tend not to rise above a certain (low) level of quality, because of random, disorganized edits. Also, although many people on WP are good writers and explainers, and many are knowledgeable about their subjects, there aren't as many people who are good at both, and the structure of WP doesn't work well to help them cooperate.
            • Re:Agreed (Score:5, Interesting)

              by jpflip (670957) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @12:36PM (#18012910)
              I'm a physicist as well, and I'd say that Wikipedia's science articles are generally quite good, though not always very pedagogical. I find that Wikipedia is among the best places to get an up-to-date introduction to (or at least the basic gist of) to some topic that I'm not fully familiar with, even a very technical one. I agree that far more work is needed to make Wikipedia's science articles as complete and pedagogical as they should be and that authors sometimes get a little too pedantic or sidetracked. Nonetheless extensive contributions from experts make it a surprisingly good starting point for real science. Again, in general - there are certainly plenty of exceptions.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by pcgamez (40751) *

              Typically they fail to put things in context, use too much math too early, and focus on irrelevant equations and derivations rather than the important concepts.
              And how this is different from your average textbook?
        • Re:Agreed (Score:4, Insightful)

          by drsquare (530038) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:38AM (#18012056)
          Become? It's already at that state. Even serious, factual articles have huge sections at the end listing all the times they were referenced in Star Trek or Futurama.
        • Re:Agreed (Score:5, Informative)

          by infaustus (936456) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:40AM (#18012072)
          While wikipedia articles on evolution and global warming aren't actually that bad, you're ignoring the huge number of non-controversial science and mathematics articles on wikipedia. Non-controversial!=trivial. These articles tend to be very thorough and reliable.
          • Re:Agreed (Score:5, Interesting)

            by 0rionx (915503) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @03:21PM (#18015064)

            I'm amazed it took this long for someone to point this out! Many of the articles in fields such as biology, geology, history, philosophy, etc that tend to have political/religious controversy surrounding them are often not of the highest caliber. Articles in non-controversial fields, especially computer science and mathematics (IMO), are often, as the previous poster stated, extremely well written and highly detailed. Want to learn about the traveling salesman problem? The related Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] is almost ten pages long with graphs and detailed explanations, cites 16 qualified sources, and provides more than a dozen external links for further reading. How exactly is that trivial?

            I wish I had saved some mod points for a +1 Underrated...

      • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:11AM (#18010958)
        Hate to say it, but Wikipedia could solve almost all their financial problems if they simply took on advertising. It wouldn't have to be anything too obtrusive (something like Google's targeted text ads would be enough). Bleeding out huge sums of cash and depending on a income strictly of donations is tough, especially when the rubber hits the road and it becomes apparent that you need a full time staff of editors.

        -Eric

        • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:46AM (#18011392) Homepage Journal
          However, doing so would piss off a significant portion of their user base. [wikipedia.org]
          • by GundamFan (848341) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:01AM (#18011552)
            OK so?

            These people need to grow up, ether support your precious community so it can remain the way it is or move on and let someone who can take your place. I'm sorry but if it "pisses you off" that it requires money to run a huge public website project (that some treat as there personal playground I might add) then maybe you can make up for the money.

            Besides ads on Wikipedia, given the usual high search results on Google, would be worth quite a bit of money so I doubt they would even need to put up that many.
            • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:29AM (#18011940) Homepage Journal
              Ultimately any such decisions are in the hands of the Wikimedia foundation, and I don't pretend to speak for them. I do believe when your entire catalogue of products is produced by a set of volunteers, you do have to consider the opinions of said volunteers on matters like this. The users who declare their stance either for [wikipedia.org] or against [wikipedia.org] ads on Wikipedia are ensuring that the Foundation knows their feelings on the matter, leading hopefully to an informed decision. I don't see why people "need to grow up" for contributing what they can to this process.
            • by vertinox (846076) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:57AM (#18012314)
              I'm sorry but if it "pisses you off" that it requires money to run a huge public website project (that some treat as there personal playground I might add) then maybe you can make up for the money.

              Ads in themselves don't piss off the users, but it is the fact that many of them have already donated money in order to keep Wikipedia alive without commercial sponsorship.

              Imagine the outcry if NPR or PBS started having 5 minute commercial breaks even after they had all those annoying fund raisers they do.
              • by edremy (36408) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @12:26PM (#18012740) Journal
                Imagine the outcry if NPR or PBS started having 5 minute commercial breaks even after they had all those annoying fund raisers they do.

                As a long time NPR listener (and donator), they *do* have commercial breaks. Lots of them. I even bought some of them to advertise a speaker on our campus. Others are bought by local companies, or people who like to mention birthdays, anniversaries or the like. They tend to be low key- speech only by the announcer, no music, no screaming and I suspect that they are edited for taste, but they are most certainly ads.

                Do I like it? Of course not. But the alternatives on one side (no cash = no NPR) or the other ("Y'ALL GET DOWN TO JIM BOB'S TRUCK EMPORIUM RIGHT NOW!") are so bad that I'm happy to put up with it, even though I *also* donate money every year. Rational people know that running an enormous website or paying the electricity bill for a 50k watt transmitter costs real money and that you have to find some way to pay. If the bulk of Wikipedias find this idea distasteful they are welcome to try and find some other way of getting the money, but don't be surprised if you simply can't raise enough donations.

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by Spazmogazm (231171)
                  Why not have an option to view adds. Then it's sort of like I'm donating my willingness to view a few adds on the site rather than sending in cash.
            • by NickFortune (613926) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @12:04PM (#18012430) Homepage Journal

              OK so?

              It's a community project. If wikipedia pisses off too many of its contributors, the project will die. Some people would see that as a bad thing.

              These people need to grow up, ether support your precious community so it can remain the way it is or move on and let someone who can take your place.

              Do they?

              For one thing. the allegation that wikipedia is failing is far from proven; there may not be a problem to fix. For another, the wikipedians opposed to advertising are probably not the ones voicing doubts about the project's long term viability.

              It's also worth pointing out that the author of TFA seems to define failing as not achieving excellence as fast as he or she would like. So there doesn't seem to be any terribly compelling reason to make an unpopular change, while there are good reasons for leaving it as it is. "If it ain't broke..."

              Besides ads on Wikipedia, given the usual high search results on Google, would be worth quite a bit of money so I doubt they would even need to put up that many.

              In which case, I'd expect answers.com to be making Google scale money. They're keeping awfully quiet about it if they are.

        • by CrazyTalk (662055) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @12:10PM (#18012516)
          Except, if Wikipedia asipres to be a "real" enyclopedia, having advertising would adversely affect the objectivity (or percieved objectivity) of the site.
      • by robbarrett (84479) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:14AM (#18010992)
        Actually, most scholars contribute their writing for little or no direct compensation. In fact, some scholars pay journals to publish their articles. Instead of payment from the publishers, scholars are usually funded by their sponsoring organizations (e.g. universities, corporate research centers, etc.) to do high quality scholarship, which is funded by a variety of sources (e.g. student tuition, endowments, research grants, product profits).

        Publishing high quality work is simply part of the package of being a successful scholar. So the key to getting top notch scholars to work on wikipedia is to generate appropriate reputation feedback. If it is CV-able that I wrote the definitive wikipedia article in my field, there will be competition amongst scholars to do it.

        In my current field of biblical studies, scholars donate literally decades of work editing the critical editions of ancient texts, generating modern translations, writing commentaries, etc. without any additional compensation beyond their base pay. In my previous fields of physics, computer science, and computer-human interaction, the vast majority of top scholars receive very little direct compensation for the many articles, books, and reference book entries that they write. But they do receive scholarly acclaim for doing so -- and there is tremendous pressure from their sponsors to produce documentably important output.

        In my experience, professional drive, fame, and dedication to the scholarly field generally drive scholars more than money, after the basic bills are paid.
        • by joto (134244) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @12:04PM (#18012434)
          The trouble is that wikipedia articles arent' "authored". They are "edited", by several wikipedians. Having written an excellent article, it can be unrecognizable a few months later. Academics that want CV-able material *could* continue to monitor their article forever, reverting harmful changes, and actively participating on the discussion page. However, this takes a lot of time, and is better suited for unemployed wikipedians. If you want to improve your CV, it would be better to write your articles only once, and be done with it. This can be done by writing real journal articles, real magazine articles, real books, real websites, or even real blogs.
    • by fudgefactor7 (581449) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @09:51AM (#18010792)
      I actually suggested this several times to them, each time it was shot down because apparently consensus is better than expertise. What happens when you have 1000 laymen hack on an article and not one of them is an actual expert is you get a close approximation of fact diluted by bias and misunderstanding.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Heian-794 (834234)

      A related problem is the inevitable politicization of articles and their writers. If I want to read about George W. Bush, abortion, Christianity, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, etc., etc., I'm not going to trust Wikipedia because the article will be slanted one way now and the other way an hour from now.

      That being said, I find Wikipedia to be a wonderful resource for non-controversial pop culture (where there are many interested editors), all kinds of computer-related geekery (where there ar

      • by BWJones (18351) * on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:10AM (#18010946) Homepage Journal
        A Slashdot-like karma system where editors with high karma can block those without from editing thei stuff?

        I actually really like this idea... A system where expertise can have a karma ranking system through either qualifications or community mediated promotion through contribution. This would allow experts in their fields to contribute without fear of having their contribution savaged by those who may not know what is going on.

        • by MMC Monster (602931) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:49AM (#18011426)
          Who doles out karma? It's fine here on /.. Over on wikipedia, just because you happen to know more about a subject that anyone else that is contributing, doesn't make you an expert. In fact, there are certain subjects (think: medical field) in which someone who believes that they know what they are talking about are causing more damage than they are really helping. Since no one else in wikipedia is more qualified in the subject, it's possible for wrong information to remain in the article for prolonged periods.
          • by ronanbear (924575) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:24AM (#18011870)
            Karma would be doled out by an algorithm that would assess your edits based on how much, how often and by whom (their karma) your edits get edited in turn. If you troll you end up with karma in the toilet and your edits are brought to the attention of other editors who "metamod" your down. If other people who watch the page give positive feedback on your edits then your karma improves and other editors will be quicker to trust you. The system wouldn't be foolproof but it wouldn't need to be. All it would need to be is more efficient at correcting bad edits and retaining good edits than the current system. Trolls would be caught quicker and it would take them longer to do less damage. At the moment a large number of trolls just replace entire articles with a single line. This sort of edit could be fixed automatically so editors don't have to waste their time doing it. As articles become more "mature" it should become harder to make big edits to them.
        • by ameoba (173803) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:52AM (#18011448)
          If I were to write hundreds of innane, but interesting, articles on fluffy pop-culture bits to build up my 'cred', I could then weigh in on a serious topic & expect my earned credibility to carry over? Alternately, if I'm a newcomer and all the 'low-hanging fruit' have already been picked up, how am I supposed to get my initial reputation in order to lend any sort of permanence to my writings?
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by forgetmenot (467513)
            If you're aiming for low hanging fruit just to establish credibility, then I may be inclined to think you don't have anything credible to contribute, period.

            What wikipedia 'needs' and is failing to achieve, accordinging to the opinion in the link, are excellent quality articles in a few 'core' fields of knowledge that are considered necessary to be considered an encyclopedia. What does wikipedia does not need is yet another laymen with no specific area of expertise editing a lot of articles because he/she '
        • The problem is that it allows for opinion of the masses. When I was in genetics (early 80s), I noticed that to come up with radical experiments and /or conclusions, you either had to have a well known name or be published in small science rags. I just wonder if it would be possible to rate the sections. i.e. allow for sections that are controlled by the top appointed academicians (not necessarily, the top academicians in the fields), as well as the entry. This would allow for the average person to search th
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by AxelBoldt (1490)

        If I want to read about George W. Bush, abortion, Christianity, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, etc., etc., I'm not going to trust Wikipedia because the article will be slanted one way now and the other way an hour from now.

        When reading Wikipedia articles on controversial topics, you also have to look at the article's history and the article's Talk page. If you do that, you are likely to get a much richer picture of the debate and the positions and rhethoric of the involved parties than you co

    • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:01AM (#18011550) Homepage Journal
      Actually, since the system keeps all the edits of the articles, why not make it possible for an editorial board to cryptographically sign an article version?

      In fact, why have a single editorial board? Why not let anybody set up an editorial board, and create a virtual wikipedia over the wikipedia? You could search only the RNC blessed versions if you wanted.
    • by Eivind Eklund (5161) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:35AM (#18012024) Journal
      Let the logged in users vouch for "I've read through this revision and it looks OK to me", along with a rating of "How expert" they are in the field in question, and a comment.

      Ratings could be something like

      5. I'm a generally recognized expert working the field 4. I work in the field 3. I've studied the field at university/college level 2. I'm a generally interested bystander, having done self-study of the field to some depth 1. I'm a generally interested bystander having tried to follow the field for a few years

      Comments could be something like what sources you have checked against, or a deeper description of qualifications.

      Ratings like these would allow us to do a lot of stuff. We could turn users that seem to do a good job of voting in their particular areas (and staying off voting in other areas) into an officially sanctioned editorial board retroactively, for instance - by just giving their ratings weight. Or we could let people look at "Last version of article vouched for by a 5-authority", or show the differences from that version, or whatever we feel like.

      The important thing is to start collecting the data. And that can be done NOW, trivially.

      Eivind.

  • The problem... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by brennanw (5761) * on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @09:46AM (#18010736) Homepage Journal
    ... is that they're too busy nominating webcomic articles for deletion to bother updating anything else.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by RufusFish (253008)
      Nominating? They're pretty much expelling them through the rapid deletion without any nomination process. I think the tide might be turning due to the overwhelmingly negative reaction from the communities that surround the web comics, but the stories I've been following, they articles are having to be resurrected after a quick delete.
    • Re:The problem... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blincoln (592401) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:44AM (#18012112) Homepage Journal
      This is moderated funny (and it is), but it is also a good point. There is some awesome content on Wikipedia, but IMO they have their priorities all screwed up. (Again, IMO) if they allow sci-fi dorks to post reams of material on completely fictional topics, they have no basis for deleting any factual article, no matter how obscure or rarely-viewed.

      I wandered into an editorial discussion once on what a high school needed to do to qualify as "noteworthy" enough to not have an article about it deleted. I'm sorry, but any high school in the real world is more "noteworthy" than the Treaty of Algeron [wikipedia.org], Pikachu [wikipedia.org], or the E-Wing Starfighter [wikipedia.org].

      I really feel like Wikipedia is a brilliant idea that's going to be killed off or crippled by the nerdy bureaucrats who seem to control the editorial process. I know I have no interest in posting content there given their criteria for deleting articles.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jtheisen (893138)
        That's plausible. How many people know about or want to learn more about the three admittedly obscure things you mentioned? And how, in comparison, do so for a specific (presumably American) highschool?

        Would you also rule out articles about, say, fictional myths by Homer? Wikipedia, as any decent encyclopedia, is there to suit what people care about. It shouldn't make any judgement about how justified that interest is.
      • The only people who tend to take any notice of a high-school are located in a very small area surrounding the school. Unless someone gets killed in it.

        Star Wars, Star Trek and Pokemon, on the other hand, are all integrated into our culture, and we are likely to see references to them everywhere. References we might want to look up. That is noteworthy, and that is what an encyclopedia is for.

        Of your three examples, the E-Wing probably shouldn't be included, it is from "the expanded universe", which has a
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @09:46AM (#18010740)
    Just edit the Wikipedia is Failing article to say it's fixed.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by daeg (828071)
      Did you know that the population of African Elephants has tripled in the past six months?
    • by Dogtanian (588974) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:14AM (#18010994) Homepage

      Just edit the Wikipedia is Failing article to say it's fixed.
      You're obviously joking, but it's my sincere belief that one of the dangers facing Wikipedia is where the community, and the defence of Wikipedia from criticism becomes more important than the integrity of Wikipedia itself. This is an inherent risk with anything community-based; superficially, the effort is to support and protect the project (and those taking part may well still believe this), but in reality the loyalty is to the community or team, even at the risk of the stated aims of the project.

      Another problem is edit decay, often exacerbated by Wiki-masturbation. What do I mean? Basically, edits are normally on a small scale. Lots of individual small-scale edits do not make a big article; on the contrary, I've copyedited at least one article that was fine on a sentence-by-sentence level, but messed-up, disorganised, verbose and unreadable because no-one had bothered to step back and look at the article as a whole. Thus many small edits (even if individually useful) tend to increase the structural decay of an article, and make it hard to see when something useful is being lost.

      A problem occurs when minor edits are made, or an article changed several times, with little ultimate point (hence "masturbation"). It's in these sorts of pointless changes that good work gets lost for no real purpose. In such cases, it may make sense to go back to an earlier version, compare any major changes, find out why these have happened, and if there seems to have been no justifiable reason for them, to revert some or all of the article.

      Should the aim of Wikipedia be change? No. The aim of Wikipedia should be changability; a subtle but very important difference. Unlike evolution in nature, we can go back as far as we like if an earlier version is better, and there's no reason we shouldn't do this. Some subjects inevitably date, necessitating change; but many do not. Changeability is about having the choice, and that includes the choice of saying "actually, the earlier version *was* better".

      The WP article actually covers some similar ground to the above, but both are issues that had been on my mind for a long time beforehand.
  • Not really (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JoshJ (1009085) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @09:49AM (#18010780) Journal
    Wikipedia's job is to let people look something up quickly. Need to know who the 23rd vice-president was? It's Adlai Stephenson. [wikipedia.org]
    "But someone could edit that page and change it!"
    Oh, right. Now I've linked to the static page. [wikipedia.org]
    That part seems rather hard for some people to grasp, considering how many times I've seen that used as a justification for "thou shalt not cite" bullshit.
    However, in some cases, "thou shalt not cite" is correct, not just based on reactionary BS- Wiki articles are sourced. If you cite a sourced statement from a Wiki article, you should really be citing it from the original... which is conveniently linked at the bottom of Wikipedia.
    Wikipedia isn't failing at this. It's doing this remarkably well. The failing is in reactionary academics who feel threatened by Wikipedia, and the perception these people cause.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by SirGarlon (845873)

      Wikipedia's job is to let people look something up quickly.

      Surely there is a second part to that - to let people look something up quickly and get accurate information. Wikipedia itself says that high quality is one of its goals [wikipedia.org], so your assessment of Wikipedia's function does not match what the Wikipedia community itself claims to be attempting. It is the quality, not the quickness of access, that is coming under question.

    • Then make it easier to do that.

      Seriously. Everyone knows how to find the "live" article on wikipedia and send links to it to their friends. It takes two non-obvious clicks from there to to get to the permanent, static link. (You have to click history, and then the most recent version.) There should be a big, shiny, flaming, "Permanent link to this version" button, or every "live" page should auto-redirect to the most recent static page (so the url in the address bar is a static page), or something.

      • by cyclomedia (882859) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:07AM (#18011624) Homepage Journal
        Like in software there's usually a Stable version, even if it's quite old and a Beta version, i'd go so far as to suggest that Wikipedia pages should have three versions

        1. The Stable Page - and THIS should be the default at .../wiki/The_Page
        2. The Candidate Page - The candidate to become the next stable page
        3. The Current Page - Up to the minute revert war free for all

        Both [1] and [2] are essentially historic versions of the page but linked to from handy labelled tabs and some kind of moderation/voting system can elevate a page from current to beta to stable.

        obviously newly created articles would only have one or three versions and these would filter across all three until a moderator/vote decides to split the article into the aforementioned modus operandi
  • Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CGP314 (672613) <CGP AT ColinGregoryPalmer DOT net> on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @09:52AM (#18010796) Homepage
    Well, since I have to create an account with Citizendium just to look at the articles, I'm not too worried about it overtaking the Wikipedia just yet.

    -CGP [colingregorypalmer.net]
    • by Larry Sanger (936381) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:34AM (#18011258) Journal
      Hey, we badly want to be open to the world! But it's expensive!

      I can make a little announcement. Wikis are huge resource hogs, so to grant just read access to wiki pages indiscriminately will require more resources than the big souped-up but single server we have at present. Quite frankly we have been holding out for an infusion of funds for sixteen servers. It's clear now that we can launch with less than that, with a number that we can afford with our very limited present budget. So we'll be bravely forging ahead with an only temporarily adequate number of servers!

      The Citizendium wiki [citizendium.org] will be launching for public read access as soon as (1) we get a few new servers set up (it'll be a small enough number to be within our budget), and (2) we make a few technical changes (e.g., change the "Citizendium Pilot" namespace to "Citizendium"; and lots of other stuff).

      Now, when will that be? Not sure; now it's a matter of getting and setting up the equipment and making those software changes, and it's impossible to predict how long it will take to do this, as we are mostly relying on volunteers (and one part-time contracter) to work on our software. But on the order of weeks, not months. If you want to help us with the software stuff, I bow to your geekiness and invite you to our forge [citizendium.org].

      Hope that clarifies our situation anyway.
      • So, you decided against calling it Nupedia this time? Perhaps "Just As Good As Wikipedia Except I'm In Charge" next time? Or "Sour Grapes-o-Pedia"?

        I kid, I kid. Honestly, variety is good (insert Gnome/KDE flamewar here); we already have enough problems with Wikipedia articles being replicated around the internet so that it becomes hard to find anything else. There's a serious free-encyclopedia vacuum out there, and it can only help to have another batch of people doing work independently of Wikipedia.

        I thin
  • by 2TecTom (311314) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @09:54AM (#18010816) Homepage Journal
    IMHO, the time has come for wikipedia to return to its origins before it's too late. What made it work was its openness, now people think it can be "saved" by closing it up?

    In truth, the biggest problem with wikipedia has nothing to do with wikipedia. The problem is us, especially our greed. Article after article has become slanted by those with a special, i.e. greedy, interest. Many controversial issues have already been editoralized into one-sided oblivion.

    Top down is not going to help, so I say avoid the temptation to let the "experts" decide what we should be able to freely consider.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @09:57AM (#18010850)
    20 Reasons not to edit Wikipedia

    This is what I've come up with after a very short period of editing Wikipedia.

    1. Endless arguments on Talk pages. Apparently more work on Talk pages than actual pages.
    2. I'm most able to write about what I'm an expert in. That's also a conflict of interest.
    3. Reverts may undo useful changes. There are no merge-based undos, no simple application of a diff between two revisions.
    4. Improving free and open source software is both more visible and important.
    5. Publishing articles in peer-reviewed venues is more important, although less visible.
    6. Lack of a good, canonical, reference and citation system like BibTeX.
    7. Popular topics end up better written than unpopular topics. Many entries on fictional worlds.
    8. My work might get deleted altogether.
    9. Wikipedia is generally not citable itself. Not reviewed, and contents are not constant.
    10. There is no correspondance between the different language versions of a page.
    11. GFDL is possibly not the best license. I doubt most people have read it.
    12. Software screenshots must be low resolution unless the software is open source.
    13. Certain topics are taboo, e.g. Encyclopaedia Dramatica
    14. If I'm an IP address, nobody cares. If I use my real name, I have to be careful what I write. If I use a pseudonym and hide my identity, it carries less weight.
    15. Decentralization. It is doubtful that even a fraction of people take the time to read the relevant guides on editing.
    16. Same problems that USENET, mailing lists, and forums have.
    17. Neutral point of view confounded by fact that most people here are fairly left wing.
    18. Most people editing don't have any formal training in writing beyond high school. Most articles and topics need work.
    19. Vandalism, and pseudo-vandalism.
    20. Almost every other leisure activity I can think of is more rewarding; Wikipedia is just addictive.

    2 reasons to use Wikipedia

    1. It's generally better than a Google search.
    2. If you're a cultural anthropologist, here's a minefield.

    2 reasons to edit Wikipedia

    1. It's a great place to practice your translation skills.
    2. Most anything you write here appears near the top of a Google search.
    • by Jugalator (259273)
      17. Neutral point of view confounded by fact that most people here are fairly left wing.

      Really, why is this so? I'm not questioning you, I've seen the same thing, there, on Digg, and elsewhere?
      I wonder why it's the case when the US population seem to be quite evenly split.

      ( note: I'm a foreigner so if this is "obvious" knowledge to any American, please excuse me :-) )
  • Too Late to Fail (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @09:59AM (#18010864) Homepage Journal
    Meanwhile, most people with a clue have heard about Wikipedia, but not about these others. Wikipedia is now an established brand. That status, more than any functional superiority (or even competence) defines Wikipedia as the success. Its problems will be solved (or not), but it's got its audience.

    Even if the competitors are superior, they will have to compete with Wikipedia's brand. Their superiority will have to be more easily communicated than Wikipedia's (eg. a better name, like "Google" vs "AltaVista") to actually beat them. It's a meme pool, and swimming counts more than smarts.

    Wikipedia is no different from any other large Website: its success is defined by its scale of users, not its quality. As if you couldn't tell that by looking at Slashdot.
    • The question posed in the article is whether Wikipedia is failing in its stated purpose, which is to create a reliable encyclopedia, not whether it's failing to become a popular website. Why not just replace the entire site with a myspace-clone social networking site, build a huge userbase, and declare the project a huge success?
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        The essay ends with the "Open Question":

        Does this matter, given that Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in the world?


        The question "why not create a perfect reliable encyclopedia that no one uses" is a corollary that might shed more light on the dynamics here.
  • I don't get it.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pedrito (94783) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:00AM (#18010868) Homepage
    Okay, maybe I missed some major shift over at Wikipedia but a little over a year ago, Slashdot reported [slashdot.org] that Nature magazine's comparison of a sample of 42 Wikipedia and Britannica articles found on average, Wikipedia had 4 errors per article while Britannica had 3, but on average, Wikipedia articles had 2.6 times as much content.

    So, from that point of view, I hardly see Wikipedia as a failing endeavor. There have been other studies that show Wikipedia to generally be quite accurate. There are exceptions, particularly in controversial topics which has been covered here a number of times, and maybe that needs to be fixed, but "Is Wikipedia Failing?" What is this? Fox News?
    • by Rydia (556444)
      The Register ran an extremely concise rebuttal to that study. To whit: it's crap. I'd be interested to see any other studies, but I am fairly certain that there are none. Sorry I don't have a link, that was all a looong time ago.
    • I think the problem with the Nature study is that the coverage of significant science concepts/personalities in Wikipedia is one of its strengths and doesn't represent its overall accuracy/completeness.
  • by mlewan (747328) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:00AM (#18010870) Homepage Journal
    I sick and tired of all this talk about making Wikipedia "reliable". We need something that quickly can be updated with interesting and potentially accurate information, which then needs to be verified against other sources by the reader. That's Wikipedia's niche. Let it stay that way.

    There is of course room for other slightly more reliable web encyclopaedias, but in the end all of them have to be verified by the reader to be trusted.

  • From the Essay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CGP314 (672613) <CGP AT ColinGregoryPalmer DOT net> on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:04AM (#18010908) Homepage
    There are about 1,300 featured articles. There are also about 1,700 good articles. However, there are currently 1,637,703 articles on Wikipedia. This means that slightly more than 99.8% of all the articles on Wikipedia are not considered well written, verifiable or broad or comprehensive in their coverage.

    This to me seems like the old most-blogs-are-terrible argument. I would wager that those 3,000 good/featured articles make up the bulk of what people who go to wikipedia read about.

    -CGP [colingregorypalmer.net]
  • by chazzf (188092) <cfulton@deepthough t . o rg> on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:13AM (#18010980) Homepage Journal
    ...that Wikipedia is dying.
  • by scottsk (781208) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:13AM (#18010982) Homepage

    This essay seems to be fixed on featured articles and big entries. To me the real advantage of wikipedia seems to be the huge number of small, concise leaf articles that aren't featured, and maybe rarely accessed, but provide a short, in-depth punch about a particular topic, typically an obscure one. You can look up obscure topics like the Dry Tourgas or As Easy As and get the gist. Typically, small articles are written by an expert and ignored in terms of editing, but very useful for research. If you type certain strings into google, you get the wikipedia entry and not much else worthwhile. Wikipedia is sort of a common repository of knowledge. I'd rather have an article written by someone who knows something about an obscure topic than nothing. No one can grasp or deal with the entirety of wikipedia. There's too much there. But if you need to look up something obscure, you can go directly to that article.

    What bothers me the most is all the web sites which clone wikipedia articles and add advertising. Ususually a google hit for a wikipedia entry turns up three or four other sites that just include the wikipedia article. This poisons the search engine, crowding out other hits. There ought to be a GPL version for wikipedia that allows people to mirror it only for nonprofit purposes. Down with leeches!

  • by Stumbles (602007) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:14AM (#18011000)
    The day they allow the "Everywhere Girl" to remain posted is the day I will change my mind about them.
  • No (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kohath (38547) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:15AM (#18011012)
    The article is just a bunch of complaining.

    Wikipedis is failing to be exactly what the article writer wants it to be. It's succeeding perfectly in being what it is.

    The article writer values his opinion more than reality. He's undoubtedly disappointed a lot.
  • by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:19AM (#18011058) Homepage
    But is there anyone here who can name one source where we would not be able to find a glaring error or even something that would be considered a flat out lie by a lot of people ?

    I mean even stuff like the BBC, that used to be the definition of reliable has been shown to flat-out lie about some topics. So maybe the problem is not with wikipedia, but with people demanding reliable sources.

    There aren't any reliable sources. Wikipedia, like the Britannica, like the Bible, like Muhammad's sayings like Shinto's roll's and like anything else is just a human's opinion. It is fallible, corruptible, incomplete, and potentially for sale.
  • If you read up on your history of Wikipedia, you know that it started out as a way to push the open-source and Richard Stallman free gospel through an encyclopedia.

    But that's clearly not what Wikipedia has become. It's become a strong source for pop-culture knowledge and trivia, as well as everything else under the sun. The thing that draws people to it is not its original openness, but the fact that it's a microcosm of what people are actually interested in.

    But try telling that to some of the people wh

  • is that *anyone* can edit it without creating an account. This can cause a problem in the UK when a popular DJ will mention an article on Wikipedia and then suddenly everyone's a comedian, changing the page and writing any old shit on it until an administrator locks the page.

    The one thing I'd do to improve Wikipedia would be to require you to create an account and activate it. It would remove a large chunk of the vandalism very quickly.
  • Is Wikipedia succeeding in its aim of becoming a reputable, reliable reference work? To me Wikipedia is much more than an encyclopedia or a mere work of reference. Perhaps it fails the reliability test, but we must look at what it achieves. In as far at it is an experiment in the creation and indexing of information by millions of users around the world: it plain works. In as far as it is a first point of contact when doing your research: it works. In as far as it keep track of article audits: it work
  • I see that Citizendium is uses the same Wikimedia engine. They use it with the authentication patch (which Wikipedia for "open" reasons has avoided.) There have been endless discussions on Wikipedia vs Encyclopedias. The one thing that stands out is, most Encyclopedias "restrict" information unless they can validate it. I know that "Consensus" in itself is not a part of Scientific method, but only the last resort when a conclusion cannot be reached. Any attempt to clone the success of an existing freely edi
  • Too much democracy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FridayBob (619244) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @10:35AM (#18011274) Homepage
    Not everyone is an expert, yet at Wikipedia everybody gets an equal vote anyway. For any given field, there are alway far fewer experts than laymen. Yet Wikipedia does not give experts or otherwise reasonably knowledgeable individuals any credit whatsoever when it comes to making decisions regarding policy and content. As a result, excellent suggestions supported by solid and coherent arguments can always be voted away with simple replies, such as "No!"
  • Sadly, this is a case where perception defines reality.

    I know of two kids who in the same week both got downgraded on papers because they referenced wikipedia as a source, with the comment (2 different teachers, same school) "Wikipedia is not considered a factual reference" and "Perhaps you should look for a more reliable source than Wikipedia".

    These were not for deeply controversial facts. One referenced wiki as a source for the factual statement "Plants need CO2 to live", and the other referenced it for
  • by Nelson (1275) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:05AM (#18011594)
    So the relatively low number of well written articles compared to the total is that sign of this failure?


    Don't get me wrong but that really misses the point. Take, for example, Voltron. I can plug that into Britannica and Wikipedia. Britannica doesn't know who or what Voltron is. Wikipedia has a fairly detailed explanation. Accurate? Well written? I'd be shocked if that article fell in to the 2000 or so "well written" articles. I doubt it's verifiable in any credible way. Also, I don't see Britannica ever having an article that talks about Voltron. It's not a scholarly article because it's not a scholarly subject. That doesn't change the fact that when I couldn't remember the names of the pilots of the lions and for whatever reason I wanted to remember them, wikipedia provided an answer and a whole lot more where most other sources wouldn't provide anything. That's the beauty of it.


    I don't know that you should read a candidates wikipedia article and decide off of that alone if you will vote for them. I don't know any single sources that you should use for that. I also don't know that I'd read about global warming on wikipedia and use it as an exclusive guide to your own beliefs on it; again, there is no good single source on such an important subject. However if you do want to look up who's driving for each F1 team next season or Voltron, or what looks like well over a million other articles, wikipedia is probably ok. The alternative is either nothing or you scour the web for some hobbiest that cares enough about Voltron or whatever to put up a webpage of his own and provide a detailed document on it.

  • by br00tus (528477) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:12AM (#18011692)
    I think Wikipedia does a good job for articles like "Newtonian mechanics" and "Pythagorean theorem". Some of the editors really understand the topic and have expertise, and the majority of editors will band together against a few stray editors who want to make unusual, non-encylopedic edits on these types of pages. Wikipedia has eight "master categories", and articles in these two fields, science and mathematics, are often among the best.

    On the other hand, on the other end of the spectrum are the categories History and Society. Wikipedia is horrible at such articles. You have two conflicting sides fighting over an article. Let's take a look at the current protected pages. "2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict" and "Taba Summit" are both protected. Semi-protected is "1972 Summer Olympics", "Zionism" and other similar articles. Israelis and Palestinians are shooting each other over there, and such a thing spills over onto Wikipedia. It even spills over onto Slashdot - the last time I said this about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on Slashdot, in a pretty neutral and moderate tone, someone lambasted me for "taking sides".

    Jimbo Wales is not politically neutral. He ran the Ayn Rand mailing list for years. His appointees to the Arbitration Committee are people like JayJG, who could not get voted in and who had over 100 votes against them during elections (including me). He says he uses Friedrich Hayek's theories as a model of how to run Wikipedia. He has personally harrassed people like Secretlondon. He is not a fanatic, or Wikipedia would have never taken off, but he is biased, and his bias is reflected. The Wikipedia "cabal" is sort of cultish - check out the Criticism of Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] page and how obsessed the "cabal" is with criticism they can not control. Dozens of people have tried to link to the Wikipedia Review web site and the link is removed over and over. It is really cultish behavior, the idea that criticism of Wikipedia can happen which they can't control drives them crazy.

    I know the society and history articles will always be crap, unless it's something like 1755 Lisbon Earthquake or something which no one cares much about any more. But by and large they are junk and not encyclopedic. The solution I think is for these types of articles to move onto other wiki encyclopedias. This has already happened. I've written a number of articles elsewhere that people put back into Wikipedia. Some of the ones I have done I know could never be put back because they are of the "Taba Summit" type. There is only one wiki encylopedia now, which makes sense, but this will not continue and in fact Wikipedia already has some minor competition in Demopedia, dKosopedia, Internet Encyclopedia (Wikinfo), Red Wiki, Anarchopedia and so forth. This trend will continue.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by radtea (464814)
      Jimbo Wales is not politically neutral. He ran the Ayn Rand mailing list for years.

      It was hardly "the" Ayn Rand mailing list--in fact it was small and hated by most of the "objectivist" community, to the extent that IIRC members were banned from some other fora. In contrast to those closed-minded groups, Jimmy's MDOP list was the only forum available at the time where Rand's work was discussed intelligently by people who knew something about philosophy. It spawned a number of fruitful discussions and coll
  • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:25AM (#18011882)
    Wikipedia is at best flawed, at worst dangerous.

    It rejects "experts" in favor of consensus. Finding facts is not a democratic process. It is often an intrusive and offensive process. "Facts" have to be protected from people with ulterior motives.

    Most people think they are safe in a car from lightening because of the rubber tires. General consensus where critical thinking and science are involved is typically wrong.
  • by Froze (398171) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @11:51AM (#18012238) Homepage
    Maybe this idea has been proposed and shot down, but...

    Please comment with any constructive criticism you may have.

    The basic problem is how to know if an article is trustworthy or not. This solution is based on the philosophy that respect is a personal choice, not an authoritarian decree.

    In my opinion this can be solved with a system that is not terribly different than the slashdot friend/foe idea.
    Basically you just create a system that is capable of tracking your "friends" opinion of a particular state of an article, and maybe your friends friends to a specifiable distance.

    In a Nut Shell: Abe looks at an article and votes that it is accurate. Betty looks at the same article at a later time and also thinks it is accurate, then Betty is given the option to include Abe in her list of peers. repeat for users C. D. E. ... If anyone disagrees they just don't include Abe et al. in their list of peers. Eventually there will be clusters of people who all agree on a particular representation of the information. When Betty looks at another article and sees that Abe approved of it then there is a reasonable degree of certainty that the material is acceptable. Betty is also given a view of (if any) differences that have been inserted since Abe signed off on the article and can approve or not of each change. Abe and Betty can automatically reciprocate with regard to the information.

    Once this is set up, users can subscribe to "peer clusters" with a given radius of friends of peers. Eventually you will have well recognized and respected groups of friend/peer/editors that are then the de facto authority on any set of articles. As an arbitrary user you can view the article in either the latest edit or the latest reviewed edit and determine for yourself if you agree with any changes.

    Now, there is the possibility of waring peer clusters, in which case the user simply determines which faction they agree with and no further action by an oversight committee is required. In short, since this is user based content, let the users decide who they trust. "Of the People, by the people, and for the people".
  • by CrazyTalk (662055) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @12:01PM (#18012362)
    An article about why Wikipedia is failing...that is posted in Wikipedia? So if Wikipedia is not accurate, that means that the article that says it is not accurate is not accurate, which means that it is accurate, which means......Oww, my head is going to explode!
  • by jidar (83795) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @12:28PM (#18012758)
    Wikipedia needs to realize that it's not going to be a reputable source, ever. There is just no way you can be a good source of research and maintain public user submisssions. Not gonna happen.

    There is nothing wrong with that though.

    Wikipedia right now is a great resource that you have to take with a grain of salt, that is fine. It's great the way it is. If I want to know some bit of trivia then Wikipedia is the place, if someone makes a reference to something I'm ignorant about in a conversation for instance, or if I'm just mildly curious about something I read in a news article, I can at least find out what's going on with a quick check to Wikipedia. These are things that in the past I might have to search Google for and then possibly wade through a few pages of the things before I get to the bottom of it, now with Wikipedia my questions are usually answered much faster, easier, and more in depth than if I had just used Google.

    Now I realize that what I'm reading might be biased, someones opinion, and in a lot of cases just flat wrong, but that's okay because that would have been even more true with Google searches. I realize that if I really need hard information about a subject then Wikipedia is little more than a lead to actual references at best, but it still serves a purpose.

    If you ask me, the thing Wikipedia can do to improve would be to stop deleting articles because they aren't "notable enough". Seriously. Why the hell should there not be an entry for my local highschool in there? I know few people would want to read it, but so what? If Joe Johnson down at Johnsons gas station wants to write about the history of his family gas station, let him! Who is it hurting? Besides, I might know Joe and be interested in reading it.

  • No change required (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sugarmotor (621907) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @01:16PM (#18013532) Homepage
    I submit wikipedia is doing just fine. After six years why would you expect more? 65,000 Britannica Micropeadia articles of size ca. 700 words, compare quite well to over a million wikipedia articles. Also look at how long the Britannica took: First edition of ca. 2400 pages after 3 years in 1771.

    If anything, the wikipedia community should take a break and relax for a while.

    Stephan

    References

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Bri tannica [wikipedia.org]

    http://www.answers.com/topic/encyclop-dia-britanni ca [answers.com]
  • by salesgeek (263995) on Wednesday February 14, 2007 @04:43PM (#18016082) Homepage
    A lot of the Wikipedia bashers and nay-sayers have one unique problem: they don't get it. They want academic rigor and precise accuracy in something that is not edited exclusively by academics, experts and elites. Wikipedia is a look in to the hive mind of humanity - and reflects the daily winds of change in the common consensus and the fact that people perceive reality differently.

    Wikipedia isn't broke and I hope it stays donation supported for a long time.

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