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Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales Responds 407

Wikipedia is an excellent project, and Slashdot readers' questions for Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales were just as excellent -- as are Jimmy Wales' answers to 12 of the highest-moderated questions you submitted.
1) Donations - by southpolesammy
What's the current state of donations and what is the future of Wikipedia if fund raising without advertisements does not increase?

Jimmy Wales:
We are always in need of funds for hardware. I still cover the bandwidth and hosting charges, and will do so for the foreseeable future, but we rely on community donations for the hardware that we need to run the site.

Our growth rate continues to be staggering.

One of the reasons I was excited to be asked by Roblimo to do this interview is that the slashdot community in particular has been so generous to us in the past. This is an audience that understands the importance of what we're doing, the importance of spreading the idea of GNU-style freedom far beyond the free software community.

Anyone who would is interested in donating money to help, please visit the site to see how we use the money.

2) Advertising? - by obli
How has the word about wikipedia been spread? Has wikipedia actually paid a dime for all its publicity? I don't think I've seen any advertisement when I think about it.

Jimmy Wales:
No, we don't pay for publicity, never have and most likely never will; it hasn't been necessary, and I don't see that it will be necessary.

The key is that we're doing exciting and interesting things, showing what is possible to a community project running free software and working under a free license. Nowadays everyone knows that excellent software can be written using the principles of free licensing, and we're proving that the idea of sharing knowledge is powerful in other areas as well.

3) Complement or Competitor to Traditional Encycs by ewanrg
Was wondering if you view the Wikipedia as a competitor or an additional tool compared to a World Book or an Encyclopedia Britannica?

Jimmy Wales:
I would view them as a competitor, except that I think they will be crushed out of existence within 5 years.

Software is unique in that there are network externalities and various other mechanisms of "lock in" that make it hard for us to get people to switch to free alternatives. People are very comfortable with Microsoft products, and they fear that if they switch, they'll give up all the skills that they've learned (ctrl-alt-del!) and won't be able to share files with others.

But the things our community is producing are different. There's no cost to switching from an outdated old encyclopedia to Wikipedia -- just click and learn, and there you go. You can switch before your friends switch, but the knowledge you learn will be perfectly compatible.

4) Quality Control - by Raindance
First of all, the concept of a community-built encyclopedia, open to submissions and revisions from users, is wonderful. It's much like open-source, in fact, and Wikipedia certainly exemplifies how to reapply the OS model to other contexts.

However, the contexts of encyclopedias and software are different. Significantly so. I'm interested specifically in quality control- you know when code doesn't work when it doesn't compile or results in unexpected behavior.

In what ways can a Wiki article be bad, and how can one tell? Do you think QC is a large issue for Wikipedia, and do you have any plans to further integrate the community in the QC process (perhaps akin to the slashdot moderation/metamoderation system)?

Jimmy Wales:
Well, encyclopedia articles can be bad in a lot of obvious ways, and some subtle ways. Obvious ways include simply incorrect information, or grammatical errors, or strong bias. Subtle ways can include milder forms of bias, dull writing, etc.

Quality control is what a lot of our internal processes are all about. Every page on the site shows up on Special:Recentchanges, and individuals have 'watchlists' that they can (and do) use to keep an eye on particular articles.

I am currently working on a first draft proposal to the community for our "next phase" of review, which will involve getting serious about producing a "1.0 stable" release. The concept here is very analagous to that in the software world -- the existing site is always the cutting edge nightly build, which rocks of course, but we also need a stable release that's been reviewed and tested and found good.

I'll put out that draft in a couple of weeks, and get feedback and revisions from the community, and then we will hold a project-wide vote.

That process might involve some bits that are like the slashdot moderation/metamoderation system, but it's likely to be much more of an editing-oriented process than voting-oriented process.

5) How to balance coverage? - by mangu
Is there an effort to get articles written on specific missing topics? If one looks at a commercial encyclopedia, the full range of human knowledege is covered. On Wikipedia, OTOH, one finds several articles about slashdot trolls, for instance, while other (important) fields are still unwritten.

Jimmy Wales:
This is increasingly a solved problem. It is true that we have quite a bit of pertinent information about slashdot trolls, but we also have just about every important topic as well. Of course some areas are in greater need than others, and finding them and resolving them is an ongoing effort in the community.

I think you'd be pretty hard pressed anymore to find topics that are in Britannica that we don't cover at all. It's still not that hard, if you look around a bit, to find rare articles in Britannica that are better than our article on the same topic. But it's getting harder all the time.

So to answer your question directly, yes, there are constant efforts to get articles written on specific topics, and to flesh out areas that we haven't yet covered as well as we should.

6) The constant bickering... - by Rageon
How is (and how will) the constant bickering between differing sides of the more controversial issues (abortion, religion, etc...) be addressed? Do you expect any changes to the current system, in which it seems the same pages get edited by the same people back and forth every day?

Jimmy Wales:
In our community, we very strongly discourage that kind of bickering. One of the biggest social faux pas that one can commit is the dreaded "revert war". But humans are humans, and they will argue, and we have to understand that there will never be a process whereby we eliminate all of that.

7) Getting people involved - by Anonymous Coward
What methods have you found that work best for getting people not only involved in contributing, but also keeping them contributing to the Wiki?

Jimmy Wales:
Love. It isn't very popular in technical circles to say a lot of mushy stuff about love, but frankly it's a very very important part of what holds our project together.

I have always viewed the mission of Wikipedia to be much bigger than just creating a killer website. We're doing that of course, and having a lot of fun doing it, but a big part of what motivates us is our larger mission to affect the world in a positive way.

It is my intention to get a copy of Wikipedia to every single person on the planet in their own language. It is my intention that free textbooks from our wikibooks project will be used to revolutionize education in developing countries by radically cutting the cost of content.

Those kinds of big picture ideals make people very passionate about what we're doing. And it makes it possible for people to set aside a lot of personal differences and disputes of the kind that I talked about above, and just compromise to keep getting the work done.

I frequently counsel people who are getting frustrated about an edit war to think about someone who lives without clean drinking water, without any proper means of education, and how our work might someday help that person. It puts flamewars into some perspective, I think.

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.

8) Advertisers, Spammers, Search Engines, oh my! - by RomSteady
I like the concept of a wiki, but I'm a bit concerned about the current implementation.

Right now, we are seeing several instances where crawlers are disrupting wikis, spammers are embedding wiki links to their sites to boost their Google rankings, and advertisers are placing ads in wikis until someone goes through and nukes them.

Do you have any thoughts as to how wikis can be modified to prevent things like this in the future?

Jimmy Wales:
Sure, I think it's pretty simple to solve problems like that. One of the first tricks I would try is to parse the wiki text that someone inputs to see if it contains an external link. If so, then only in those cases, require an answer to a captcha.

Second step, keep editing wide open for everyone, but restrict the ability to post external links to people who are trusted by that community. Make it really easy for trusted users to extend the zone of trust, because you want to encourage participation.

Basically what I think works in a wikis is to trust people to do the right thing, and trust them as much as you can possibly stand it, until it hurts your head and makes you scared for what they're going to break. Because that is what works.

People are not fundamentally bad. It only takes the smallest of correctives to take care of that tiny minority that wants to disrupt the community.

9) Webservices ? Data Formats ? - by sh0rtie
Ever thought of offering alternative data access services other than HTML ? examples of other successful community driven sites such as IMDB [] can be queried via email (in a structured way) and a huge number of applications are now built upon these capabilities alone, ever thought of offering up the data in alternative formats (XML/SOAP/TELNET/TXT etc etc) so clever programmers can create applications that could utilise the data in new and interesting ways ?

Jimmy Wales:
Yes, yes, yes. I am 100% all for it. Join wikitech-l, the technical mailing list, and ask about specifics, and we'd be thrilled to have more developers volunteering to help us get those kinds of things implemented quickly and correctly.

10) China and Wiki - by Stargoat
How do you feel about China's blocking of Wiki, and what effect, if any, do you think it'll have on the service that Wikipedia can and cannot provide to both the Chinese and the world community?

Jimmy Wales:
The block in China only lasted for a couple of days, until some administrators in the Chinese-language wikipedia appealed the ban.

My thinking on that is two-fold. First, it's a huge embarassment for the censors if they block Wikipedia, because we are none of the things that they claim to want to censor. Censoring Wikipedia is an admission that it is unbiased factual information itself that frightens you. We are not political propaganda, we are not online gambling, we are not pr0n. We are an encyclopedia.

Second, I consider it a moral imperative for our overall mission that we will not bend our principles of freedom, of the freedom of speech, of a commitment to inclusiveness and neutrality, to meet any possible demands of any government anywhere. We are a _free_ encyclopedia, with all that entails.

11) One area Wikipedia seems to lack - by wcrowe
Other encyclopedias cite sources for their work. Wikipedia does not seem to have a facility for this, and I have yet to see sources cited in any of the articles. Am I correct in my assumptions? Why aren't sources cited? It would add credibility to the project.

Jimmy Wales:
I think you're mistaken. We do cite sources, about as much as most encyclopedias, I think. But I do agree with you that more sources is good, and there's no question that as we move forward towards a 1.0 stable release, one of our goals will be to provide more articles with more extensive information about "where to learn more", i.e. cite original research, etc., as much as we can.

12) Money issues - by Achoi77
Considering the fact that wikipedia has gotten bigger than ever, are there any real potential fears that the lack of a steady cash flow may cause the whole project to collapse? Has any (and what kind of) unfavorable contingency plans been considered (like ads) and outright rejected, only to be reconsidered again at a later time?

Jimmy Wales:
Wikipedia has gotten bigger than ever, and keeping us in enough servers to keep performance where we want it is a topic constantly on our minds.

But at the same time, I have every confidence that we'll be just fine. The thing is: everyone loves Wikipedia. When I asked the world for $20,000 last January, we raised nearly $50,000 in less than a week.

We are currently investigating the possibility of grants, and we are also asking you, here, today, to consider visiting the project to find out how you can help, if that's something you're comfortable with doing.

The question of advertising is discussed sometimes, but not really in the context of "will we need to accept ads to survive". The answer to that is clearly "no".

The discussion about advertising is really more a question that asks: with this kind of traffic, and the kind of growth we are seeing, how much good could we do as a charitable institution if we decided to accept advertising. It would be very lucrative for the Wikimedia Foundation if the community decided to do it, because our cost structure is extremely extremely low compared to any traditional website.

That money could be used to fund books and media centers in the developing world. Some of it could be used to purchase additional hardware, some could be used to support the development of free software that we use in our mission. The question that we may have to ask ourselves, from the comfort of our relatively wealthy Internet-connected world, is whether our discomfort and distaste for advertising intruding on the purity of Wikipedia is more important than that mission.

But it's more complex than that, even, because in large part, our success so far is due to the purity of what we're doing. We might find that accepting ad money would cut us off from possible grant money. It's a complex question.

But it is not a question that has to be answered for our continuing survival. We can keep going as we are now, with your help of course. :-)

Know someone *other than your favorite political candidate* who'd make a great Slashdot interview guest? Please email Roblimo with the person's name and contact information.
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Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales Responds

Comments Filter:
  • Trolls (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mateito ( 746185 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:22PM (#9822851) Homepage
    On Wikipedia, OTOH, one finds several articles about slashdot trolls, for instance, while other (important) fields are still unwritten.

    Its obviously the slashdot TROLLs who are the generous donors to Wikipedia, and Wayne knows that he can't upset the troll or his funding might dissapear.

    Then again, it might just be that more people know about slashdot trolls that they do about ancient slovian history.

    In general, science (especially physics) is covered quite well and the humanities less so. But that's what you'd expect given the profile of people who form the pool of contributers. This will change over the next x years are more and more of todays infant computer users grow up to be humanitarians.

  • honest question (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:31PM (#9822885)
    how is Jimmy Wales covering his own living costs?

    I'm in no way bashing, just wondering how it could be possible for me myself to work on such a project? or even start some GPL style work in another context.
  • That's Beautiful. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcSey921 ( 230169 ) < minus berry> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:35PM (#9822897) Homepage Journal
    It is my intention to get a copy of Wikipedia to every single person on the planet in their own language. It is my intention that free textbooks from our wikibooks project will be used to revolutionize education in developing countries by radically cutting the cost of content...

    Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.

    Good luck and godspeed. That last sentence brings a tear to my eye. This what I thought the Internet would be about before the bubble. I may just start to believe again.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:46PM (#9822938)
    First, let me say that I love wikipedia and think its a great resource. I use it regularly. I also work at a traditional encyclopedia company (based in chicago, owned by someone real rich - you guess).

    The problem I have with Jimmy's assertion that companies like mine will be out of buisness in 5 years is this: wikipedia and most thriving encyclopedias have different markets.

    Our products (both print and online) are geared to the K-12 student and very little else. We take special pains to ensure that the content is at a level that our audience can digest. We talk with teachers and librarians across the world to ensure readership. We also take great pains to make sure the writing and style is consistent across the product - something that seems very important to educators.

    Now, Wikipedia has many many more articles than our online product, but quantity doesn't always win out, especially in the education world. Secondly, I doubt very much that wikipedia can attain the same amount of attention to the K-12 market as we do. Its hard to offer something for free and then do all the editing and research into the market. The educators that purchase our products want to have a good qaulity resource they can point pupils to, not something they have to contribute to make it that way. This is why I don't see Wikipedia and our product as a direct competitor, Wikipedia reaches a different market altogether. For instance, I really enjoy reading Wikipedia now, just as I really enjoyed reading encyclopedia's when I was younger. The difference is I am an educated adult now and can digest the Wikipedia content. When I was in elementary school, I think most of the Wikipedia articles would have been out of my reach.

    It goes without saying that traditional encyclopedia's have to change their buisness in a new information age (something we are working on very hard). However, as a product, we don't see our core audience (K-12 School and Libraries) running away from us for Wikipedia in the near future.

    Keep up the work on the amazing product.
  • by killjoe ( 766577 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:55PM (#9823019)
    I must admit the last sentence hit me so hard I opened up my wallet.

    More power to wikipedia.
  • That's the problem (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:08PM (#9823176)
    Nor is anything in there it verified 99.9% of the time.

    You sure about that? One time, I added a note to the article on the M1 Abrams tank about reactive armor, and later that day I got a note from an army mechanic who stated that that particular modification had never actually been made. Seems to me there's plenty of verification.
    Yes, I am sure about that. I have seen people write total cr_p in Wikipedia and get away with it because they say theyre an 'expert' and others believe them. How do you know this guy is really an army mechcanic? This is the internet. He probably is for real, but many others jus aren't.
  • Re:Backups (Score:4, Insightful)

    by larien ( 5608 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:11PM (#9823206) Homepage Journal
    Possibly in the short term; in the longer term, people (i.e. historians) will want to know as much as possible about life pre-nuclear war.
  • by Jonathan ( 5011 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:14PM (#9823232) Homepage
    I don't think you realize how printed encyclopedias are written. Basically, they contact someone in a field and they can write basically anything they want and it goes in. Gary Olsen, who was my doctoral advisor, was contacted to write the World Book entry on Archaeabacteria. Now, he knows his stuff, and is honest, so it's a good article. But what if he didn't and wasn't? Certainly I've read just plain wrong things in printed encyclopedias
  • by teslatug ( 543527 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:18PM (#9823274)
    The beauty of Wikipedia is that it can adapt. There already is a simple version (Simple []). All you need is more volunteers. Considering that there are only about 6000 active editors throughout the different projects (Active wikipedians []), and we have achieved this much, can you imagine what could be achieved if 10% of students throughout the world got involved. You could have a K-12 edition in one year. Likewise, once Wikipedia hits 1.0 you have a reviewed edition.

    Don't think that this is that it is just a dream, it can happen with enough people, which just means enough access and exposure. There is a very low barrier to participating in Wikipedia (yes, I can hear people saying that will just mean the unwashed/uneducated masses), compared to other open source projects. Most people really are good. Once the Internet takes off in the world, and once Wikipedia becomes more well known, you will see it become an even more useful project.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:24PM (#9823343)
    Thirty seconds ago, I followed the link to donate to Wikipedia. Fifteen seconds ago, I had decided against giving anything. Why?

    1) You only accept paypal and snail-mail. Not gonna happen.
    2) You only have one-time donations.

    There should be a secure form for credit cards. You should allow for small, monthly donations from the provided card. This will make donating convenient, less difficult to give (over time) large amounts, and will provide a steady stream of income for wikipedia (which is more important than getting random jabs of cash, although those are nice too.)

    Make donating easy, and getting donations will be easy.
  • Re:sources (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mahulth ( 654977 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:26PM (#9823371)
    I have to agree that this could be the weakness in the foundation.

    If Wikipedia does not change their current format and add a full references and citations section to each entry, this model might never gain academic acceptance. Without that, it's just a really quick way of getting data off the web, instead of being a viable and credible source.

    Since they are still in a beta stage, Wikipedia should focus on addressing any and all possible issues, and not just stick with what they got cause they're already so far into development. As in this post, they should accept all of the feedback they can and address the necessarry issues instead of painting them over with an almost-superiority complex. I don't doubt the value of their work, but I think now is when you need to spot weaknesses and fix them so they don't haunt you down the line.

    The goal I would like to see is for Wikipedia to be interchangeable with any other source for a refereed paper. And to get to that stage you need to follow certain protocol. I'd hate to see them never make it that far...
  • by UserGoogol ( 623581 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:35PM (#9823470)
    People don't do graffiti in pencil.
  • Re:sources (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Twirlip of the Mists ( 615030 ) <> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:37PM (#9823508)
    It's not so much the fact that the articles were written by random people. I'm sure that there are articles on the site that were written by experts in their fields.

    The problem comes down to a web of trust. The authors of Wikipedia articles--to the extend that anything on Wikipedia can be said to even have an author, due to the nature of the site--are not recognized authorities in their fields. They are not trusted. That's not to say that they're informed or uninformed, right or wrong. Just that they're not trusted.

    When you read something in the Encyclopedia Britannica, you can be pretty confident that it's accurate and complete, because the editors of that encyclopedia have demonstrated themselves to be trustworthy. This is not presently the case with respect to Wikipedia.

    How can we fix this? Well, it would involve a compromise. Right now, anybody is allowed to edit Wikipedia articles. That's seen as one of the institution's strengths. But it's also a key weakness. To improve the Wikipedia's trustworthiness, we would have to diminish its flexibility.

    I've got a better idea. How about we let the Encyclopedia Britannica be the Encyclopedia Britannica and let Wikipedia be Wikipedia.

    In other words, no, Wikipedia will not "crush" traditional repositories of knowledge "out of existence." That was an unbelievably arrogant and short-sighted statement.
  • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by southpolesammy ( 150094 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:39PM (#9823532) Journal
    Is quoting a website that is solely authored by one person different than a Wiki article? What makes a printed article more correct than an online article? Would you dismiss an idea gleaned from Usenet newsgroups just because the information's veracity is unverified? What makes Wiki any different?

    Basically, if you're the teacher and you (a) disagree, (b) don't follow the student's references, and (c) don't provide evidence as to why the student's work is incorrect, then you're no different than a schoolyard bully, and in fact, you're discouraging the learning process. Yes, it's possible that the student's work is loaded, but to dismiss it out of hand due to an unverified bias against a certain information source smacks of ignorance, and actually makes you a worse part of the problem than a student that is trying to cheat his/her way through.
  • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Elwood P Dowd ( 16933 ) <> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:40PM (#9823548) Journal
    As it stands, you can quote Encyclopedia Britannica in any school essay. If I was marking some homework that relied on referencing Wikipedia, I'd have to fail them.

    I haven't been allowed to quote an encyclopedia since gradeschool. If you are failing 12 year olds for quoting the Wikipedia, then you're just a dick. If you are allowing your 14 year old students to directly quote encyclopedias, then you're moving kind of slow, aren't you?

    Yes, the Britannica has more fact-checking than Wikipedia. However, the value of that level on fact checking is lost to me. I want fact checking of primary sources & journal research. Even the Britanica is just a review.
  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:43PM (#9823585) Homepage
    I think Wikis are eventually going to die off, and blogs with rating systems will ultimately reign supreme. Everyone talks, everyone determines what articles are top notch, and someone truly in control can axe things if necessary.
    They tried something very much like what you're describing with Nupedia, and it was a total failure. Wikipedia was only intended as Nupedia's informal "little sister," but it ended up being the one that succeeded, because of its openness.

    I really don't think Wikipedia's biggest problem is random defacing of pages. A much bigger problem is articles on hot-button topics. []

  • by Alan Cox ( 27532 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:44PM (#9823601) Homepage
    Academics can be as dangerously biased as anyone else. A trawl through academic history in the 1930's and the whole sorry "arian race" saga shows just how easily 'academia' is corrupted.

    Academia also has its "religions" that come and go and shut out opposing views. Microkernel people spent years being nearly as good as existing technology in part because if it wasn't Microkernel work you didn't get funding.

    Similarly references in academic journals merely indicate that someone somewhere once probably said something vaguely like the authors claims. If a fundamental assumption is later found wrong people will continue to build upon and reference the invalid data. Journal referencing because it is not entirely represented in a mappable electronic space doesn't have an effective "revoke" mechanism, nor a way to look for which subtrees of data in use have been invalidated by other research.

    Finally academic journals are reviewed by experts in the field - which means there is a tendancy to exclude papers that disagree with the current experts beliefs.

    Wikipedia has a large and very different set of problems, but I don't think holding up current practice as perfection is wise. Those ivory towers are built on the blood of grad students, corporate research money, political favours and academic backstabbing.

  • by Engineer-Poet ( 795260 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:48PM (#9823646) Homepage Journal
    If you can't easily scan the printout and recover the data (including links, attributions and other metadata) it's rather worthless for recovery purposes. Further, with only a handful of copies in the world it would be equally useless as a reference work to rebuild the infrastructure required to make it accessible again.

    To be really useful, such a printout should incorporate enough information to allow bootstrapping from a much lower level. If you had a 10-year-old scanner (as if such would still work) and each page had a dot-code representation of its complete data on the back (including some redundancy from other pages, perhaps) and redundant sets of scripts to use to decode the contents and code from the raw scans, it would be worth making such printouts.

    If you don't have such things or if you do not consider it important to be able to recover from a disaster which destroys the Internet, you might as well distribute electronic copies worldwide and leave it at that. The cost of keeping mirrors up to date will be far lower than the price of 600 reams of paper plus ink/toner, and recovery would be immensely quicker.

  • Re:sources (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jilles ( 20976 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:06PM (#9823855) Homepage
    Traditional encyclopedias are also written by random people. The only guarantees you have about their quality comes from their reputation and the hope that the publisher won't cut to much cost on quality control. Traditional encyclopedias have another disadvantage: room for argumentation and literature references is constrained. Articles are kept short to make them fit in the dead tree version at a reasonable cost. Wikipedia has no such limitations.

    Literature references can be added and as I understand are being added when appropriate. A good researcher would never depend on vague formulations in an encyclopedia anyway but either back them up with more references or more evidence.

    Now when it comes to references, you can judge the quality of a scientific article by looking at the references. If it only includes some obscure references (and maybe a handfull of wikipedia references) the author probably didn't do his homework. This is the way I used to review articles when I was still in academia: read the abstract, skim through the reference list and then the article. Usually my opinion after reading the abstract was confirmed by the reference list and argued by reading the rest of the article (I usually stopped reading after a few pages if it was really bad).

    Reviewers have the liberty and the obligation to lookup references if that is essential to the argumentation of an article. If some author would make some vague claim that is essential to whatever he is trying to argue and would point to wikipedia for more material that would be suspicious already. A reviewer should then at least look up the wikipedia article and review that.

    Now unlike a traditional encyclopedia, both author and reviewer can also use their knowledge to improve the wikipedia article if it would need improvement. For instance a reviewer might actually agree with the wikipedia article but add some footnote with a reference to some article to strengthen its argument and then continue to slap the author (of the reviewed article, not the wikipedia article) on his wrist for not arguing his point properly.

    Now citing wikipedia articles might be a bit more problematic because the wikipedia article might change over time. Basically you have no guarantee that the version of an article you look up is the same as the version that was cited. Version history is the solution to that.
  • Re:sources (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Luveno ( 575425 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:20PM (#9824035)

    Decisions makers (managers/teachers) need someone or something tangible to blame/sue when something isn't right.

    Microsoft over faceless contributors in the case of OSS.

    Britanica over Wiki contributors in the case of encyclopedias.

  • by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:29PM (#9824145) Homepage
    Are you kidding? Sorry, but if an industry is obsoleted because of technology, well, tough luck. That's life. You don't see people trying to rescue the horse-and-buggy industry after it got heartlessly wiped out by that pesky "car" thingy. You don't see people getting all "scared" because the US postal service is having trouble competing with email.

    Let me put it another way. If you are making money doing something, there is nothing, *nothing*, that gives you the right to continue making money doing whatever it is you're doing. And if the industry you're participating in dries up, that's your problem. You made some money for a while, and now it's time to move on.
  • Re:sources (Score:3, Insightful)

    by geoffspear ( 692508 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:31PM (#9824172) Homepage
    The very fact that the articles can change at all is sort of a problem with citing most web-based resources. If I cite the 2003 edition of an encyclopedia, someone reading my paper can go look up the relevant article. If I cite something on Wikipedia, and someone changes the article the day after I read it, a reader looking up the cited article might find it says something completely different than what I said it says. This might be ok for Ann Coulter, but most people like their sources to actually say what they claim they say.

    With the anyone-can-edit model and revert wars, 2 readers following a citation a minute apart could conceivably find 2 articles making exactly opposite claims. And, for that matter, how does the researcher citing wikipedia in the first place know the information he's viewing at is at all accurate? If I use a traditional encylclopedia, I don't need to check back a few times between referencing an article and publishing a paper of my own to make sure the "facts" I cite didn't get reverted because at the second I viewed them some moron with an agenda inserted spurious information into the article. I agree that the open nature of wiki tends to clean articles up, so the average view of an article will get something accurate, but as long as pages are dynamic in real-time, they're not going to be as trustworthy as something static, whether it's edited by a bunch of professionals or a loose assocation of internet users.

  • by tabdelgawad ( 590061 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:42PM (#9824306)
    What I suggested had little to do with *preventing* bias and more to do with possibly identifying it. If a piece of information comes from the Wall Street Journal editorial page, I view it through a different filter than if it came from the New York Times editorial page. If a piece of information comes from Wikipedia, what filter am I supposed to use? Surely you're not suggesting I take it as 'objective truth'?

    That's where references come in. They allow me, the reader, to adjust my filters according to my opinion of the sources. No one is suggesting that only "academic" sources be used, but if the information comes from a source (and it usually does), the reader has the right to know the source in order to judge its veracity for him- or herself. As a reader, I learn as much from the list of cited references to an article as I do from the article itself.

    It's easy to dismiss academia as "built on the blood of grad students, corporate research money..." etc., and it's true that there are whole fields that are shamefully inadequate (as you point out historically, and as the Sokol hoax demonstrated more recently). But academia is also what gave us modern science (physical and social) and a good chunk of modern technology and medicine, and it's not fair to tar it with such a broad brush.

    In any case, I was only advocating a *method* used in academia for referencing/sourcing, not the *content* of academic research. Referencing for replicability is hardly a perfect system, and it's not particularly useful in eliminating bias, but it has its (very important) functions and I don't see a superior alternative for it.
  • by bfields ( 66644 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:02PM (#9824516) Homepage
    Repeated vandalism? You (or your IP address) can get a one-day ban by any of the administrators. A longer ban can be placed if needed.

    Thanks to widespread inattention to security and incentives to exploit those machines (because you can use them to send spam), huge numbers of internet hosts are now known to be compromised. IP blacklisting is not a long-term solution to the problem for the same reason it's not a long-term solution to the spam problem.

    In general I think he's underestimating the security problem. The last few years should have taught us that given a security hole and given some incentive for exploiting it, it *will* eventually be exploited.

    --Bruce Fields

  • by danila ( 69889 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @05:42PM (#9825729) Homepage
    It is fun to be bad once. After you replace the text of an article with the word PENIS a few times (only to have it reverted in a few minutes) it becomes boring. Only the most backwards and retarded people can enjoy repeating this over and over. There are also some people who are cunning and evil and enjoy destroying things in a subtle way, but there are even fewer of them and they are usually dealt with eventually.

    I never vandalised articles - the words thing I did was intentionally place some true, neutral and relevant (but controversial in some way :] ) bit of text (or an image) that I knew would be removed. And I saw many times people writing some nonsense in the article, only to revert the change themselves in a minute after seeing that they indeed can change the encyclopedia.

    The truth is - quality is not a big problem in Wikipedia. Yes, potentially it could have been, but in reality it is not. You can speculate as much as you want, but in actual, real world there are relatively few cases where people try to break Wikipedia.
  • Re:sources (Score:3, Insightful)

    by glorf ( 94990 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @06:10PM (#9825977)
    No, I think this is totally different. In open source software, it doesn't really matter where the dependability comes from as long as it is there. That dependability can be tested and independently confirmed by seeing if the software performs its function correctly (e.g. Did Apache serve the page? Did open your document?) The developer could be clinically insane and that the code was dictated to him by blue winged monkeys, but it doesn't matter as long as the software works.

    However, with a wiki, the function is to inform, but there is no way, without other outside sources, to confirm if that function has been performed correctly. For instance, the Wikipedia has no entry for "Ham the Weather Wizard". I could put in an entry saying he is an evil druid who made his millions by magically manipulating a McDonalds contest. Or I could say that he was an ancient Celt who was reputed to bring rain to crops and fierce storms upon his enemies. Very few people in the world would know which of those entries would be true. And upon using the wiki, you have no idea if you have been informed, or misinformed. And if someone puts information in the wiki that they got from blue flying monkeys, that is probaly a bad thing.

    You are also falling for the fallacy of many eyes. The number of people qualified to review any given wiki entry is very likely to be very low compared to the number of people who can review code. And even code does not get examined by most of the people who use it and are in a position to properly evaluate it.
  • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by caudron ( 466327 ) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @06:46PM (#9826297) Homepage
    As it stands, you can quote Encyclopedia Britannica in any school essay.

    Maybe in high school, but in any rigorous academic setting dictionaries and encyclopedias are shunned sources. Both are facile overviews of the material. That has its place, but very little critical thought goes into encyclopedias or dictionaries.

    Of course, I'll get some replies telling me I'm wrong...but try to use Britannica as a source in a Yale Religious Studies grad class or a Harvard Law grad class and see what the professor has to say. Like it or not, real academics value encyclopdias as layman sources but not as legit academic sources.

    And as a layman source, Wikipedia is friggin great!
  • by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @12:52AM (#9828453) Homepage Journal
    Vandalize an article? Unless you pick something very minor and obscure, there's someone who has it on a watchlist who will find what you've done and fix it quickly.

    The point is, there should NEVER be any editing of articles by anonymous people, or for that matter, any non-expert people. This is downright stupid. It doesn't matter how much process you have in place, you simply don't give "commit bits" to random, anonymous and/or inexpert persons. No open source project has EVER done this and survived.
  • Re:Backups (Score:3, Insightful)

    by aminorex ( 141494 ) on Thursday July 29, 2004 @12:54AM (#9828468) Homepage Journal
    They should be selling CDs for revenue.
    Perhaps in 1.0...

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito