Crowdsourcing the “truth”?

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, was put on the defensive by #C4News presenter Jon Snow last night.

Premise of the C4 piece was that Wikipedia, now the 5th most popular website in the world, is leading to plagiarised homework, the death of libraries and books and a redefinition of “truth”.

Wales put up a good defence until shown an inaccurate entry for Jon Snow.

It’s pretty much inevitable nowadays, if you’re looking for a quick definition or a few factoids, to find your way to Wikipedia. For many technical terms it’s the first entry when you Google.

Like most, I hope, I take Wikipedia with a pinch of salt. For that quick explanation, it’s generally okay. It’s better when the entry links to source material and I think that’s a foundation of Wikipedia’s best practice. It will never replace original research.

Wikipedia’s model is not necessarily flawed. The model falls down just like the perfect model for more accurate weather forecasts falls down (that being, equal distribution of weather stations across every square mile of the globe: land, sea and ice). Wikipedia doesn’t have enough volunteers to validate the enormous amount of information it now contains (and 90%* of the subjects are dross).

Wikipedia is not responsible for the death of libraries or books. There plenty of other web resources – some of them the virtual version of physical libraries – that cumulatively have made it easier to tap into source material or second source “facts”.

Wikipedia is not necessarily the truth. On the other hand, if you read it in a book (for example Eric von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods?”, it’s not necessarily the “truth”.

For me, the Wikpedia crowd does a pretty good job. Happy 10th birthday.

* – scientifically verified (joke)

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