Banning Wikipedia

Another “looping” story on the evils of Wikipedia appears in today’s New York Times, this one about the Middlebury University history department banning the use of Wikipedia in citations by students in papers or tests. With great insight, the faculty realized it would be impossible to ban students from using Wikipedia altogether.

Remember the rexblog motto: Wikipedia is a gateway to facts, not a source of facts.

Also, if you’re in college, don’t cite encyclopedias.

Side observation #1: When I attended last summer’s Wikimania, a gathering of global Wikipedians, it was quite evident that university graduate students are some of the key-drivers in the administration and editorial care of Wikipedia. As Jason Calacanis (who also attended Wikimania) observed in his blog yesterday, the platform on which Wikipedia runs is (by design?) a barrier to participation by those who are non-technical. As one has to use special wiki-markup code (rather than HTML code or a wysiwyg editor) in adding or editing an entry on Wikipedia, it can be intimidating the first few times you click the edit tab. Educated, savvy graduate students are less likely to be intimidated by the geeky stuff Jason displays — therefore, it may be with some irony that university students are creating Wikipedia while at the same time being banned from citing it.

Side observation #2: During Wikimania, I observed that that hardcore Wikipedia volunteers do not defend the accuracy of Wikipedia, but they view its weaknesses as bugs that can be fixed. One weakness that I’ve noticed is being addressed is the increase in “citations” within entries. (However, there is a side controversy on this as a citation source must be available online, making it impossible to use authoritative sources that may not be available at the other end of a hyperlink.) Jason’s complaint (which I note from my earlier post, he mentioned back in August, as well) is being addressed with work on a wysiwyg plug-in that I’ve seen on some Mediawiki (the software Wikipedia uses) sites (sorry, I can’t recall a specific example, but will add a link later when I can).

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  • Of course, if Wikipedia did solve the three very basic problems I outlined participation would increase–what would you say–maybe 10 fold?! If 10x more people could edit and discuss the pages the Wikipedia admins would certainly not be able to keep up, and those are some hard working folks!

    This all dovetails with the advertising discussion of course With more tech and admin resources Wikipedia could really do some amazing things beside just stay up and running–which is sort of where the project is today from what I hear.

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  • At Owen we were told by the library dept not to relly on wikipedia, and by a few professors that it’s okay as long as you check the facts. I might have already mentioned this in a previous comment, but I was researching an Internet company we are going to be visiting in Shanghai next week, and their Wikipedia entry didn’t have much to offer, so I added some of my other research to the Wikipedia entry. If someone were to check my school work and find that I copied verbatum a Wikipedia entry on the subject (doubtful I know), I hope they would at least look at the entry history and see that I was copying _myself_ verbatum.

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