Wikipedia hits defining moment in social Web era

Jul 14, 2012 by Rob Lever
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales speaks during "Wikimania 2012" international Wikimedia conference July 12, at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC. At the "Wikimania" event held in Washington over the past week, several hundred members of the "wiki" community gathered for talks about the site and a two-day "hackathon," aimed at improving Wikipedia.

Wikipedia, the public knowledge website, is more than a decade old and remains among the top 10 Internet sites in the world, but some say it is becoming old and dowdy. Others want to keep it that way.

At the "Wikimania" event held in Washington over the past week, several hundred members of the "wiki" community gathered for talks about the site and a two-day "hackathon," aimed at improving Wikipedia.

Some in attendance said Wikipedia, the free, open-source online encyclopedia which is largely unchanged from when it began in 2001, needs upgrading in an era where people are turning to social media like Facebook and Twitter.

"It looks like it's 10 years old," said Sebastian Wallroth, a from Germany.

Wallroth said it is difficult for people to collaborate and there are hurdles in uploading pictures and video, unlike more user-friendly sites like Facebook.

Semere Tazaz Sium, recent graduate of Virginia Tech in software engineering, agreed that Wikipedia "needs improvement from a user point of view."

"It's a very powerful tool but the is a bit old," said the native of Eritrea who volunteers for Wikipedia.

Jimmy Wales, the Wikipedia founder who is still the public face of the project, said questions about the site's future direction will be worked out in the same manner the website operates -- collaboratively.

"I'm not the boss of Wikipedia, you are all the bosses," he told the opening session of Wikimania at George Washington University on Thursday.

Wales said that even forces are pushing Wikipedia in different directions, decisions won't be made in an "authoritarian" manner.

"We've always viewed ourselves as a community brought together for a particular mission. We have core value, like a free and ," he said.

"The authoritarian model is not always the one that works."

Wales and others admit that Wikipedia needs to do more to encourage participation.

Wikipedia has editions in 285 languages, including growing editions in Yoruba, Swahili and Afrikaans, over 22 million articles and 100,000 active contributors. In some cases, Wales says articles are produced by "bots," or computer programs that automatically generate or translate content.

But Wikipedians, the name for those who participate, see an urgent need to make Wikipedia more open to newcomers, to keep up with the vast amount of information it is trying to process.

"It isn't always the most polite or friendly place," said a participant who goes by his Wikipedia name, Kudpung.

"Wikipedia is the encyclopedia everyone can edit, but you have to jump through a lot of hoops, and there is no welcoming committee. So people will create new pages and edit pages only to find those pages or edits deleted, and they are not told about it in a nice way."

Kudpung, a British national living in Thailand and longtime Wikipedia editor, said the site needs new people.

"It has been going for over 10 years and the number of quality encyclopedia articles has flattened out," he said.

"The majority being submitted are autobiographical articles that people post about themselves because they think it's Facebook. On the other hand, there are people who have something to contribute but they don't know the rules."

Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation which operates the site, said those involved in the project are aware of the slumping rate of participation and are taking to respond.

One initiative is a "visual" editor which will make it easier for people without special computer skills to contribute and edit Wikipedia articles.

"We want to make it as easy for people to edit Wikipedia as it is to update their status on ," Gardner said.

She said devoted Wikipedians may want some changes but don't want it to become commercial.

"I think people really trust Wikipedia and one of the reasons they trust us is because we are honest about our mistakes. If we become slick and glossy I don't think that would become a source of trust."

Gardner said she and others are proud that the site has remained true to its ideals, and even "homely."

" is not flashy or splashy," she said. "It is not something designed by marketing people to keep you on to sell you something. So that is its charm."

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User comments : 18

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InsaniD
5 / 5 (10) Jul 14, 2012
Another example of folks wanting to "fix" what ain't broke...
It is fine just the way it is.
range910
5 / 5 (1) Jul 14, 2012
^ but it won't be if they don't update their technologies... If people don't contribute, the quality of the site is going to go downhill pretty damn fast.
axemaster
4.8 / 5 (6) Jul 14, 2012
I do agree that the editing process needs to be improved (GUI instead of text codes would be much better), but the format of the articles is already just fine.
indio007
1.1 / 5 (7) Jul 14, 2012
Wikipedia is crap. Their standard on whether content can be added is whether it was published somewhere else. Anyone with enough $ can get a book or article published and that book or article can be completely false. That doesn't matter to wikipedia. They are aren't going for accuracy. They want an echo chamber of pleas to authority.
Maybe they should read their own page on logical fallacies.
sirchick
5 / 5 (6) Jul 14, 2012
Wikipedia is crap. Their standard on whether content can be added is whether it was published somewhere else. Anyone with enough $ can get a book or article published and that book or article can be completely false. That doesn't matter to wikipedia. They are aren't going for accuracy. They want an echo chamber of pleas to authority.
Maybe they should read their own page on logical fallacies.


Can't say I've seen any articles with wrong information in a long time.
trekgeek1
4.1 / 5 (9) Jul 14, 2012
Wikipedia is crap. Their standard on whether content can be added is whether it was published somewhere else. Anyone with enough $ can get a book or article published and that book or article can be completely false. That doesn't matter to wikipedia. They are aren't going for accuracy. They want an echo chamber of pleas to authority.
Maybe they should read their own page on logical fallacies.


The only people who seem to have problems with the content of Wikipedia are creationists and people trying to build perpetual motion machines. There is an inherent error in any source but Wikipedia is highly effective if you take the time to follow the links to the source material and judge their credibility.
antialias_physorg
4.8 / 5 (6) Jul 14, 2012
Another example of folks wanting to "fix" what ain't broke...
It is fine just the way it is.

I agree.

Some updates under the hood might be nice. Easier editing/better tools, the ability to link in videos, ...

But the simplicity of the presentation is what makes it so attractive and they should definitely try not to mess with that.

(see for a prime example: Google. Where other search engines pump you full of ads and attention grabbers on their front page Google has a nice, clean, FAST loading page that lets you do exactly what you came there to do in minimum time: start a search. That's why it's number one and no other reason.)
Bowler_4007
2.5 / 5 (2) Jul 14, 2012
Wikipedia is great never had a problem with it, clean and simple, it could be made into a learning tool especially with Mathematics but all wiki articles i have found on Mathematics throw you in at the deep end
indio007
1.2 / 5 (6) Jul 14, 2012
Thanks for not addressing the issue of sourcing. Your collective endorsement of wikipedia is noted.

Wikipedia admits they aren't going for accuracy. Their standard is verifability of whether it was published somewhere else.

From Wikipedia:
"Verifiability, and not truth, is one of the fundamental requirements for inclusion in Wikipedia; truth, of itself, is not a substitute for meeting the verifiability requirement. No matter how convinced you are that something is true, do not add it to an article unless it is verifiable."

Wikipedia is one giant plea to authority. Like I said ,It is logical fallacy, which is listed on their own site.
KenJackson
5 / 5 (6) Jul 14, 2012
From Wikipedia:
"Verifiability, and not truth, ..."

Wikipedia is one giant plea to authority. Like I said, It is logical fallacy, which is listed on their own site.


So what are you proposing? Should Wikipedia demand that only "the truth" be displayed on its pages? Should it only allow that which has been "proven"?

Who decides what's true? Who decides if it's been proven? Wouldn't that be the true authoritarian policy?

There's great wisdom in recognizing that requiring proof is slippery. Requiring verification steps back into the realm of the practical.

indio007
1 / 5 (4) Jul 14, 2012
Well they are putting out publications as authority. What do publications that are considered accurate use as proof?

All it really is now is an index of publications sorted by subject matter .

I think that already exists. It's called the Dewey Decimal System. Wikipedia added excerpts of content.

Primary and secondary sources including a best evidence rule.

To your questions
1. Nothing,Wikipedia is crap.
2. It should be an accurate reflection of observed events by competent witnesses. Science calls it collecting data.
3. There are all sorts of standards of what constitutes proof, even in court. That would need to be worked out.

Regardless of the practicality of verification it is still a logical fallacy if used to assert the accuracy of information.
What good is being "practical" for the purpose of maintaining a website if the data on the website is wrong?
That is a "just get it out there" mentality.
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2012

Wikipedia admits they aren't going for accuracy. Their standard is verifability of whether it was published somewhere else.


Isnt that how any encyclopedia works? A plea to authority.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2012
What do publications that are considered accurate use as proof?

Publications - at least on scientific subjects - are peer reviewed.
That's currently the best that can be done: Get experts who know their stuff and work in the field to look at a publication before is published.

Anyhow a study found out that wikipedia has no more errors than Encyclopedia Britannica. So the system is working.

That they don't allow 'original research' (read: unsupported opinion) to be published is fine by me. For that you always have the comments/debate section.
indio007
1 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2012
original research does not equal unsupported opinion.

I could post 1 plus 1=2 on wikipedia and if I don't point to someone else publishing it , it's considered "original research".

However if I post 1 plus 1=3 and quote a New York Times article, it's all good.

That is idiotic.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2012
I could post 1 plus 1=2 on wikipedia and if I don't point to someone else publishing it , it's considered "original research".

However 1 plus 1 equals 2 is not original research.
if I post 1 plus 1=3 and quote a New York Times article, it's all good.

And it will just take seconds for someone to write a 'criticism' section which is much more supported than your statement. (See for example the entry on 'cold fusion' in wikipedia)
rwinners
1 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2012
All Hail, Wiki!

Oh, and alias? Wiki is an FREE online encyclopedia, not a source for the latest and most accurate scientific documentation.
xen_uno
1 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2012
Alright rwin and indio .. post a link of something on wiki that is blatantly dated and wrong. Stick to mainline topics and not fringe garbage that wiki hasn't jettisoned yet. Betting you can't put some money where your mouth is ...

Wiki does a wonderful job of presenting the facts as known at the time and is eminently useful. Editing ought to stay somewhat difficult to keep the crackpots out. So ... I wouldn't change a thing about it.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jul 16, 2012
Wiki is an FREE online encyclopedia, not a source for the latest and most accurate scientific documentation.

Yes. Wikipedia is (to quote the citation guidelines i was handed before writing my thesis) "not citeworthy" (i.e. you may not reference it as a source).
It is, however, a good starting point on many subjects (much like 'google scholar' is a good starting point for finding scientific papers)

There also seems to be a lot of difference in quality between the various language versions (here in germany we have a very active, and highly organized community - fits the 'german stereotype', if you ask me. But it tends to produce very good wikipedia entries)