Wikipedia? yes/no?
Date: 041107


To Wikipedia or Not to Wikipedia?

The question of should we (students/professionals) site Wikipedia as a credible source has been in my mind ever since I started browsing the Wikipedia site. I will attempt to explore the pros and cons of using Wikipedia, but given the nature of the beast we should NEVER site Wikipedia.

First, let's examine what Wikipedia is. A Wiki is a web site that allows collaborative editing of its contents and structure by its users. pedia comes from the word Encyclopedia (I can only assume). So, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia written by users of the Wikipedia site. Great, but that leaves us with a couple of issues.

Who is editing the content? Teenagers? College Professors? Nine year olds? take your pick. Pretty much anyone with a computer can edit the content on Wikipedia. In fact, this is part of the appeal. Just one problem... They can edit and write what they want and it could be WRONG! Yes, folks, no one is perfect and not everyone has benevolent intentions. Yes Wikipedia has protected content in some places where you have to register and have an account to edit the content, but nevertheless, you still have malevolence and just plain stupid people making additions to the information. There are benevolent people out there checking the content on Wikipedia and making sure that it's at least somewhat credible and accurate. But when you have a limited number of people checking millions of entries, this becomes a big problem real fast. In Wikipedia's defense there is a certain incentive for the editor to be accurate and un-bias. If they're not, they lose their credibility. Is that enough though? Especially when you can just turn around and create another account.

I will say this for Wikipedia: It's good for top level, general introductory information. Don't rely on it to be correct 90% (yea I better be careful with my percentages huh?) of the time, but at least you may get an idea of what you need to know. It's not what I call citable material. For professional research as well as academic research use something other than Wikipedia.

As far as creating a Wiki site I think its a really great idea. Under a professional atmosphere a lot can be gained by creating a Wiki site. A site where employees or other professionals can go to write their documentation not only makes creating a searchable knowledge base easy, but it makes learning and productivity more efficient and effective. Wiki's are a great tool for professionals to build knowledge bases.For example, lets say we have an employee write a procedure on how to scan groceries on their corporate Wiki site. That procedure is read by everyone else and eventually other people find this information useful company-wide OR they find an alternative, more efficient procedure for scanning groceries and edit the content accordingly. See the system at work? It's pretty nice when you have people who are knowledgeable and benevolent in their intentions.