quality and authority
This page considers debate about quality in wiki authoring
It covers -
As the preceding page indicated, wiki has been hailed
as an embodiment of open source - or merely open access.
It has been promoted as necessarily better than commercial
publishing because it is collaborative, community-based,
updated on an ongoing basis and the embodiment of fashionable
notions such as the 'wisdom of crowds' (in contrast to
work by practitioners of scholarly disciplines and intervention
by elitist editors).
Critics have complained that -
to claims about 'self-correction' - the quality of much
wiki output is problematical,
the coverage of much wiki publishing is very uneven
(contrary to the claimed communitarian ethos) it is
driven by the same status seeking and clique formation
evident in potlatch communities.
has been little quantification and, as discussed below,
many claims and counter-claims accordingly have an anecdotal
Debate about wiki as "faith-based publishing"
has featured many of the claims about open source software
- examined here and here.
It has also featured the passions evident in open source,
with critics comparing some discussion to the enthusiasm
- or merely intolerance - evident in religious wars.
a media phenomenon
The wiki movement is as much a media phenomenon as a substantial
advance in information production and distribution.
Reception of wiki in the general media, in lifestyle publications
such as Wired and in online fora such as Slashdot
and Whirlpool initially echoed coverage of blogging,
with largely uncritical restatement of assertions that
wiki was unprecedented, "the future" and necessarily
better than 'old economy' models of publishing.
Disquiet spilled over from specialist media in late 2004,
at around the same time that wiki was being assimilated
by business strategists (the 'corporate wiki' to complement
the corporate blog as a tool for knowledge management)
Much of that disquiet concerned questions about acceptance
of wiki hyperbole and the authority of wiki publications
such as Wikipedia. Critics noted, for example, that the
rapid self-correction lauded by wiki proponents did not
take place or did not not flow through to the numerous
sites that lift wikipedia text - wiki clangers are digitally
embalmed across the net.
Questions about the authority of Wikipedia - and more
broadly about wiki publishing - have taken three forms.
The first, noted above, relates to mirroring of wiki text
across the web. A correction or qualification is not necessarily
picked up (and picked up quickly), with critics accordingly
sniffing that self-correction is offset by error-spawning.
Wiki proponents retort that traditional encyclopedias
and other reference works are frozen in institutional/municipal
libraries and personal collections, with the supersession
of errors being a function of an institutional or private
budget ("no family buys a new edition of a print
encyclopedia every year").
A second question concerns issues of attribution and responsibility.
In practice much wiki content is the responsibility of
everyone and no-one, or as the 'WikiProject Countering
systemic bias' frets,
the responsibility of the wrong (white, male, tech-savvy,
Christian and educated) people.
What James Surowiecki in The Wisdom of Crowds: Why
the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom
Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations
(New York: Doubleday 2004) lauded as collective common
sense - populists are more reticent in lauding collective
paranoia, xenophobia and sheer stupidity - may not be
an effective substitute for the quality control exercised
by professional editors and publishers in selecting authors
and reviewing text. Anonymity is claimed to be antithetical
to an 'acknowledged' author's investment in reputation,
with the populist ethos discouraging contributions by
Andrew Orlowski argued that accuracy cannot be separated
when a Wikipedia entry is 100 per cent factually correct,
and those facts have been carefully chosen, it all too
often reads as if it has been translated from one language
to another then into to a third, passing an illiterate
translator at each stage.
Simson Garfinkel asked
do the Wikipedians decide what's true and what's not?
On what is their epistemology based?
Unlike the laws of mathematics or science, wikitruth
isn't based on principles such as consistency or observa
bility. It's not even based on common sense or firsthand
experience. Wikipedia has evolved a radically different
set of epistemological standards--standards that aren't
especially surprising given that the site is rooted
in a Web-based community, but that should concern those
of us who are interested in traditional notions of truth
and accuracy. On Wikipedia, objective truth isn't all
that important, actually. What makes a fact or statement
fit for inclusion is that it appeared in some other
publication--ideally, one that is in English and is
available free online. "The threshold for inclusion
in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth," states
Wikipedia's official policy on the subject.
final question concerns perceptions of the way that Wikipedia
is received by readers, with critics variously lamenting
that hype in the mass media has encouraged uncritical
reliance by students and other readers.
More broadly, some readers are claimed to believe that
"online and self-correcting equals true" and
that "free and collectively-written equals unbiased".
Observers have commented that Wikipedia - and all other
texts - should be read critically, with the reader being
alert to potential bias, errors of fact, omissions and
mistatement of interpretation as fact.
Can you trust Wikipedia or other wiki text? One response
to that question is that wiki results in content of an
unknown quality, with few indications of accuracy or bias.
A more hyperbolic assessment is that "wikipedia is
the least reliable source of information since the ouija
board" and that 'wikiality' is
reality that exists if you make something up and enough
people agree with you.
In 2005 Wired burbled
is the largest encyclopedia on the planet. Wikipedia
offers 500,000 articles in English - compared with Britannica's
80,000 and Encarta's 4,500 - fashioned by more than
16,000 contributors. Tack on the editions in 75 other
languages, including Esperanto and Kurdish, and the
total Wikipedia article count tops 1.3 million.
more meaningful measure might perhaps involve an analysis
of the quality of those articles and their completeness,
given that a large number are 'stubs' (ie placemarkers).
Former Encyclopaedia Britannica editor-in-chief
Robert McHenry, in sniffing
at "the faith-based encyclopedia", commented
the Wikipedia "method" is that
Anyone, irrespective of expertise in or even familiarity
with the topic, can submit an article and it will be
2. Anyone, irrespective of expertise in or even familiarity
with the topic, can edit that article, and the modifications
will stand until further modified. Then comes the crucial
and entirely faith-based step:
3. Some unspecified quasi-Darwinian process will assure
that those writings and editings by contributors of
greatest expertise will survive; articles will eventually
reach a steady state that corresponds to the highest
degree of accuracy.
an eye to the soundbite he compared Wikipedia to a public
user who visits Wikipedia to learn about some subject,
to confirm some matter of fact, is rather in the position
of a visitor to a public restroom. It may be obviously
dirty, so that he knows to exercise great care, or it
may seem fairly clean, so that he may be lulled into
a false sense of security. What he certainly does not
know is who has used the facilities before him.
2006 the Britannica offered a tart rebuttal (PDF)
to a Nature article that argued Wikipedia compared
favourably with the traditional encyclopedia.
In discussing quality control one observer had earlier
isn't really a fact-checking mechanism so much as a
voting mechanism. If someone reads an entry, unless
something sounds blatantly false, he or she will likely
accept what it says. If there is disagreement about
the facts, an edit war could break out until a consensus
comments provoked a spirited, if not altogether convincing,
from Aaron Krowne on The FUD-based Encyclopedia,
points are contradictory and incoherent and that his
rhetoric is selective, dishonest and misleading.
sins that never afflict practitioners of commons based
Nicholas Carr, author of the perceptive Does IT Matter?
Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive
Advantage (Boston: Harvard Business School Press
"hive-mind" rhetoric by critiquing Wikipedia
entries on Jane Fonda and Bill Gates.
Carr commented that
is garbage, an incoherent hodge-podge of dubious factoids
that adds up to something far less than the sum of its
parts. ... Something that aspires to be a reference
work ought to be judged by the quality of the worst
entry. An encyclopedia can't just have a small percentage
of good entries and be considered a success. I would
argue, in fact, that the overall quality of an encyclopedia
is best judged by its weakest entries rather than its
best. What's the worth of an unreliable reference work?
proponent Jimmy Wales agreed
two examples he puts forward are, quite frankly, a horrific
embarassment. Bill Gates and Jane Fonda are nearly unreadable
crap. Why? What can we do about it?
was, essentially, nothing much.
Wikipedia supporters have responded to criticism in
one of several ways. The commonest is: If you don't
like an entry, you can fix it yourself. Which is rather
like going to a restaurant for a date, being served
terrible food, and then being told by the waiter where
to find the kitchen. But you didn't come out to cook
a meal - you could have done that at home! No matter,
roll up your sleeves.
As a second line of defense, Wikipedians point to flaws
in the existing dead tree encyclopedias, as if the handful
of errors in Britannica cancels out the many errors,
hopeless apologies for entries, and tortured prose,
of Wikipedia itself.
Thirdly, and here you can see that the defense is beginning
to run out of steam, one's attention is drawn to process
issues: such as the speed with which errors are fixed,
or the fact that looking up a Wikipedia is faster than
using an alternative. This line of argument is even
weaker than the first: it's like going to a restaurant
for a date - and being pelted with rotten food, thrown
at you at high velocity by the waiters.
parodists The Onion naughtily lampooned
Wikipedia in 2006
the online, reader-edited encyclopedia, honored the
750th anniversary of American independence on July 25
with a special featured section on its main page Tuesday.
"It would have been a major oversight to ignore
this portentous anniversary," said Wikipedia founder
Jimmy Wales, whose site now boasts over 4,300,000 articles
in multiple languages, over one-quarter of which are
in English, including 11,000 concerning popular toys
of the 1980s alone. "At 750 years, the U.S. is
by far the world's oldest surviving democracy, and is
certainly deserving of our recognition," Wales
said. "According to our database, that's 212 years
older than the Eiffel Tower, 347 years older than the
earliest-known woolly-mammoth fossil, and a full 493
years older than the microwave oven." ...
The special anniversary tribute refutes many myths about
the period and American history. According to the entry,
the American Revolution was in fact instigated by Chuck
Norris, who incinerated the Stamp Act by looking at
it, then roundhouse-kicked the entire British army into
the Atlantic Ocean. A group of Massachusetts Minutemaids
then unleashed the zombie-generating T-Virus on London,
crippling the British economy and severely limiting
its naval capabilities. ...
While other news and information websites chose to mark
the anniversary in a muted fashion, if at all, Wikipedia
gave it prominent emphasis over other important historical
events from the same day, including the independence
of the nation of Africa in 1847, the 1984 ascension
of Constantine to Emperor of the Holy Roman Emperor,
and the 1998 birth of Smokey, a calico cat belonging
to Mark and Becky Rousch of Erie, PA.
scepticism has not deterred the naive, with Pete Blackshaw
of Intelliseek for example enthusing in 2005 -
bloggers, it's almost like a badge of credibility to
embed Wikipedia in their blog references. There's something
about Wikipedia that confers a degree of respectability,
because multiple Web users have converged on it.
of writing about wiki centres on values of 'community',
'free' and digital technology as a transcendent good.
It also features 'us and them' hyperbole and the information
populism questioned in works such as The Myth of the
Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies
(Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 2007) by Bryan Caplan.
That is considered in the following page of this profile.
next page (ideology)