Friday, August 25, 2006

Risks of Using Wikipedia

It used to be, when I was curious about anything, I will search for it using a keyword search on Google, and then try to select the ‘most appropriate’ description from the many links returned. It does takes time and effort to sieve through non relevant information. However, times has changed as more marketers are beginning to address this niche of people who are information hungry and does not want to search the whole world from A-Z when all they wanted is a basic understanding or the word say: “robustious” or “denizen”, or all they wanted to know about Antelopes.

Wikipedia is increasingly an online Encyclopedia that is gaining not only popularity but public acceptance. More and more research students are quoting in their papers information from Wikipedia. I have been using Wikipedia simply because it looks like a one-stop Information Shop for anything I wanted to know. However, one of the supposed power of Wikipedia is the ease and frequency of changes one can make to the online database. For example, St Augustine is born in the year 354. What if someone else decide to play a prank and change it to the year 1354? The poor student who happens to refer to Wikipedia at that time, will have thought that Augustine is born in the Middle Ages! The Wikipedia people says that wrong information can be corrected very quickly. My reply: 'What applies to corrections, also applies to vandalism.' The Wikipedia technology framework does not know how to tell the difference between truth and falsehood! Another example of the ease of vandalism was the replacement of the picture of the evil Lord Sith of Star Wars, with the picture of the current Pope!

Complaints about quality and reliability of Wikipedia information continue to rise. Yet the number of users and adherents is growing. Rather than a blanket call for a ban, my feel is that for a general initial appreciation of any knowledge, you can try out Wikipedia. Just make sure that it does NOT become the bible or the ONLY source of information. Above all, check it with discernment.

Follow the links below
1) A video by Colbert on Wikipedia. Scathing remarks under the guise of humor. (link)
2) Wikipedia problems (link)
3) Wikipedia founder admits to ’serious problems’ (link)
4) A study on lies and truth on Wikipedia (link)
5) Wikipedia themselves admit on their pages but chose to trumpet them as strengths (link)
6) Wiki people replies to common objections (link)
7) Will Wikipedia Change history? (link)

Again I would like to reiterate. Doing a search on Wikipedia for basic introductory understanding is ok. To base one’s research on it, or to use it as the main source of information is NOT ok. It is like putting hearsay and call it truth simply by posting it on Wikipedia. We need to continue to battle for truth. This battle is now increasingly in the Internet domain.


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