Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2007-03-12/What you don't know can't hurt you

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Essay tries to clarify misconceptions about Wikipedia

By Michael Snow, 12 March, 2007

As observers and media sources continue to misunderstand aspects of the project, Wikimedia Foundation board member Erik Möller has written an essay intended to address some of these problems.

The essay, posted Sunday, March 11, is entitled "10 Things You Did Not Know About Wikipedia". Möller described it as "an attempt at a summary of some key issues for journalists, readers, and newbie editors." It consists of ten pithy statements, each accompanied by a longer explanatory paragraph and a link for further information.

With its list format and sometimes counterintuitive assertions, the essay fit a style of piece that often appeals to voters on social bookmarking sites. In fact, it was soon posted to digg and reddit, two leading examples of the genre, and appeared on the front page at both.

The essay was also discussed on the English Wikipedia mailing list, where editors promptly began critiquing it and offering suggested changes. Möller and others set to work editing the essay, with the result that already two of the ten points have changed from their original versions, while a third was changed as well before going back to its initial form (for the time being).

Some people disagreed about whether the misconceptions addressed in the essay were common. As Möller pointed out, however, people closely involved in Wikipedia may not be the best judges of whether the points are helpful to the general public.

As an example, the first point—"We're not for sale"—tackles confusion over the Wikimedia Foundation's nonprofit status and by extension its separation from Jimmy Wales's Wikia venture. The latter distinction has been lost on many writers in various sources, especially amid the coverage of Wikia's plans to launch a search engine. For a recent instance, Slashdot posted a story about "Wikipedia's Search Engine Plan" that originally described the connection as "Wikia, the company behind Wikipedia" and had to be corrected to reflect that Wikimedia and Wikia are separate organizations.


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