In the news
Wikipedia better than Britannica, Pending changes as a victory of tradition, and more
"Wikipedia is better than Encyclopaedia Britannica"
Title page of the first edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica
As reported by the Spanish news agency EFE last week, Danish lexicographer Henning Bergenholtz, head of the Center for Lexicography at the Aarhus School of Business, said that the quality of Wikipedia surpasses that of the most prestigious traditional encyclopedias, such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The article (titled Wikipedia es mejor que la Enciclopedia Británica, según un lexicólogo danés – "Wikipedia is better than the Encyclopaedia Britannica, according to a Danish lexicographer" – on the news portal Cortizalia.com – English translation), Bergenholtz also said that Wikipedia still has problems, in that certain articles use too many technical terms, and religious or political topics could contain partial or controversial opinions. In 2007, Bergenholtz had made a similar but more cautious statement about the reliability of Wikipedia, asserting that the site is more trustworthy than "most other" encyclopedic dictionaries .
However, Bergenholtz (himself the author of 30 dictionaries ) was more pessimistic about the quality of electronic dictionaries in general. He said that between 100,000 and 500,000 of them are available, but 99% should not be used because of their "very bad quality". The remarks were made on the occasion of Bergenholtz being awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Valladolid.
Pending changes – a victory for traditional models?
The trial of the Pending changes software feature generated most of the Wikipedia-centered media coverage last week. As noted in last week's "In the news", early reports – published before the feature became live – emphasized its potential to open up Wikipedia (as described in the Foundation blog post about the trial) rather than its interpretation as a move towards tighter editorial control (which had dominated media coverage of the proposed trial last August, see Signpost coverage: Misleading media storm over flagged revisions). On his "The Wikipedian" blog, User:WWB (William Beutler) listed further coverage - on ReadWriteWeb (Wikipedia to Loosen Controls Tonight), Slashdot (Wikipedia To Unlock Frequently Vandalized Pages), and in blogs, also noting that most of it emphasized the openness aspect, with only ComputerWorld (Wikipedia confronts downside of ‘Net openness') disagreeing.
However, in a June 18 panel discussion (Wikipedia: The Wisdom and the Folly of Crowds - starts around 07:45) on KCRW, a public radio station based in California, the latter viewpoint was strongly represented by Julia Angwin, Senior Technology Editor at the Wall Street Journal, whose article Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages had generated considerable controversy last fall, including a rebuttal by the Foundation (see Signpost coverage: 2009-11-23, 2009-11-30, 2009-12-07). The other panelists were Andrew Lih (User:Fuzheado, author of "The Wikipedia Revolution"), Beutler and cultural critic Lee Siegel (introduced as author of "Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob"). Angwin interpreted the trial as a move away from "crowd sourcing" towards a more traditional structure - "it looks a little like clique sourcing" (10:15). Lih took a more balanced viewpoint (also described in his blog post about the panel), but noted the example of the German Wikipedia where the feature has been active in a much more restrictive form since 2008.
Siegel confessed to use Wikipedia "the way I eat things that I shouldn't and drink things that I shouldn't – it's there, so I have to use it" (20:40), but attacked it as inaccurate and misleading ("information, not knowledge"). As examples, Siegel cited a false allegation about Saul Bellow that had remained for a long time in the article despite being marked as missing a citation (22:30, since removed), and a distorting quote from Marlon Brando's autobiography (26:00, since corrected).
In the conclusion of the panel, Angwin was asked (41:45):
- "Is crowdsourcing a threat to the Wall Street Journal, and other institutions of its kind?"
- "First, you should probably ask Rupert Murdoch, who owns us, for his views, for he is very outspoken on how he thinks their industry is going to evolve. But the one thing that is interesting to me watching this Wikipedia derby play out is that they are moving towards the more traditional editing structure, by adding this layer of top editors who approve facts. It seems to me like the model that I grow up in is winning out. And it's true that there are still errors in Wikipedia [...but it] does seem like having a structure of editors does improve accuracy, which is good news for me."
Beutler also reflected about the panel on his blog, regretting that in his "battle" with Siegel about the downsides of anonymity with regard to the reliability of Wikipedia, politeness had prevented him to point out Siegel's own "notoriety" in that respect (Siegel had been suspended as a blogger at The New Republic in 2006, after using a sock puppet to write comments supporting himself, at one point under the heading "Siegel Is My Hero" ).
- Last week, SF Appeal (Local Writer Will Pay You $15/Hr To Create A Wikipedia Entry To Support Her Story For The NYT) and Gawker (NYT Freelancer Needs a Wikipedia Page Made, Quick) noted a peculiar job listing posted on the UC Berkeley School of Journalism's web site. In the ad, U.S. journalist Katy Butler, who has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Mother Jones and other magazines, asked to "Design a website and create a wikipedia entry, with links, to support an upcoming New York Times Sunday memoir/investigation questioning life-extending cardiac surgery in the very old and frail." The ad has since been deleted.
- The main page appearance of the article about Grand Forks, North Dakota (a city of about 50,000 inhabitants in the United States) as "Today's featured article" on June 15 was noted by the local newspaper, the Grand Forks Herald, in an article titled "Wikipedia spotlight draws about 20,000 to article about Grand Forks".
- The article about Malian football referee Koman Coulibaly suffered from numerous vandalism edits after he made a decision in the World Cup game between the teams from the USA and Slovenia that drew the anger of American fans. USA Today devoted a whole article to the edits ("Users get creative with Wikipedia page of USA-Slovenia referee") and they were also covered by Politics Daily, The Atlantic, NBC News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the The Washington Post).
- In article titled Latest game for bored students? Wikiracing, the Star Tribune reported on a game that has been described on two Wikipedia pages for a long time: Wikiracing and Wikipedia:Six degrees of Wikipedia. Players have to get from one article to another one by clicking on wikilinks. About two weeks ago, Wikipediagame, a website offering a version of the game, was featured on some games blogs  and reported being overloaded by a rise in popularity.
- The Journal of Medical Internet Research has recently started an Open Peer Review process in which any registered user can review articles that have been submitted for publication. On the top of the list at http://www.jmir.org/reviewer/openReview/abstracts is a submitted manuscript titled "Wikipedia as a global tool for public health promotion". Those with expert knowledge of this area on Wikipedia may wish to contribute.
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