Thursday, February 07, 2008

Wikipedia Accuracy : it's not an encylopedia

I'm not a fan of Wikipedia. Everytime I cite or link to the site I preface the link with text such as according to Wikipedia. I've also used various context phrases such as if Wikipedia is accurate, Wikipedia seems to be accurate, and despite Wikipedia having the average accuracy of a Star Wars Storm Trooper from Episodes 4-6, whenever I refer to information obtained from the site.

I have several issues with Wikipedia to begin with, one of which concerns webcomics. Over the past couple of years a singular individual editing Wikipedia conducted a campaign to remove all webcomics from the site by citing that webcomics were non-significant. I've also witnessed a Wikipedia editor actively remove anything on a Jeremy Clarkson page that painted his quintessentially German car segment from Top Gear in a neutral tone. I've witnessed discussion on a page concerning Geri Halliwell, one of the spice girls, in which a Wikipedia editor was actively telling other users to remove all but basic information about the singer.

Now, I'm quite familiar with http://www.dictionary.com which is owned and controlled by Lexico. I'm also somewhat familiar with http://www.merriam-webster.com/. On a whim then I decided to look up the definition of encyclopedia.

Dictionary.com Unabridged defines
encyclopedia as: 1. a book or set of books containing articles on various topics, usually in alphabetical arrangement, covering all branches of knowledge or, less commonly, all aspects of one subject.

Dictionary.com references the American Heritage Dictionary which defines encylopedia as : n. A comprehensive reference work containing articles on a wide range of subjects or on numerous aspects of a particular field, usually arranged alphabetically.

Dictionary.com also references WordNet which defines encyclopedia as : noun a reference work (often in several volumes) containing articles on various topics (often arranged in alphabetical order) dealing with the entire range of human knowledge or with some particular specialty

Dictionary.com proceeds to reference Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary (Beta Version) as well, which defines encyclopedia as : a reference work containing information on every branch of knowledge, or on one particular branch

Miriam-Webster defines encyclopedia as : Function: noun Etymology: Medieval Latin encyclopaedia course of general education, from Greek enkyklios + paideia education, child rearing, from paid-, pais child — more at few Date: 1644 : a work that contains information on all branches of knowledge or treats comprehensively a particular branch of knowledge usually in articles arranged alphabetically often by subject

Okay, fair assortment of definitions for an encyclopedia, and none of them say anything about removing information. Rather each of them states that an encyclopedia contains information on every branch of knowledge.

Right off hand, Wikipedia has already failed the basic test to qualify as an encyclopedia. Information is discarded, instead of stored. One of the excuses given to removal is that of the storage space available on Wikipedia. Okay, I can test that theory. One copy of open office. One 209 page long document filled with capital A's in red text lettering with black background color. One save in Open Document. One save in Microsoft .doc. One save in .html. One save in the .txt format to strip text encoding. Care to guess the document sizes? Well, see for yourself.






The heaviest document format was to be had in Microsoft's Word Format. The smallest format was to be hand in the Open Document format with a mere 9946 bytes... which includes the entire formatting. The HTML format was still under 1 meg. So lets face it. Space for text really isn't a problem. Any wikipedia editor that sites saving space as a reason for deletion has pretty much disqualified themselves.

Wikipedia editors also have a long history of removing information in a biased manner, and there are multiple sites that go after Wikimedia and Jimbo on a daily basis. Cade Metz, who has been published in PC Magazine and I believe is still an editor with Ziff Davis, went after the issues surrounding the creator of the Wikipedia Conflict of Interest section.

It is my opinion that many of the existing Wikipedia editors do not understand the concept of an encyclopedia, and it is my opinion that Jimbo of Wikimedia has no intentions what-so-ever of enforcing policies that would turn Wikipedia into an encyclopedia.

I don't want this to be taken as an indication that the Wiki format itself is flawed. No. The failure of Wikipedia has given rise to smaller wiki's based on specific subjects. Example, Wiki Fur, which tells you about people such as Blade. Word of advice... telling her to have fun while drawing is probably not considered a brilliant idea. In fact, it's probably one of the dumbest things you can possibly do. Ever.

Guess who did it twice.

A very real problem then is to handle citing Wikipedia. As a source of credible information, Wikipedia fails even basic litmus tests. As a source of reliable information, Wikipedia fails there too. As a source of neutral information, Wikipedia doesn't just miss, the hit rate is so low many editors could fly by throwing themselves at the ground.

Why I am adding my voice to the anti-wikipedia crowd? Why now?

Simple answer is that the article written by Cade Metz was a tipping point. Within 5 or so minutes the write-up was verifiable, which isn't the case with many of the other charges leveled against Wikipedia that could take days, weeks, or even months to properly verify through normal sources. As I see it, Wikipedia has been caught with their pants down around their ankles. The term busted springs to mind.

Since I cite Wikipedia myself, I find myself in the position that I don't want to drive traffic to the Wikipedia cite, and I don't want my linkings to be taken that there is a tacit approval of some of the stunts wikipedia is involved in.

Granted, I was probably already doing that with the contextual comments.
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