Tuesday, March 30, 2010

WEEKLY BLOG #7: In Wiki We Trust

I had a brief career as an encyclopedia salesman in 1995. We were trained to knock on doors and persuade people that they can trust the Lexicon Universal Encyclopedia for their school and home research. Once a lawyer bragged that he didn't use an encyclopedia in law school to become a successful attorney. My response, you're a judge by now if you used an encyclopedia in law school. I was immediately pointed out to the door.

Fast forward 15 years, our spiels as encyclopedia sales man are outdated and our clients might let their guard dogs out if we insist that the 21 volumes of Lexicon Encyclopedia is the only source of information they need.

Long were the days when people pick up a 10 pound volume of Encyclopedia Britanica or call the local TV news station for research information - watch the 1957 film Desk Set with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. Knowledge and information are now a few mouse clicks away.

This week my Social Media PR class asked the following questions: should we trust Wikipedia or an expert-led encyclopedia more? How could Wikipedia be better set-up to better provide accuracy? Should it be open to everyone or just verified “experts”?

Wikipedia is tagged as The free encyclopedia and any form of control or take over by an exclusive group of "experts" goes against the Open Brand principle that makes Wikipedia unique and followed by millions. Unfortunately, Wikipedia's openness is also what makes the data on the website questionable.

I stopped using Wikipedia as my main source of information when I learned that the online encyclopedia is user contributed content which means anyone can create an account and contribute. This a problem because entries are vulnerable to the contributor's ideology and bias specially on controversial or disputable topics such as politics and history - see what happend to the 2010 Philippines Presidential Election page. In addition, articles that appear incomplete or one-sided are often posted without citations.

My conclusion, it would be wrong to say that Wikipedia is all good or all bad. Wikipedia can be very useful, but you and I need to know how to use it responsibly. Wikipedia is a great place to start a research but it should never end there. It’s a great starting point because it give quick summaries on any subject and provide links- links that can point you to more reliable sources of information and not outside an angry lawyer's door.

For a humorous take on this subject, check out Mr. Wikipedia on YouTube.

I also saw this video (embedded below) on what students think about Wikipedia.

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