I came across two recent criticisms of the Wikimedia projects. Both unfortunately show a lack of understanding about the projects. One picks up on an old, dated criticism, and the other gets caught up in the edit war phenomenon, resorting to insults when they don’t get their way.
The first, on New Median, entitled Wikipedia, thumbs up or thumbs down, picks up on Robert McHenry’s article called The Faith-Based Encyclopedia. This is an old debate (the original article was from Nov 2004), and it’s been commented on countless times, so I’m not going to repeat much here. Here is a list of some of the main resources, and better responses:
- The Faith-based encyclopedia
- On Getting it
- The FUD-based encyclopedia
- McHenry responds
- Jimmy Wales interview, mentioning McHenry’s criticisms
- My earlier response
- Around Wikipedia : The political importance of the Wikipedia Project, the only true encyclopedia of our days.
- Anabis’ McHenry’s Wikipedia exhortation
- Ethan Zuckerman’s What does Wikipedia want to be?
- A slightly different take at A New Integral Paradigm – Individual, Social, and Spiritual Development
Just for good measure, here’s some raging rhetoric from the Register:
- Why Wikipedia isn’t like Linux
- Wikipedia: magic, monkeys and typewriters
- Wikipedia founder admits to serious quality problems
There’s lots of disappointing analysis, lots of evangelical side-taking, but for me the key aspect of Wikipedia is that it works. There are many fantastic articles, better than Brittanica, or more frequently where a Brittanica equivalent doesn’t even exist. There are also articles that are poorer in quality. Having some poorer articles doesn’t invalidate the process. They may become better articles at some point. All articles started off as poorer quality. Or they may never become better articles. Humans strive for perfection, and rarely get there – again, that doesn’t invalidate the process. The process may refine itself and improve, or be superceded with something better. Or happily fill a niche in parallel. But Wikipedia is undoubtedly a fantastic resource. Two key elements don’t get mentioned much:
multi-lingualism. Wikipedia’s exist in most languages. Some, such as the German version, are highly successful. Others, such as the Afrikaans version, are not yet particularly useful, but are developing slowly. Wikipedia offers the potential for smaller languages to develop useful resources that may be more difficult to achieve if they relied upon the profit motive.
article history. A key aspect of openness is that it places responsibility on individuals. A reader of Brittanicca has to entirely trust the publishers. A reader of Wikipedia does not, and should not, entirely trust the contributors. For that reason, the history pages are a key resource. A reader can see the process that’s taken place to get to the current article. This applies particularly in an edit war situation. For example, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot contributors have tended to swing an article from one point of view to another. At any one time, the article could reflect either point of view. However, the counter point of view is always available in the history. And that’s part of the resource too. Controversial topics aren’t as easy to reach consensus as less controversial topics, and the articles are in a greater state of flux. But Wikipedia still helps one get a good sense of the issues
The second criticism was a rather hysterical piece entitled Wikinews has been inflitrated by a crazed little clique of militaristic neo-con Bush nuts. Please help us take it back!, not helped by an ignorant followup comment concluding Wiki editors are stupid. I don’t think Wikinews is working particularly well. Too few contributors, and too many article of low quality, or watered-down repeats of mainstream news, and perhaps it it too easy to push a certain POV. However, the hysteria in the criticism means they aren’t going to be taken very seriously, and comments like ‘crazed little clique of militaristic neo-con Bush nuts’ aren’t going to last long in the Wiki world, which does try to be NPOV. Again, the history is part of the process. Any contentious article will reflect a number of points of view, ideally in the main body, but if not, at least in the history. The jury’s still out on whether Wikinews will be as successful as Wikipedia.