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How Important Is Wikipedia 
In The Grand Scheme Of Things?
by: Bill Platt

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Wikipedia is the center of the online encyclopedia universe. Millions of entries on every conceivable topic makes this website an authority source that many young students and adults turn to from all corners of the globe. 

The widespread popularity of Wikipedia has made it an easy target for quite a bit of controversy and critique. Many academic institutions disapprove of any use of unverified Internet sources, including Wikipedia articles. Ironically, Wikipedia prides itself on the idea that its information is verifiable. Read more about Wikipedia's Verifiability policy here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Verifiability  

Wikipedia Basics 

Founded in 2001, Wikipedia is a free content resource that anyone can submit information to according to certain submission rules. Articles are written and submitted by anyone interested in the topic being discussed. 

Authenticity is supposedly ensured by the ability of others to edit previously submitted information and correct any errors. Grossly inappropriate or incorrect articles can be nominated for deletion. Wikipedia users are given a week to vote on the appropriate response to a deletion nomination. 

These safeguards have been built into Wikipedia's design as a way of preserving both its credibility and authenticity. While Wikipedia's systems of checks and balances are not failsafe, they do eliminate quite a few of the errors that would otherwise occur. 

The fact that the website's content is made up exclusively by donated content and that it has over 2 million topic articles is a testament to the popularity of this style. While there are no basic rules for submitting articles, there are basic guidelines that Wikipedia asks submitting authors to follow. 

Maintaining a neutral tone and presenting the information in a fair unbiased way are the perfect tones that dictate encyclopedia articles. Authors and editors are expected to be respectful of the work of others and not to modify anything without a good reason or verifiable references. 


Academic institutions and authority reference sources such as encyclopedia companies have been less impressed with Wikipedia than the general public. There are many reasons for the less than enthusiastic response from institutions of higher learning and professional reference companies. 

The publishers of Encyclopedia Britannica became enraged when a study claimed that the accuracy of Wikipedia was comparable to the accuracy of Britannica's long-standing published encyclopedia. They widely disputed the results, insisting that their publication is by far the more superior publication.

Public opinion sides with Britannica. The majority of most people, when polled, have great faith in the reputation of Britannica and hold it in much higher regard than its online counterparts. 

The convenience of the Internet encyclopedia version is where a lot of its competition with Britannica arises. Being able to access any information with the click of a mouse brings research to a whole new level. 

Wikipedia and Academics 

Studies are regularly inconsistent on the accuracy of Wikipedia. There is a wide range in the quality and accuracy of the Wiki articles online. 

Articles are constantly being modified and improved upon. When doing research, it is very important to double-check all information. Wikipedia is a great resource, but it should never be trusted as the final word on any topic. 

Members of academia are prone to carry negative feelings towards to the use of Wikipedia. Most become agitated when their students source Wikipedia, because they feel their students are not able to tell the difference between a good resource and a bad one – a truthful fact or an erroneous statement. 

A commonly held belief is that a student lacks the common sense or ability to differentiate between a good article and a biased, inadequate presentation of a story as fact. Academia also points to the general lack of solid research supporting most Wikipedia articles. 

Lazy Research 

There is no excuse for laziness, but the blame for it is often placed on the presence of technology instead of where it actually belongs – on the people who rely on technology to provide them the shortcuts they take. 

The modern age is one of advanced technology and many students are more than willing to take advantage of the ease of relying on computers and minimal online research. 

The primary function of schools is to teach children. Not only are they responsible for teaching them facts, but also for teaching them how to think and solve problems for themselves. When students are no longer able, or willing, to logically decide something, academics are quick to blame the ease of access to technological advances, separating themselves from the blame. 

Unfortunately, schools hold as much blame as the technology they bash, for the falling ability of students to produce results on their own. When I was in high school during the early 1980's, calculators were prohibited in all classes except for the advanced mathematics classes that required the use of scientific calculators. By the mid-1990's, the children of friends were telling me that they were required to bring a simple calculator to the classroom to assist them in their basic math calculations. 

Academia is generally as responsible for the falling academic performance of students as website sources such as Wikipedia. Although academia shares in the blame for falling academic performance with poor resources like Wikipedia, this shared blame should not excuse Wikipedia's less than ideal service record. 

One Thousand Monkeys Typing The Next Great Novel 

Wikipedia and all of its sister projects are not perfect. They are websites dedicated to providing knowledge to everyone. Those willing to share what they have learned donate to this knowledge base in hopes of helping others. At least, that is what they do in theory. 

The Wikipedia frontier has real possibility for the future, but behind the scenes, it is rife with "monkeys learning to type the next great novel," as sourced in the Infinite Monkey Theorem at (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_monkey_theorem). There are some areas of the Wikipedia that are definitely lacking in information and credibility, and yet when someone makes a gesture to add to the Wiki knowledge base, some editors frame these new contributions as unsupportable and unacceptable additions to the Wikipedia world. 

The Wikipedia world relies upon its published Code Of Conduct to drive the decisions of its editors. Examples of the Wikipedia Code Of Conduct include:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reliable_sources http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:BIO 

The Wikipedia Monkey Brigade 

One extreme example of the "Wikipedia Monkey Brigade" is the story of how Danny Sullivan noticed the attempt by some editor to delete the Matt Cutts chapter in the encyclopedia. 

For those involved in the study of search engines, Danny Sullivan is one of the most recognized experts in the field of search engines, and has been since 1997. As the founder of Search Engine Watch, and now the editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, Danny even has his own page in the Wikipedia world:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danny_Sullivan_(technologist) 

It seems some Wikipedia editor decided that Matt Cutts was not notable enough for his own chapter in the Wikipedia. For those of us who work in the search engine optimization community, such a suggestion is absolutely obscene. As a quality control engineer for Google and the voice of Google's spam detection department, people in the search industry pay close attention to what Cutts says about the future of search placement within Google. 

Sullivan suggested that the attempt to delete the Matt Cutts page was at the very least an example of how "inept" the Wikipedia editors have shown themselves to be. You can read Sullivan's heartfelt argument here:http://searchengineland.com/070108-170335.php 

Almost as interesting as Sullivan's blog post about the suggestion to delete the Matt Cutts page from the Wikipedia, was the page where people argued the decision about whether the page was worthy of deletion. You can read that interchange here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletion/Matt_Cutts 

Those supporting the deletion of the page were quick to point out the Wikipedia guidelines on Notability at: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:BIO) Strangely, I had read the guidelines myself and I felt that Matt Cutts was a slam-dunk for inclusion. 

The Good Faith Argument 

Much to my own surprise, the fellow who originally suggested that the Matt Cutts page should have been deleted got into the fray that resulted from his action. He even made reference to having read Sullivan's comments and chose to use them as a springboard to belittle Sullivan: 

"The sources provided by Sullivan in his blog are interesting and some would even make great additions to a number of AfD-submitted articles to help fulfill notability (it's a shame he spent the time to make personal commentary about me on his blog than to improve these poorly drafted articles, but to each his own)." 

For a guy who quotes the Wikipedia guidelines about "assuming good faith" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:AGF) as frequently as he does, I think his own comments about Sullivan betray his double standards about "good faith". 

It is true that one would not expect anyone who studied Bioinformatics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioinformatics) in college to understand who the players are in the search industry, but then one would also not expect a person who knew nothing about an industry to judge who is notable in that industry either. It would be like me assuming to be able to identify notable people in the bioinformatics field... Yep, that would be dishonest and silly. 

Final Thoughts 

The one thing that makes the world of Wikipedia both great and terrible is the same; it is the ability of people to make corrections to the Wikipedia encyclopedia when they see the need to do so. But, the truth is that any monkey with a keyboard and an Internet connection can create and edit documents in the Wikipedia community. 

Even I am a Wikipedia editor... I may even be a monkey editor, but at the end of the day, I don't monkey around editing information about which I am clueless. 

About The Author 
Bill Platt helps his customers with link building for their websites, through his program at: http://www.LinksAndTraffic.com By writing original informational articles that would be of interest to his client's potential customers, he is able to provide keyword-embedded links to his client's website from contextually relevant pages on the Internet. If you have more questions, you may visit Bill's website or give him a call at (405) 780-7745, between the hours of 9am-6pm CST, Mon-Fri.

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