4 wise ways to wield Wikipedia

Recently, an Irish student put a fake quote on a Wikipedia entry for a French composer, which got used by several obituaries on mainstream newspapers (Student’s Wikipedia hoax dupes newspapers). He was doing it for a social experiment and was pretty surprised how far it had gone, eventually emailing the newspapers himself to tell them the quote was fabricated by him. The journalists would have gotten into a lot of trouble for misusing the online encyclopaedia as a reliable source – but how does one correctly approach Wikipedia?  

Wikipedia – love it or hate it, it is one of the most popular and resourceful sites today; catering for over 200 languages, with over 2 million articles just in English covering topics from Britney to Bronchitis . But problems like the sham composer quote arise when people expect the online encyclopaedia to be something that it’s not – a totally reliable, credible academic resource. Even the creators of the site warns students not to cite it for their papers as an academic source. Because that’s not what Wikipedia is for, nor does it claim to be so (for more on what Wikipedia is not go here).

 So what is Wikipedia’s true purpose? Bruns (2008, p.103) claims that the collaborative online encyclopaedia’s aim is to present representations of knowledge, which, unlike traditional encyclopaedias, does not try to “encapsulate the current state of accepted knowledge itself”.  What this means is that the articles are an aggregation of information that represent what is known by people of a particular subject, which is continuously updated as new or different information is found. To achieve this, it  incorporates the “open participation and communal evaluation” principles of Produsage by allowing anyone to edit (Bruns 2008, p.103). 

Obviously, as discussed above, there’s been a lot of crticism by people’s misconception of Wikipedia, but in this blog let’s have look at a few unique benefits of checking out Wikipedia.

Here are four correct ways to approach Wikipedia:

  1.  As a starting point to research: Two of the major principles of Wikipedia are called ‘No Original Research and Verifiability where contributors are prohibited to present their own ideas or conclusions and are required to cite other sources instead. Therefore, what they have are “second or third-hand summaries…[that] are excellent starting points for learning about something” (Liu 2007). The articles are easier to find, read and understand than traditional textbooks, online thesises, etc. and can often lead to more credible resources through its reference lists.
  2. To get an unbiased view: The other major principle of Wikipedia is Neutral Point of View where it allows multiple perspectives to be presented without favouring one or the other. This is done by allowing users to add different perspectives, as long as they’re verifiable,  and monitored through community evaluation so that one perspective is not valued as valid over the other (Bruns 2007, p.131). Because the source of information is more decentralised, it is more likely that you will get the full picture rather than one POV which you’re more likely to get through blogs or organisational websites.
  3. To find information on contemporary and unique topics:  Because it allows easy editing without limitations of time-consuming review processes or print and distribution processes, often the most up-to-date information is found on Wikipedia and Liu (2007) cliams it can often have comprehensive coverage on very recent topics, often from popular culture and technology. Some acamedics have even referred to Wikipedia to describe participatory culture and contemporary cultural opinion (Spiro 2008). However, again because these articles are not conclusive it is advised to carefully check the ‘history’ and ‘discussion’ tabs to evaluate the validity of information (Liu 2007). You can also find information on the most obscure topics as well, which may not be covered by traditional encyclopaedic sources.
  4. To be part of a knowledge-sharing community: Finally, Wikipedia is in the end about a online community that is passionate about sharing knowledge. While it is argued that most contributions are made by a minimal critical mass, the quality of the site will improve as more users contribute to refine the content (Brusn 2007, p.111).  To encourage this, Wikipedia encourages more people to take part in bettering the site through providing tutorials and tips on how to contribute to articles.

So why not visit the site to give, rather than to take, for a change?

Reference

Bruns, A. 2008. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production To Produsage. New York: Peter Lang

Brisbane Times. 2009. Student’s Wikipedia hoax dupes newspapers. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/technology/students-wikipedia-hoax-dupes-newspapers-20090507-aw7k.html (accessed 9 May 2009).

Liu, A. 2007. Course Materials:Student Wikipedia Use Policy. http://www.english.ucsb.edu/faculty/ayliu/courses/wikipedia-policy.html (accessed 11 May 2009).

Patrick. 2006. Founder of Wikipedia Advise Against Academic Use of Wiki. http://kairosnews.org/founder-of-wikipedia-advises-against-academic-use-of-wiki (Accessed 10 May 2009).

Spiro, L. 2008. Is Wikipedia Becoming  a Respectable Academic Source? http://digitalscholarship.wordpress.com/2008/09/01/is-wikipedia-becoming-a-respectable-academic-source/  (accessed 10 May 2009).

 

 

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3 responses to “4 wise ways to wield Wikipedia

  1. lauren06350674

    Mimi,

    I really enjoyed your blog post on Wikipedia – particularly due to the approach you took to the topic, as I share your point of view. Instead of criticizing the site as many academics are inclined to do, you focused on the positive aspects of, and how to successfully utilise, Wikipedia.

    In my opinion, the most significant point pertaining to this topic – and one that you effectively highlight – is that people expect Wikipedia to be something it’s not. Our tutors and lecturers constantly repeat the mantra, “Wikipedia as it is not a credible source of information”. No it is not, and as you say, it does not claim to be. As Bruns says, Wikipedia presents representations of knowledge. Wikipedia fosters a ‘knowledge-sharing community’; allowing anyone to contribute knowledge on a subject they may be passionate and well informed about. This is an important aspect of the site, and one that I believe could be considered beneficial to users. Users are exposed to a wealth of knowledge, which they otherwise may not have access to if professionals were in control of the dissemination of information. Although Wikipedia may not be a source of reliable academic information, it does serve other valuable and valid functions. Your post clearly expresses the true purpose of Wikipedia and four ways to use the site.

  2. Hey Mimi, I like this post! This post not only introduces the crucial knowledge about Wikipedia, more importantly, it tells me 4 wise to evaluate the knowledge form Wikipedia. I think this is great! As all we know, Wikipedia is useful as the information is shared across the world globally with the intelligence from different people. All people can edit it and contribute it. Unfortunately, some knowledge is incorrect. Like you mentioned, Wikipedia is good for get new knowledge but not good for academic purpose. “Do not use information from Wikipedia to be references in your essay!” that is one of my tutors told me in my first semester of university. I always keep that in my mind.

    As the tips you listed for evaluate the knowledge, I think the first one is most important and useful. Like you said, it is easier to evaluate the information by search the materials and references that producers use to create the content. While, I like your last suggestion! If we find some mistakes, why don’t we try to edit and fix it? It is a good way to improve the quality of knowledge in Wikipedia! Like you mentioned, more people to contribute it, better we can create!

  3. Hi Mimi!
    You have provided an interesting and informative look on Wikipedia. Usually, you would see people’s criticisms about this knowledge-sharing site, so it’s refreshing to see your side of it. It was also great to see how you have introduced the four ways in approaching Wikipedia. These steps will be valuable to me and other users in the future when we come across any useful information on the site. They will enable me to critically evaluate any articles that I think could be of use in any uni projects and assignments.

    The four points you have listed, I believe, are all equally important in assessing content on Wikipedia. It is just as important for contributors to not come to their own conclusions and cite their sources as it is important for content to be continually in the process of evaluation and editing by the community to enable better quality material to be produced. The second and third points that you make are also valid. Articles with neutral points of view are necessary for unbiased content to be produced. Also, Wikipedia is a leader in providing up-to-date and “live” knowledge, which is especially valuable in researching current events, for example the 2005 Boxing Day tsunami. You also made a point about checking the history and discussion tabs in our evaluation of Wikipedia articles – a very useful tip!

    Thanks for a very insightful look into Wikipedia Mimi!

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