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Wikipedia
A lot of people knock wikipedia. They assail it for undermining reference merit and being open to the masses for editing. Colleges disbar it from academic papers and high schools (try) to teach students about other methods of gathering information. And that's all well and good, wikipedia should never be the main source for information. But to completely ignore its brilliance borders on stupidity. In 2005 some professor said wikipedia would fail. We're almost to the end of that period and I would like to make a similar claim that in 5 years from now Wikipedia will be a credited source and as reliable as Brittanica. It is my estimation that in 5 years Wikipedia will be the most trusted encyclopedia in the world.

The process is already beginning. The site's regulators have made editing much harder for the common information giver. New edits about Living People must now be verified and given the okay by a trusted wikipedia editor before they will go live on the site. Also, passages and edits from questionable sources will now be color-coded on the website so users no not to trust this information 100%. Some people are admonishing Wikipedia for this change in the website. They say it fundamentally changes the company's rallying cause, that their encyclopedia was the first ever to be written by and for the masses. This is true to extent, but the masses still made it. Without the last however many years of user uploaded content, the site would never have been able to transition like it is now, into a credible academic source. So while the site may not be as open as it once was, the future success is entirely dependent on the foundation which regular users like you and I built.

Wikipedia has always been the bane of the professors. For some reason they don't like it's easiness. And yes, some slackers overuse it. But that's no different than a regular encyclopedia. Fake academics will always treat encyclopedias the same. They will scourge it for whatever information they can and eek those trivialities over 10 pages. But for real study wikipedia is an invaluable starting location. It is the background for almost every paper and the hyperlinks are truly helpful in the brainstorming process. Hyperlinks lead to tangential ideas and topics which is almost always where the thesis is hiding. Not to mention (I don't understand that saying because after always comes the thing that isn't mentioned) the reference links at the bottom which lead to credible newspapers and academic sites.

Wikipedia is practically a godsend and in the future it is only become a more powerful academic tool. It (or something very much like it) is going to continue to grow and eventually store the wealth of human knowledge. That probably gives it too much credit, but it will be the top layer in almost every piece of information. That's an openness I can get into.
The best tool and feature of wikipedia is the hyperlink. It has the most potential for academic research as well as the potential to revolutionize the way we gather and organize information. The hyperlink has always existed. It was around before the internet and will be afterward. It exists inside the human brain. The hyperlink we know online is merely the manifestation of the human intuition which naturally connects two unrelated objects. That the hyperlink exists online means our brains don't have to make the connection by itself, we can rely on a collective conscious which automatically connects the farreaches of our knowledge. In the original encyclopedia the hyperlinks existed at the end of a passage. For example, a blurb about the Taj Mahal might at the bottom say, See also: Shah Jahan.

Wikipedia is the best encyclopedia created thus far because it is the closest representation of the actual human brain. It works like we do. It provides background information and then links away in every possible direction, just like the paths of the brain which follow tangents to the very end. The downside to so many hyperlinks though is the distraction. When we follow the edges of the map we only get a peripheral vision of the entirety. And that's the biggest challenge wikipedia has and the one I've noticed in searching their site. They either get too technical in description or are too vague. To truly become the best encyclopedia the world has ever seen they need to exist in the middle ground. Every page needs to work independently without the hyperlinks in order to give the reader enough of a background to follow the links.

Still though, wikipedia is widely successful. More so than a source of encyclopedia it has succeeded as an organizing tool which has inspired many other popular internet sites. THINQon even employs the hyperlinks to connect ideas like wikipedia connects facts. Put the hyperlinks together and the user is able to visualize the path of his knowledge. When we click on a hyperlink we are going through an information tunnel, a passageway of knowledge whereby two subjects (related in varying degrees) are brought together.  And what will happen as the internet continues growing at its current pace is that the hyperlinks will oneday bridge websites more often than not. Wikipedia will take you away from the universe of its own site to the link most related to the user. It is my opinion that the internet will get smarter and individualize itself to the user so that your computer will be able to best determine where any given link should take you.

Wikipedia is merely the start of a self-organizing internet genius. Like the genius feature on your itunes, someday soon your browser will employ lessons learned by wikipedia to organize your entire internet experience to be most efficient. A cool idea no doubt.
I had hoped to find some detractors scourge the Wikiian Oracle just a little. I've known self-assured academics to close up like snapdragons at mention of it, but I've never gotten any of them to back up their distaste with any countervailing sources or principled objections, other than the one's I hear from people who don't read at all.

I have found the wikipedia to be an incredible accelerator to my learning. It is important to think a lot about the sources for what you read there. A knowledge of what sorts of topics are likely to suffer warpage and deceit are important to keep in mind.

These things said, it has this going for it: If just one contributor knows and tells the truth, then the truth will be there to find. The presence of chaff is always possible, but if you can reasonably believe that an unbiased editor has *ever* been on a given topic, then you can also believe that the right answer is among the claims represented.

Many detractors don't appear to think very deeply about the interconnected nature of knowledge. Pure BS dries up and blows away, because everything is cross-referenced in a way that reflects a lot of sunlight on it all. I never read one page at a time; I 'open in new tab' every relevant term that I need amplification on. I call it a 'wiki-dive'. When researching something foreign to me I typically will have ten pages or more waiting for me to slog through. I tend to get informed rather quickly that way. I also routinely pop open things in the 'external links' section, but in truth, the amount of chaff in the way on most official sources is too much to handle.

Two other resources come to hand very often for me.

One is Project Gutenberg. My focus has been literature, lately, and there is nothing like having the ability to call up whole books, free of interference, in an instant. When I read Goethe's Faust, recently, I became curious about how certain phrases would translate to the original German. So, I called up the original German version from Project Gutenberg and read the two books side by side.

The other is Google Books. This one is a sad, weak and infuriatingly crippled facsimile of the aforementioned resource; one tends to end up with poor quality scans, often with visible gloved hands in the frames. Also, even on books in the public domain they tend not to have the whole thing available. Just the same, I have learned a lot this way. The De Re Metallica was all available this way, and that was a hell of an interesting book.

But returning to Wikipedia; I must agree with the other posters that this is likely to become the de-facto standard of the world in short order. Anybody who finds it deficient is a Grinch if they don't fix it! For this reason, there is little reason to accept the criticisms reflexively doled out against it. Those who dismiss it out of hand based on 'common sense' have less sense than they think! I am in favour of banning it's use for academic papers, simply because this will drive it forward, rather than making an insular echo-chamber of it. Just the same, I cannot fathom not using it to direct me to the source material I would use for writing papers in school. Digging back to original sources is one thing it is very good for. The sheer lack of interference by advertisements and committees would be worth paying for, but paradoxically, the more you pay the more such interference seems to creep in.

The only criticisms of the Wikipedia I have ever taken as concerning were as follows: Complaints by some technologists that their edits were reversed, when in fact they were sure they were correct. Attribution of such claims is impossible, however, and mainstream aggregate sources are certain to suffer from the same defects, only more so.  More Troubling were reports of editing campaigns coming out of Capitol Hill, and other such places. I cannot deny that active misinformation, if a good enough simulacrum of history can be constructed, could warp the Wikipedia to dangerous effect. However, all of history has surely been affected in just this sort of way, even before crowdsourcing was conceived.
I love Wikipedia! It's my go to source whenever I need to look something up, and it rarely disappoints.

It's not surprising that academia has been slow to warm to the new ways, though. Traditionally what professors count as a "reliable source" is a book or article written by another professor and published in a peer reviewed journal or by an academic press. The idea of ordinary people sharing knowledge in a forum open to everyone threatens their authority and, to the extent it becomes accepted as reliable, undermines their ability to monopolize "serious discourse". In short, it's subversive. What next, translations of the Bible into the vernacular??

This problem isn't limited to universities either. A while ago I was listening to a radio show in which one high school teacher called in and affirmed that she did not allow her students to use Wikipedia because it is not "peer reviewed". To prove her point she edited a Wiki page for her class and inserted some information that was clearly erroneous (she didn't specify what it was) and several days later -the information was still there! Clearly Wikipedia is thoroughly unreliable!

That got me thinking: does this teacher allow her students to use other web sources for citation? How many of them are actually "peer reviewed" (which Wikipedia in fact is, of course, in the most literal sense). Most of the peer reviewed literature available on the web are behind paywalls which require an institutional subscription or outrageous pay per article fees (which in itself is an outrage against the free dissemination of ideas and completely unjustifiable in age in which information can be replicated and distributed essentially for free...but that's a topic for another time).Your average high school student is unlikely to have access to those kind of sources, or for the most part to find them very useful. To me it seems that Wikipedia can be no worse as a source for citation than the vast majority of information accessible on the Internet, and in many cases is probably significantly better. Some people have clearly uncritically  bought into the meme that Wikipedia is somehow different and worse than most of the content available on the web.
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Latest Post: July 21, 2010 at 7:10 PM
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