Wikipedia is 10!

By Michele Desilva, Library

I very nearly started this post off with the sentence, “I am fascinated by Wikipedia.” But, that’s not entirely true. While I do use Wikipedia (for “presearch” or pop culture trivia), I am not really fascinated by the content itself but rather by the many interesting discussions about Wikipedia. Below are links or citations to some of the most interesting of the things I’ve read about Wikipedia and its potential effects (for good or ill) on scholarship, society, democracy, etc.:

From Spiegel, “Backstage with the Wikipedians.” Challenging the view of Wikipedia as a mass-edited resource, this article notes, “Only 0.5 percent of all active users are responsible for nearly two-thirds of all editing.” An interesting overview of Wikipedia’s administrative structure (yes, Wikipedia has administrators).

From First Monday (an online peer-reviewed journal), “How today’s college students use Wikipedia for course-related research.” Students (or at least the ones surveyed for this paper) seem to have taken the warnings against citing Wikipedia in their term papers to heart, though they are still using Wikipedia for “presearch” (finding background information about unknown topics) and students in some disciplines are more likely than their counterparts in other disciplines to use it.

From The New Yorker, “Know It All: Can Wikipedia Conquer Expertise?” Although this article is from 2006, I only ran across it recently. It includes a history of Wikipedia’s ascendancy and a brief but entertaining history of the human tendency to collect knowledge into encyclopedic  works.

Although it isn’t directly about Wikipedia, another article well worth reading in conjunction with these others is also from the New Yorker, “Out of Print: The Life and Death of the American Newspaper.” There is a striking similarity in the conversation surrounding journalistic expertise and citizen reporting and the conversation about Wikipedia’s knowledge base. In fact, as this article shows, the roots of the debate about expertise, knowledge, and democracy precede Wikipedia by many, many years.

Finally, if you have some more extended reading time and you’re interested in this topic, you should get Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget (the COCC Library doesn’t own it, but you can request it through Summit or get it from the public library).

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