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For your blog post for this week, tackle the questions I told you to start thinking about last week: Should we trust Wikipedia or an expert-led encyclopedia more? How could Wikipedia be better set-up to better provide accuracy? Should it be open to everyone or just verified “experts”?

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Well, my first inclination is some of the best and brightest minds are not scholars, so why not trust the everyday wo(man). But if we are to trust an expert-led encyclopedia, then we need to define what qualifies someone as an expert. So if we go by Merriam Webster’s Dictionary that expert is 1 obsolete : experienced 2 : having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience; then based on that definition everyone is expert at something or another.

So in the spirit of camaraderie, I say one is just as good as the other. It is kinda like having book smarts and street smarts at your fingertips, the best of both worlds. But if we are to looks at this volume-wise, then Wikipedia is the Long Tail in action, it offers an infinite amount of shelf space for any and all types of knowledge while the traditional encyclopedias such World Book or Britannica can only hold so many pages in a book, plus you have to pay for its content. Or as a someone pointed out a few years ago a printed Encyclopedia has a very finite amount of space – you can only print, ship, and sell so many volumes in a set before it becomes unfeasible – you might get lots of in-depth articles on your preferred areas, but where the hell are you going to put a 178-volume set of encyclopedias? With Wikipedia, you just throw a few more servers into the rack and you’re set until you need to expand again. They’re only limited by their storage space and bandwidth.

On the other hand, by allowing anyone to contribute doesn’t necessarily mean you get the best information out there. On Wikipedia errors are committed whether they are intentionally or accidentally. You may end up with whole a lot fluffy and not enough substance, whereas in smaller volumes it is more precise, more exact. But, then again, knowledge is a buffet, you must sample everything in order to get your fill and your’s money worth.

Wikipedia is indispensable, however if we are only going to rely on it as a source of information, then we should look at how balanced Wikipedia is in regards to knowledge. Mapping the Geographies of Wikipedia Content points out Wikipedia presences and absences play a fundamental role in shaping how we interpret and interact with the world. The fact that the geographies of Wikipedia content are uneven, as we increasingly rely on peer produced information, large parts of the world remain unknown.

So the end analysis is this, I agree with Iqbal Mohammed, Wikipedia was never an encyclopaedia – it is (and should remain) a marketplace for information, where buyers and sellers meet and trade information.” You can’t eat just one and you can never have too many sources. Just verify the information you get no matter where it comes from.


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