Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wikipedia, pro and con

As you might have spotted in the About Me panel to the right, I’m not a great fan of Wikipedia. I use it, but not for work: a book editor really cannot rely upon it for much more than a quick rough and dirty check of a date or a location. That’s why I perhaps foolishly pride myself on never linking to it but instead hunting down what look like more accurate sources.

Wikipedia is fine for casual stuff – it’s great for uncontroversial material like geography, astronomy or sports – but above all it’s fascinating as an exercise in cooperation. This piece in the Boston Review by Evgeny Morozov (who is currently a Yahoo! fellow at Georgetown University’s E.A. Walsh School of Foreign Service – and no, I didn’t make that up) about Andrew Lih’s new book The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia examines that exercise at some length (about 3750 words – amazing for a book review these days). Morozov is not unsympathetic but does observe:
There is virtually no sense of relative importance: improving an article about a prominent historical figure is as important as writing the biography of a soap opera character, as long as both are deemed notable. One does not have to be a natural-born elitist to see that relying on this simplistic binary will inevitably keep the focus on the frivolous, which is never in short supply.
But here’s the most telling quote, IMHO:
Wikipedians are 80 percent male, more than 65 percent single, more than 85 percent without children, and around 70 percent of them are under the age of 30.
Maybe it’s time for a Chikipedia?

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