FOR THE WEEK OF FEB. 02, 2009
Wikipedia tries to step closer to slippery goal: trust in its accuracy
Newspapers also are convenient, rapidly updated information sources. List advantages that daily papers, their websites and their online archives have over Wikipedia as a reference tool.
Some useful information in newspapers isn't on Wikipedia and never will be. How many examples can you come up with?
Even though professional journalists create most newspaper content, users also contribute. Flip to or click on a reader-generated item of interest, or perhaps an area filled with public voices.
As the world's most widely used encyclopedia, Wikipedia has swelled dramatically in size (12 million articles), languages (262) and popularity since going online in 2001. Now administrators of the English language version want to address the biggest hurdle of a reference tool created by users and edited by anyone: Not every "fact" on Wikipedia is true.
That embarrassment, the most recent in a series of "never mind" corrections, brings a Flagged Revisions proposal to block new and anonymous users from instantly changing entries. Only registered, reliable users could have their material appear immediately for public viewing. Other changes would be held back until a moderators accepts ("flags") the revisions or new articles.
Tighter Wikipedia standards benefit anyone who clicks onto Wikipedia for quick research -- including journalists and, hello, students from reading age through post-college graduate school. But the concern behind the proposed tightening is what makes it risky to use for schoolwork. Open access remains the foundation of this 21st century icon, so many teachers and professors discourage or ban use of Wikipedia as an information resource.
Wikipedia acknowledges: "Critics of Wikipedia target its systemic bias and inconsistencies and its policy of favoring consensus over credentials. . . . Reliability and accuracy are also an issue. Other criticisms are centered on its susceptibility to vandalism and the addition of spurious or unverified information." -- Wikipedia article about itself
Journalist says: " I don't expect 100 percent accuracy from a Wikipedia page. I want a quick and rough introduction to whatever it is I happen to be searching for. Like most people, I apply common sense to what I find." -- Shane Richmond, technology columnist, The Telegraph (London, UK)
What's ahead: "At this stage, it appears the majority of the community are behind this decision. As that discussion unfolds, we'll have a better sense of the timing." -- Jay Walsh, Wikimedia Foundation spokesman
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