The Wonderful World of Wiki

March 12, 2008

I freakin’ love Wikipedia.  I use it for just about everything.  In law school, it was the perfect instant Cliff Note for whatever insanely complicated topic a super dry professor was dragging into the ground.  On the Hill, if a constituent wrote in about an abandoned lighthouse on a remote island in the middle of a lake that time forgot, Wiki provided at least a starting point to understanding why the lighthouse should be saved/torn down/painted hot pink.  Having spent the second half of spring break amazingly sick in bed, it kept me from going completely stir-crazy.  Were you aware that Queen Victoria was so distraught after the death of Prince Albert that she became determined her youngest daughter would always stay at her side, not allowing her to marry until she agreed to bring her husband to live with her mother as well?  ME NEITHER!  I also didn’t know that Anne Frank had four cats or that Mr. Dressup (Canada’s Mr. Rogers) died in 1996 (sad). 

Like most wonderful things (donuts, potato chips, marijuana*), Wikipedia can prove dangerous if overindulged in.  For detailed research, verification with more substantive sources is surely something I would consider necessary.  I have come across enough pages containing minor but legitimate errors to not take everything on the site at face value (while browsing Ted Kennedy’s entry one time I found the sentence “he is a worthless drunk driver” mixed in a chunk of otherwise sound information pertaining to his challenging of Jimmy Carter for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination). 

 It would seem that more oversight of the editing process would eliminate many of the issues that make Wikipedia a less esteemed source of scholarly information than it could be.  In my opinion, it is a far superior resource than a traditional encyclopedia, if for no other reason than the amazing depth of topics it contains.  Would an expert ever decide a listing of Anne Frank’s cats was necessary?  Probably not.  Yet some random soul with too much time on their hands did, and even those who have read Frank’s diary backward and forward have the ability to find out something new, albeit trivial, on a little girl whose last surviving relative died nearly 30 years ago.  There should be a way to let such armchair historians, or Poindexters, or football nuts, or woodcarvers, or sexologists, or gardeners, share their information while maintaining an atmosphere of intellectual respectability.  That challenge, maintaining openness, resisting censorship and balancing the frivolous and the profound is perhaps one that faces not just Wikipedia, but Web 2.0 as a whole.

*or so I’ve been told…

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