My name is Ivan, aka RamblingLibrarian to my friends. I enjoyed your story on Wikipedia. I believe the point of the article was to inform people of the "dangers" of using Wikipedia and the inherent dangers of wikis. It's a good thing to raise awareness among your readers -- especially students -- on potential pitfalls of over-reliance on any one given information source.
If I've any "grouse", it's that a more balanced picture could be made about wiki-based information sources. Your story may lead people to conclude that wiki-based information sources are not legitimate.
I'm suggesting that one should not dismiss Wikipedia entries outright. The problem is maybe citing Wikipedia as THE only source (i.e. laziness of the user). It has less to do with Wikipedia per se.
The "danger" of using wikipedia is the same as using any website, where one can be over-reliant on one single source without verifying it with supporting information. How rigorous we choose to exercise this verification process is a separate issue.
Some articles (like this and this one) have suggested that Wikipedia may even be more reliable that traditional sources, or at least there's no conclusive way to prove that wiki-sources are less reliable.
The strength of a wiki is also its weakness, depending on perspectives. You've correctly pointed out that a wiki "allows the Internet community to contribute or modify entries". In a general sense, anyone can modify the wiki's content. Any information verified today might have been changed the next, perhaps maliciously. Another "weakness" is that there is no rigorous vetting process, unlike traditional information sources.
But I'd argue that these are similar issues with website information (just that with websites, access to editing is less open). And for wikipedia, there's a way to cite the specific version of the information (see this post). If one bothers to explore the "history" of the article, one can track the changes to the information -- this feature is not available in most websites. Again, I point out that all information sources requires some sort of verification.
Your story mentions how our national sport hero, Ang Peng Siong, had an entry in Wikipedia. Mr Ang was quoted as saying "At least the history of my life is shared with the generations to come...Hopefully they will be inspired by my story as well".
What soon follows was about one factual error -- the year where his 1982 freestyle world record (50m) of 19.86 seconds was formalised at the 1986 Fina World Swimming Championships, and not 1987 as stated. Then the statement that "Mr Ang's case is just one of many examples of the errors and inaccuracies which have crept onto the site".
I think one error doesn't not make an entry (or source) irrelevant. Frankly, I didn't even know an organisation like Fina existed, or that world records needed to be formalised, never mind the year. And the statement that there are "many errors and inaccuracies" reminds me of my bosses asking me this question when I make similar remarks: "How many exactly, compared to the total?" : )
Sometimes, a wikipedia entry is preferred over what's available from print or online sources. For example, I was looking for the discography for Guns N' Roses (Gn'R). What seems to be official Gn'R sites were terrible as a resource. This one (www.gnronline.com) is merely a landing page. This is mainly a tour calendar (www.gunsnroses.us) and this is more for publicity (web.gunsnroses.com). The more relevant sites were these three:
Of the three, I felt the Answers.com and the Wikipedia entries were better. And between these two, the Wikipedia entry was more comprehensive.
The point was that I've evaluated the Wikipedia entry against other sites (rather than take at face value) and it fitted the context of what I considered as "adequate information".
I hope you don't see this as a rant. As I said, I like what you're doing, to remind your readers about the pitfalls of a wiki-based information source. Ultimately, they have to make an informed choice.
Perhaps as a follow-up story, you could let your readers know that wikis do not equate only to wikipedia. Wikipedia is but a "brand name". The wiki tool has been applied to an information resource listed as encyclopedic entries. Wikis can be applied in other ways, so long the need is to have community-contributed and managed content.
Case in point, i.e. shameless plug, this recent experiment called the Singapore Social Media Directory (background here).
Here's another example of a community-collaborated page, where content is posted by individuals who have content to share, and who don't have the time (or in my case, the technical expertise) to create a website to allow multiple authors or hosting of files or maintaining an audit trial of edits to the document.
Every information tool and resource have their pros and cons. It's not a question of the tool, but how we choose to accept and use that information.
Thanks, and best regards,
Here are highlights from the article in the Straits Times, "Slice of Singapore on Wikipedia", by Jocelyn Lee (1 April 2007).
- The story starts by pointing out that "local personalities" and "uniquely Singaporean terms like 'kiasu'" can be found in Wikipedia.
- Cites entry on 50m world record holder, Ang Peng Siong: "The 44-year-old swimming coach was not aware that he could be found on Wikipedia."
- Also cites an error in the entry (discussed in the Open Letter above).
- Quote: "Mr Ang's case is just one of many examples of the errors and inaccuracies which have crept onto the site."
- Quote: "Because of its nature, the website has had its share of significant misinformation and juvenile vandalism."
- Cites the case (in 2006) of former USA Today editor, John Seigenthaler, being erroneously accused in a Wikipedia entry of being involved in the murders of senator Kennedy and president John F. Kennedy. Wikipedia was forced to tighten submission rules.
- Cites recent case (in 2007) how the credibility of Wikipedia was questioned again when news of one respected editor was deemed to have misled people about his qualifications.
- Quotes Dr. Mark Cenite, assistant chair of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information: "When students are doing research projects, they should not cite Wikipedia as anyone can edit the content there"
- Ends with a mention of how co-founder of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, has started an
- alternative called Citizendium (which attempts to introduce greater editorial rigor to entries).