environest

One person's journey from an empty nest to environmentally friendly nest

Wikipedia takes up less space on my desk

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As a child I can remember scanning the alphabetical identifiers on the bindings of the beige and green World Book Encyclopedia volumes, circa 1960, in hopes of finding a wealth of information that would help me finish a school project. Back then the complete set had an honoured place, on its own shelf, in the living room of my family home. Over time that shelf started to sag from the weight of the books and after several more years they sat on the shelf, relatively untouched, as a reminder that time had moved on without them.

If someone had told the child me that my faithful encyclopedia could contain errors I would have defended it vehemently. When I read or hear that the information on Wikipedia contains errors my reaction is considerably less passionate. When I read the results of the Giles (2005) special report that “reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively” (p.901), I even had the fleeting thought that my 1960 World Book would have certainly fared better than those Britannicas!

My childhood naiveté aside, I was a little surprised that Wikipedia stood up so well in the encyclopedia standoff, given that anyone with Internet access can edit the information.  As Royal and Kapila (2009) explain, “Wikipedia uses the wiki software format, which is a collaborative development environment” and “operates under the assumption that more writers and editors are better than fewer and that the community will develop and monitor content in a manner that is improved over that of traditional information publishing” (p.139). When I consider the Giles (2005) report results and the Royal and Kapila (2009) description of Wikipedia’s operating premise I surmise that perhaps we are witnessing content monitoring that has, at the time of the available information, reached equilibrium with traditional information publishing. We must keep an eye on this space if we are to determine whether the collaborative community of Wikipedia surpasses the content accuracy of traditional publishing.

I will confess to being a Wikipedia user and I will admit to enjoying the ease of access, search ability, and extra shelf space that Wikipedia provides. Experience and scholarly training has led me to become a cautious user of Wikipedia information but the same could be said of any information I find on the Internet. Much like my old faithful World Book, Internet sources provide a starting point but not the complete story. Whether I find a few good references to follow up on or few valuable key words that I can use in a scholarly article search engine I almost always take something valuable away from a quick little Wikipedia search.

I grew up with the printed word and I still feel a strange sense of peace and comfort when I sit in a library surrounded by printed books, journals and newspapers. I smiled when I read the heading “Exaggerated Rumors of Death” and the meaning associated with that heading “Some assume that technology will allow us to distill pure information, leaving the document, as such, behind in the ashes” (Brown and Duguid, 1996). My response is centered in my personal observation of the large quantity of documents I have generated since gaining access to first a PC and now a laptop, Ipad and blackberry compared to the small volume of documents I generated prior to having access to this technology. When I consider the vast number of people collaborating to document our history, our present and our futures on Wikipedia, and like information sources, I believe the document need not fear death but rather it should celebrate its potential to outlive us all.

References

Brown, J. S. & P. Duguid. (1996). The Social Life of DocumentsFirst Monday. 1, 1.

Giles. J. (2005). Special Report: Internet encyclopaedias go head to headNature. 438, pp 900-901.

Royal, C. & Kapila, D. (2009). What’s on Wikipedia, and What’s Not . . . ?: Assessing Completeness of Information. Social Science Computer Review. 27, 1. pp 138-148.

 

photo

My overworked little laptop on a stack of my written words…ps I Googled Wikipedia Canada

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13 thoughts on “Wikipedia takes up less space on my desk

  1. The document has the potential to “outlive us all”! What an astounding reality! As scholars begin to fear the disappearance of the novel as it is being replaced with e-books and electronic documents, and print journals and magazines have an online counterpart, Brown and Duguid (1996) suggest they should fear not. The document will not disappear. We have witnessed the changing form of the document over history. Take novels for instance. Historically, novels were sold as three volume sets. Later, the serial novel emerged, sold for 10 cents at train stations and on street corners. Then, there are the novels we are familiar with today. And most recently, the emergence of the e-book that can be read from a computer or tablet. Of course, I am missing many phases in the history of the novel, by the point is, the novel has evolved over history and will continue to evolve, but it has not disappeared. People will continue to seek information in the form of documents, encyclopedia articles and novels until people cease to exist.

  2. Along with you I too confess to being a Wikipedia user. Its unfortunate that we have to feel guilty about it, don’t you think? But I do completely agree with you, the reason Wikipedia is so popular is because of the easy accessibility. The website is so user friendly; therefore it attracts the online community regardless of generation. When conducting any research for university I never completely trust the information I find on Wikipedia without first confirming it from a scholarly source. What I most like about Wikipedia is that at the bottom of the page there are always links to alternative sources where you can find additionally information about your topic. From my experience most of the time the links are scholarly or academic sources. These links help me further my research, so I completely agree with you, Wikipedia is a great starting point.

    • “It’s unfortunate that we have to feel guilty about it.” I had the same thought as I was reading the posts this week. I feel a little sorry for all those people who work so hard to monitor Wikipedia, not only is it unpaid work but rather thankless as well….but if any of them read this post PLEASE DON’T STOP 😉

  3. I loved your intro to this post. I could not help but chuckle to myself a bit when reading it because the same thing happened to me, and the encyclopedias in my den. It is amazing how much we have changed in such a short time frame, with information literally right at our fingertips! Like you, I could not believe the findings that the Giles (2005) article presented. It amazed me, and to be quite honest, I was shocked. Throughout my entire academic career I was told to never use Wikipedia as an academic source because it was unreliable. Little did my educators know that Wikipedia is just as accurate as Britannica. Nevertheless, I will always use academic sources when obtaining factual information. This is because Wikipedia still has risks involved due to the fact that anyone can edit it. I will only use Wikipedia for general inquiries. Like you, I get comfort looking in books. It reminds me of a simpler time, and I also feel I can trust published information the most.

  4. Really enjoyed reading your blog. By the looks of your blog entry I can tell that I am much younger than you (age is only a number ;)) but I still remember having those encyclopedias as well. I remember having to use huge bulky books for school projects during my elementary school years. It’s funny how technology has literally changed our lives so drastically and it all seemed to happen so fast. I really do aggree that people have to take precautions when searching for articles on Wikipedia but like you said that goes for any information you can find on the internet. I would take that statement futher and say that we need to be cautious when we get information from anywhere including text books that have been published in the traditional manner. I think it’s great that our world has found a collaborative way to publish information and recieve no reward in return. After all that’s what is happening to the world around us, we are becoming more connected everyday through the use of technology. The Module 3 readings have most definitely opened my eyes to a new perspective on Wikipedia.

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