September 3, 2004

How to Use Wikipedia Properly

Ed Felten is blogging today about questions on the quality of content on the free online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. According to Felten's quick survey of topics on which he is an expert (Princeton University, Princeton Township, himself, virtual memory, and the Microsoft antitrust case), one in six Wikipedia articles contains serious errors, whereas the other five are extremely detailed and accurate.

First,concerning accuracy: I used to work on Wikipedia. It has been a few years, and none of my work is clearly evident any longer, but I worked on articles such as Fundamentalist Christianity, Byzantine text-type (of the New Testament), and Alexandrian text-type.

Regarding Professor Felten's comments on the Microsoft Antitrust Case page, I think this sort of problem is common in Wikipedia, but is getting progressively less common. It serves only as a warning as to how to use Wikipedia properly. Notice the "external links" at the bottom of the page. Every "high school report writer" knows that one does not take his information from a single source, particularly a single online source. Wikipedia has to be viewed as a typical web-site, which can be expected to have accurate information perhaps 90% of the time, but a researcher really ought to find a second source to back up his information, because of the other 10%.

One commenter on Professor Felten's blog, identifying himself as Michael S., suggested the possibility of a "bug report" feature. This is provided by Wikipedia's talk pages. Anyone can go post a comment on the talk page and the people who regularly edit the article will get it (you get there from the "discussion" link at the top).

A second commenter, C. Scott Ananian, focused on Professor Felten's concern with the emphasis of his own entry. I don't think that the Wikipedia article is misrepresenting anything. If slashdot and The Electronic Frontier Foundation hadn't been all over the DMCA threat Felten's team received, I never would have heard of him and would not today be a reader of his blog. Perhaps among those who read computer science journals, or among Princeton students, Professor Felten is better known for his other acheivements, but to the average Geek the name "Ed Felten" invokes one immediate response: The rallying cry, "Down with the DMCA!"

Posted by Kenny at September 3, 2004 12:18 PM
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