Tuesday, August 22, 2006

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Wikipedia vs. Brittanica

David Adesnik provides an excellent summary of the relative strengths of each encyclopedia. Key point:

Wikipedia has been able to generate so much content -- 1,000,000 in English, compared to 120,000 for Britannica -- precisely because it has so few rules. As Americans know, it is very dangerous to put limits on free speech when that is the essence of what makes you great. Yet some limits are necessary....

let me just suggest that the purpose of Wikipedia isn't necessarily to replicate or transcend Britannica. Vast swathes of Wikipedia content would be considered far too trivial for a "serious" publication like Britannica....

Some might call this a waste of a labor, but I think it's a very good thing. Most people burn out when they don't waste some time on trivial pursuits. But even trivial pursuits often depend on information.... I say, "Viva Wikipedia!"

posted by Dan on 08.22.06 at 10:02 PM


I use Wikipedia very regularly both for my professional work and information interests. It serves the purpose quite well. However, most of the time I wish entries are longer. But there are links that take you to the depth. It is true 'change maker' and Brittanica as printed volumes bound to go down.

posted by: Umesh Patil on 08.22.06 at 10:02 PM [permalink]

Incidentally, you dont have an artice of you're own, but you are mentioned in the 'blog' article:

"Since 2003, blogs have gained increasing notice and coverage for their role in breaking, shaping, and spinning news stories. The Iraq war saw bloggers taking measured and passionate points of view that go beyond the traditional left-right divide of the political spectrum.

blogging by established politicians and political candidates, to express opinions on war and other issues, cemented blogs' role as a news source. (See Howard Dean and Wesley Clark.) Meanwhile, an increasing number of experts blogged, making blogs a source of in-depth analysis. (See Daniel Drezner and J. Bradford DeLong.)"

You can now safely mention this to the SO without getting accused of ego surfing :).

posted by: Eric on 08.22.06 at 10:02 PM [permalink]

Note to self: random apostrophes make you look stupid.

posted by: Eric on 08.22.06 at 10:02 PM [permalink]

Wikipedia is good for a general overview, but it's generally a good idea to verify what you find in wikipedia elsewhere, especially when what you are researching relates to a current event or politics.

Wikipedia has an official 'Neutral Point of View' policy, and the editors are generally successful in enforcing it. However, there are occasional lapses.

posted by: rosignol on 08.22.06 at 10:02 PM [permalink]

Adesnik seems to be missing the key point regarding what is and isn't a waste of labor. I agree that trivial and obscure articles in Wikipedia are not a waste, but it has nothing to do with my need for a break from serious work. It has to do with the basic economics of a situation in which information is costly to create but free to distribute.

Simply put, it's a "waste of labor" to write an article with information that someone can easily get somewhere else. If Britannica already has superb article about Isaac Newton and Wikipedia writes a new article that's just as good, they haven't added anything to our knowledge (assuming we have access to Britannica). Now, if the good folks at Wikipedia write an article about Gumball Machines, they've actually added something to our collective knowledge base.

Incidentally, there have been vending machines for gum since as early as 1888, but no machines actually carried gumballs until 1907. "Gumball machine" is also a slang term for an old police cruiser.

posted by: anno-nymous on 08.22.06 at 10:02 PM [permalink]

Ask, and ye shall recieve.


Is there an article on the subject in Britannica?

posted by: rosignol on 08.22.06 at 10:02 PM [permalink]

> Wikipedia is good for a general overview,
> but it's generally a good idea to verify
> what you find in wikipedia elsewhere,
> especially when what you are researching
> relates to a current event or politics.

If Wikipedia achieves nothing else but teaching people that lesson as it applies to any consolidated information source, including Briticannica, it will have performed a great service to mankind.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 08.22.06 at 10:02 PM [permalink]

Agree with rosignol: check & source the wiki's you read (or write). They might be a good place to start, but reading a few Wiki articles in my areas of expertise revealed lots of subtle mistakes and omissions. I refuse to let my students use them as citable sources.

posted by: jprime on 08.22.06 at 10:02 PM [permalink]

I like Wikipedia when I want some hard-core technical info, or wierd info like how exactly do Stargate "Zat guns" work? I doubt that Brittanica is likely to be adding in-depth discussions of SF universes any time soon...

posted by: Foobarista on 08.22.06 at 10:02 PM [permalink]

Atlantic Monthly had a fantastic article on Wikipedia published in the September 2006 issue. It is well worth a read and some afterthought. The article, authored by Marshall Poe, is entitled "The Hive: Can thousands of Wikipedians be wrong? How an attempt to build an online encyclopedia touched off history’s biggest experiment in collaborative knowledge."

posted by: LexAquila on 08.22.06 at 10:02 PM [permalink]

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