Wikipedia: backlash or much needed expectations correction?

Nicholas Carr started the lash a-backing with his essay-post The Amorality of Web 2.0. Last night The Register ran a "letters special" filled with responses to its article last week criticising the quality of writing on Wikipedia.

Register readers not only call into question the accuracy of entries but take the opportunity to accuse Wikipedia’s "cabal" of crowding out contributors who know what they’re talking about but may not share the cult-ish belief in the project as path-to-data-nirvana.

The Reigster’s debate’s definitely more useful than The Guardian’s slightly glib feature yesterday which asked seven experts to cross-check entries in their field of expertise. The upshot of these seemed to be that Wikipedia had basic facts right and was useful mostly as a quick reference, but that there were often inaccuracies and shortcomings.

I got the impression that the Britannica’s former editor Robert McHenry was only too delighted to put the boot in in his section, and according to Wikpedia, he’s got form for this sort of thing.

The case against Wikipedia was slightly undermined in the Guardian article by the catty 0/10 rating for the entry on haute couture from Alexandra Shulman, editor of Vogue. Despite the fact that "there are a few correct facts included" she says that "every value judgement it makes is wrong". Her critique inspired blog-post headline of the week from Matt Jones at Blackbeltjones/work: "Wikipedia: we really haute to know better" .

It all makes you wonder if the Chinese authorities are today patting themselves on the back for their cutting edge, right-on-the-Zeitgeist decision to ban Wikipedia, the free, open source encylcopedia, now that anyone who’s anyone has decided to turn on the thing and give it a good kicking.

Personally, I’ll continue to use Wikipedia for what it’s good for: quick, free, mostly useful reference, especially on technology subjects. Anyone who is in the business of serious research, as I sometimes am, shouldn’t use it as an authoritative, definitive source – but then I’m not sure that anyone ever did.

By Antony Mayfield

I'm Antony Mayfield - to find out more about me take a look at my LinkedIn profile (see the button on the home page). You can contact me by email at antony [dot] mayfield [at] gmail [dot] com. Google