December 16, 2005


As I think I've made clear on the site, I have a digital infatuation with Wikipedia. For our purposes here, I'll give a brief summary of how the thing works. It's an online encyclopedia where anyone can contribute. Let's say you know a lot about King Crimson, the Philadelphia Flyers, or gods of thunder. You look it up on Wikipedia and if there's no entry you can create one. If there's already an entry you can add to it or edit it. This has produced an enormous volume of data available at the drop of a search term and without all the sorting through crappy web pages that a Google search can lead to.

Tycho of Penny Arcade, however, has had a less than fantastic experience (that link should eventually take you directly to their comic, which can then take you to his news post on this subject). The guys over there decided they wanted to poke fun at things like Magic: The Gathering which build up extremely over-detailed fictional backstories and histories all in support of what ammounts to elf and orc baseball cards. So they made up an entirely new intellectual property, but acted as if it were real and had existed for decades, and started the process of filling out their own Wiki (based on the same free technology as Wikipedia, but not an entry in the Wikipedia itself) of the long and detailed histories of a world with ambulatory furniture. Their comic has a pretty big following, so pretty soon they had all kinds of other people playing along, adding in stories of armoir wars and description of the plushy-like subset of this particular fandom, the "furnicators". Of course, the internet is full of dicks, and pretty soon people started messing with their entries.

This is a really long way of getting to the question, of what value is Wikipedia? Do you like it? Is it better or worse than traditional encyclopedias and why/why not? On the one hand it has allowed extremely detailed entries on thousands of subjects because everyone brings their expertise to each subject. On the other, think of any hotly contested issue or person, type their name in and look at the entry. Typographical wars are waged back and forth daily between people who think that something the other guy wrote isn't balanced, fair, or truthful and because no one has any more authority there's no final say in the editorial process.

1 comment:

DrDeef said...

I took this from

Nature magazine recently conducted a head-to-head competition between Wikipedia and Britannica, having experts compare 42 science-related articles. The result was that Wikipedia had about 4 errors per article, while Britannica had about 3. However, a pair of endevouring Wikipedians dug a little deeper and discovered that the Wikipedia articles in the sample were, on average, 2.6 times longer than Britannica's - meaning Wikipedia has an error rate far less than Britannica's." Interesting, considering some past claims.

Here's the original article: