In school we have always been told never to use Wikipedia as a source of our information as it is not reliable and may contain errors. My opinion is somewhat in the middle of this controversy. I have always used Wikipedia for personal use or as a starter of gaining my information or to gain some clarification on a certain topic as it is easily understandable and not as confusing as some research papers can be. That being said, when doing research for school, I will always try to find academic papers and peer reviewed journals to confirm and support my information and make sure that it is correct. After reading this week’s assigned readings my confidence in Wikipedia has not really changed. I have always kept in mind while doing research that most things I read will be biased based on the author or the scientist’s opinion. It is good practice to get in the habit of not relying on just one source, that to gain a greater understanding and one that is the most accurate you must take information from many sources. To say that Wikipedia is not a good source of information is not true in my opinion. Yes it can be edited by anyone but I think that gives it an advantage. It will not be just one persons view on the topic and has the opportunity for anyone to fix its mistakes where most other types of documents cannot. In the article by Nature, it relates the Wikipedia to the Encyclopedia Britannica and found that there is not a significant difference in the number of errors found (Giles, 2005). The reality of it is that no one is perfect and mistakes will happen. Whether you have an expert writing an entry or multiple people contributing to one, there will always be that chance of error. The thing about mistakes is that they can be fixed and Wikipedia is doing just that. Jensen states in his article that there are around 3300 active editors that are on the lookout for errors and vandalism (Jensen, 2012). With that many people watching out for errors there is a higher chance that it will be corrected when found.
There is an idea discussed in The Social Life of documents that I have never thought about before reading this article and it really stuck with me. It says that “in passing between communities, documents play an important role, bringing people from different groups together to negotiate and coordinate common practices” (Brown & Duguid, 1996). Documents found on Wikipedia give the public an opportunity for collaboration and connectivity between users. In a way it brings the community together where they can share their knowledge in a collaboration to create one document together and are also able correct each other when needed. This is different than most documents where you cannot actively change what is said or add in more information, which I think more sites should think about doing.
Brown, J. S. & P. Duguid. (1996). The Social Life of Documents. First Monday. 1, 1.
Jensen, R. (2012). Military History on the Electronic Frontier: Wikipedia Fights the War of 1812. Journal of Military History. 76, 1. pp 1165-1182
Giles. J. (2005). Special Report: Internet encyclopaedias go head to head. Nature. 438, pp 900-901.