The Problem with Wikipedia

Penny Arcade did a comic that shows very simply why I treat Wikipedia as nothing more than a online graffiti site.  It’s heralded by flower-power-kumbaya-let’s-all-get-together-and-join-hands community activists as the ultimate collaborative "worksite" for keeping the collective knowledge stored through the cummulative efforts of many, many people.  The idea is that everyone can contribute & edit, everyone has the same rights, no one gets rejected, content is monitored by a higher authority, and in the end, the correct content will "win out" after all is said and done.

This of course had another name a couple decades ago:  Communism

And it didn’t work out so well for the Soviet Union for the same reasons that Wikipedia doesn’t either.  (Yes, yes… I know the Soviets didn’t actually have "true" communism but that was the original intent) It’s a nice altrusitic idea I suppose but in practice communism failed because it relied on the premise that everyone’s focus was on what was best for society as a whole and that no one individual had their own agenda.  It empowered the government, which did have their own agenda, with dictatorial oversight which created what we now know as "fascism".

The "Good Intentions" Encyclopedia
Same goes for Wikipedia.  Everyone gets a say and at any given moment, that "say" is considered by the current reader as gospel.  Why?  Wikipedia, as an information source, positions itself that way.  It of course never declares that its content is accurate but the mere fact that they are ‘striving’ and ‘have the intention to’ (albeit through essentially a trial and error process) evolve its content to complete accuracy gives the site credibility in people’s minds perpetuating mistruths all the while this "evolutionary process" is fleshing itself out.

And as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The Bigger Problem
But the bigger problem to me is that in the mean time, while things are evolving and getting shaken up, anyone can write anything they darn well feel like:  Impune the reputation of an individual or an organization, slant the criteria of the content so that it favors one opinion over another, provide links to content that expands far beyond the scope of the topic and leads the reader down the editor’s agenda – all the while presenting the content as completely factual.

There have been many a person, product, or company that have had their reputations essentially RAPED by Wikipedia for long periods of time, but because no one is going to notify the impuned about the offense, the individual or company has to constantly be on the lookout for people writing mistruths about them in Wikipedia.  Is this fair?  This wouldn’t be as big a problem if Wikipedia was less of a supposed authority and was less popular, but because Wikipedia waves off all responsibility of the content onto its creators, most of the time people that have had their reputations damaged walk away from Wikipedia with nothing more than a correction and an apology.

There is NO CONSEQUENCE for people that post incorrect content on Wikipedia.

There are people that say, "Well, that’s the reader’s problem if they accept it as truth."  I completely disagree.  Just because someone accepts a mistruth or a lie doesn’t excuse another from the initial deceit in the first place.  If someone robs you and you don’t file charges, it doesn’t make the robbery "right".

"Wikis" are a different thing entirely
Wikis are databases of information that are completely separate from Wikipedia.  Wikipedia is a large form of a wiki.  Anyone can host & create their own Wiki using a server and some software.  In fact, companies like Microsoft have been doing this in some form for years:  It’s called a Support Database.

When you call into Microsoft, we store content into Clarify, our help desk application which tracks support incidents and stores the collective knowledge of the discussion and problem online so that I or anyone else at Microsoft can retrieve the content and learn from it in the future.

How is this different from Wikipedia?  Well, if I open a case and put incorrect content in it, I’m on the hook for it.  Translation:  MY JOB IS ON THE LINE.  It doesn’t matter that I had the "best of intentions"… the content is still associated with my employment and if it’s wrong, I’m held liable.  And I’d kind of like to remain employed.  Content that is questionable as opposed to fact, is significantly highlighted as such and people are ware of conjecture and subjective material rather than objective material.

In turn, ACCURATE information is often rewarded – most often with accolades or fame.  A good support technician is often well known based on the good content they publish in the support database.

This by the way is one of the reasons content on takes such a while to get posted.  The content has to be trimmed, rewritten, edited, filtered by legal, and then posted – and this is not an easy task.

Wikis work well if personal responsibility and integrity is maintained in the database.  Without it, it’s a giant free-for-all without consequence and there’s nothing protecting people or products from libel.

The Game Console War
Need more proof?  Take a look at the war going on on Wikipedia between PS3 fanbois, Xbox360 fanbois, and Wii fanbois.  Immature, irresponsible people have been hacking up the entries on Wikipedia to slant people toward one particular console or another.  Again, since anyone can edit the content, it’s a constant battle to correct the content, erase vandalism, and maintain order.

Wikipedia closes Wii, PS3, Sony entries
Virtual vandalism the latest weapon in the next-generation console wars.
By Emma Boyes, GameSpot UK
Posted Nov 13, 2006 3:28 pm PT

Web encyclopedia Wikipedia–which allows anyone to write or edit its entries–has locked down its pages relating to Sony and Nintendo’s next-generation consoles after continued vandalism.

A series of less-than-impartial edits over the last few weeks has led to the temporary lockdown to "protect" the entries, in the hope that the virtual vandals will lose interest by the time the pages are reopened to changes.

Users have been hijacking the site’s entries to add what Wikipedia refers to as "funny" edits. Top of the list is the Nintendo Wii–a name that pranksters seem to find especially entertaining.


One Response to The Problem with Wikipedia

  1. James says:

    Wow, good stuff.  I was orginally reading you\’re post on the PS3 inablitlity to use higher res and just continued on into this.  Both posts are nicely done.  Thanks for the info.  

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