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The Question of Wikipedia

July 3, 2007

The first time I heard about Wikipedia, I got really excited; I characterized it as a “world mind”.

I saw it as a place to share knowledge that anyone (with an online connection)could contribute to and/or benefit from. I confess I was initially impatient with, and disparaging of, those who told students not to use it. As the conversation about Wikipedia developed, I moved into the “use it to start researching, but don’t cite it” for my students, and “It’s an amazing source; check it out” for my friends and acquaintances.

I stumbled across Jon Udell’s screencast which gave me an understanding of how Wikipedia works; I highly recommend you take the 9 minutes to view it

After watching Udell’s screencast, (or instead of, or before) read danah boyd‘s short take on the importance of Wikipedia –
I find myself in close agreement with her.

Wikipedia brings me great joy. I see it as a fantastic example of how knowledge can be distributed outside of elite institutions. I have watched stubs of articles turn into rich homes for information about all sorts of subjects. What I like most about Wikipedia is the self-recognition that it is always a work-in- progress. The encyclopedia that I had as a kid was a hand-me-down; it stated that one day we would go to the moon. Today, curious poor youth have access to information in an unprecedented way. It may not be perfect, but it is far better than a privilege-only model of access.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Clark permalink
    July 4, 2007 1:42 pm

    As you realized, Wikipedia simply isn’t accurate and credible enough to be used as a cited source for academic writing. Fortunately, some more authoritative alternatives are being developed: Scholarpedia (, Citizendium ( and Digital Universe (

  2. Shifting Semiosis permalink
    July 5, 2007 11:40 am

    Thanks for suggesting alternatives, however I don’t see Wikipedia as not accurate or credible enough to be cited in academic writing. Often it has the most current and accurate information, though it can be simply the place to start researching. I advise students not to cite Wikipedia unless they are sure that their professors aren’t prejudiced against it for practical reasons – to protect them.

  3. Gloria Hildebrandt permalink
    July 5, 2007 2:58 pm

    Joan, I’m glad you found danah boyd’s defence of Wikipedia to be interesting. I thought you would. I am interested in her point that Wikipedia is a more democratic — I think she wrote it was not a privilege-only — reference. She has an interesting perspective.

  4. Shifting Semiosis permalink
    July 5, 2007 4:15 pm

    Gloria, I find danah boyd’s perspective and her research very interesting.

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