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Observer Gives Wikipedia Glowing Report

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the wiki-wiki dept.

The Internet 224

JaxWeb writes "The UK newspaper The Observer is running an article about the open encyclopaedia Wikipedia. The article, 'Why encyclopaedic row speaks volumes about the old guard,' gives Wikipedia a glowing report and mentions some of the issues which have recently occurred regarding the project, including the need to lock the George Bush article in the run up to the election, and Ex-Britannica editor Robert McHenry's comments, as previously mentioned on Slashdot."

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224 comments

Finally (3, Insightful)

GregoryKJohnson (717981) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304665)

It's nice to see a traditional media outlet take a favorable---not just arms-length "hmm"---view of Wikipedia. I hope others follow suit.

Re:Finally (2, Informative)

Gob Blesh It (847837) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304717)

Just in case you hadn't known, the Economist once mentioned Wikipedia [economist.com] , in passing, in a favorable light. However, I suspect if the magazine reviewed Wikipedia more thoroughly, it would come down much more critically.

Re:Finally (2, Insightful)

DrLZRDMN (728996) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304760)

And when you find some thing, you fix it. Because something is wrong or vandalised, that dosen't make it wikipedia's fault it makes it the authors fault and yours for not doing something. Vandalism and inacuracies will be fixed do to the wiki nature. If the magazine sighted specific problem areas such as articles that have been vandalized or are innacurate, they would be fixed with in about an hour.

Re:Finally (5, Interesting)

Gob Blesh It (847837) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304859)

And what of everyone who read the article before someone more knowledgeable noticed the mistake and corrected it?

And please note I'm not talking of small errors of interpretation or language. I'm talking about honkers like "Prof. George Peabody [wikipedia.org] expanded on string theorist [wikipedia.org] Brian Greene [wikipedia.org] 's work to develop rope theory [wikipedia.org] " (paraphrased)--two months uncorrected when I read it on the Columbia University [wikipedia.org] article. You'll find shit like this scattered across the entire encyclopedia, if you're watchful.

Re:Finally (0, Flamebait)

SECProto (790283) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305559)

and that's exactly what the parent was getting at, it's your fault that it wasn't fixed, because you didnt fix it or try to clean it up during those two months.
There is noone who will fix these things for you, unless you tell them.

Re:Finally (3, Interesting)

crazyeddie740 (785275) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305569)

Wikipedia is considering a "stable" version, consisting of articles that have gone through a formal peer-review process. The stable version would be locked down, but would be updated from time to time. Problem is, nobody is really sure how to go about doing this. I think this is a good place for the Encyclopedia Britanica to step in. They've been hit hard by the rise of the Internet. From the quote from TFA, it sounds like their trying to spread FUD about the Wikipedia. So apparently they find the Wikipedia a threat. They have experience at fact-checking articles, and have a staff of experts who could perform peer-review. The Wikipedia (with the exception of some images and other multimedia files) is available under the GFDL, which allows commercial use. So why doesn't Britanica just take Wikipedia articles, work the bugs out, and find a way of making a profit for their troubles?

Re:Finally (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11305214)

Please remember the following rules about articles concerning Wikipedia:

  1. If the article is critical of Wikipedia, it was obviously written by a crackpot who doesn't understand how his Traditional Old Media is crumbling under the weight of the Internet.
  2. If the article praises Wikipedia, you should believe it and send copies of it to anyone who criticizes Wikipedia (see #1).

Topic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11304666)

I think we need a Wikipedia topic icon....

Old guard (0, Offtopic)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304674)

...about the old guard."

Which "old guard?" Do they mean the likes of the USSR and the Berlin wall or the editors?

Locking Articles (5, Insightful)

Gob Blesh It (847837) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304688)

Why do the Wikipedia admins need to lock popular, topical and controversial articles from editing? Is it because these articles somehow attract more vandals than well-meaning passersby and contributors?

Or is it just that these popular, topical and controversial articles make Wikipedia's fundamental flaws more obvious?

Re:Locking Articles (3, Insightful)

DrLZRDMN (728996) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304732)

By locking them they fix a problem therefor making it not a flaw. However I do agreee that locking is not good. These articles re more likely to be fixed as well, because people know that they are a target. once I needed to look at the GWB article for a school assignment and it was vandalised, the article was gone except for something like "stupidest president". I reverted it because I needed to do work but if I didn't someone else would have, soon. Vandalisam of lesser articles is more damaging because they will go unnoticed for longer.

Re:Locking Articles (5, Insightful)

Gob Blesh It (847837) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304819)

Yes, I've seen obvious vandalism--and I mean obvious--on articles ranging from black hole theory to obscure Norwegian towns. Until I'd come along, they'd typically gone unreverted for weeks or more. And yes, I did revert them, but once you've read that a world-renowned figure skater was a member of GNAA, how can you trust anything you read on that site--especially when vandalism isn't always quite so obvious?

Re:Locking Articles (4, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305045)

You verify it. Wikipedia has a big fat disclaimer about how it makes no guarantees of validity. If your topic matters, then look it up somewhere else in addition to Wikipedia, and see if the facts seem to match. If you're doing research for something important, do not rely on Wikipedia alone- heck, if you're doing a major research paper or something, you shouldn't be using an encyclopedia, let alone Wikipedia.

You can also check the page history. Find an old version, see the "diff" between it and the current version, notice what stands out.

Wikipedia is a bit like the Internet in general. Some information is right, some is probably wrong (whether due to ignorance or malice). But unlike the Internet, anyone can edit Wikipedia to fix something. Now, they can also edit it to break something, but if they do it in a systematic fashion they have a rather high chance of getting caught, tracked down, and banned. We've had a variety of users like that in the past.

Wikipedia is a "convenience" source. It's excessively convenient. It can provide a useful summary of information, and you can then know what other information you ought to look up.

Re:Locking Articles (1)

Derkec (463377) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305745)

Right, Wikipedia is not a trusted source. I wouldn't cite it in a paper for any schooling about the third grade. However, if you're curious what _____ is wikipedia will often provide some decent information.

Re:Locking Articles (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11305086)

how can you trust anything you read on that site...?

Same way you trust anything you read/see/hear anywhere, on the internet or elsewhere: you don't. Never ever rely on a single source of information, always use multiple sources, preferrably orthogonal to each other, preferrably including a source that opposes your culture (e.g. a communist Chinese source if you're American).

Re:Locking Articles (3, Insightful)

ThousandStars (556222) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305139)

The parent post precisely describes why Wikipedia shouldn't be considered a reliable post. The obvious vandalism isn't the worst part, because most readers will be able to discern it. Subtle vandalism is more insidious and ultimately compromises the integrity of articles sufficiently to make it useless to those uninformed about a particular subject -- which is the whole reason to have an encyclopedia in the first place.

Like the columnist, I'm excited about Wikipedia as an idea and unimpressed with its implementation. Without having real editors, however, it's hard to take it seriously.

Re:Locking Articles (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11305311)

once you've read that a world-renowned figure skater was a member of GNAA, how can you trust anything you read on that site.

Agreed. None of the figure skaters in GNAA are all that good and they'll take any opportunity to overstate their achievements.

Re:Locking Articles (1)

StalinJoe (622511) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304739)

Vandalism only.

Re:Locking Articles (2, Interesting)

Gob Blesh It (847837) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304779)

From what I've seen of Wikipedia, vandalism strikes obscure articles as much as it does the articles of the moment. Besides, if the article is really so popular, vandalism ought to be reverted within a timeframe approaching zero. Isn't that premise the entire foundation of Wikipedia?

That there is a need on Wikipedia to lock articles whenever traffic happens to spike indicates, to me, a serious flaw in the model.

Re:Locking Articles (3, Informative)

StalinJoe (622511) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304863)

Articles I've seen vandalized have been targets of recurring vandalism; some obscure, some very 'popular'. Part of the problem is that not everyone knows how to correctly revert a candalized article. Part of the problem stems from vandal monitoring via recent changes. Articles that get locked don't necessarily stay locked indefinately anyhow...the vandals are free to try again a year later. For some reason, the vandalism tends to have a childish, scatalogical nature; once locked, the vandals quickly lose interest and find some other target.

You do have a very good point about popular articles being correctly reverted faster. The mentality that seems to prevail is that it's better to lock down a known target, rather than let 'x' number of viewers see a vandalized page.

Re:Locking Articles (4, Insightful)

DrEldarion (114072) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304846)

Locking the articles is quite a good idea, in my opinion, because a lot of people online (well, and in general) are just morons.

As an example, head on over to EBGames.com and look at some of the "reviews" for upcoming popular games. You'll notice that there can be hundreds of reviews with not ONE person actually knowing how the game is (since it isn't out yet). Fanboy A will come along and say "THIS IS THE BEST GAME EVER" while Anti-Fanboy A will come along and say "WASTE OF MONEY BUY (competing product) INSTEAD!", and the bickering will go back and forth and on and on until the actual ratings are completely worthless.

The same thing would happen with the wikipedia articles. If every schmuck can come along and throw in their uninformed two-cents about things they only think they know about, the "information" then becomes useless. The more controversial topics attract more idiots, and the ratio of informed people to uninformed people drops to a level where it's hard to keep things managed well.

Re:Locking Articles (1)

John Pliskin (769478) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304950)

Insert here what the Colonel was talking about at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2.

$

Re:Locking Articles (1)

mordors9 (665662) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304963)

/insert tongue in cheeck/ It is also ironic that another UK newspaper, the Guardian, was probably one of the reasons they needed to lock the George Bush section before the election. /remove tongue in cheek/

Re:Locking Articles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11305668)

Another newspaper? I thought Observer : Guardian :: Sunday Times : Times. Not particularly distinct, IOW.

Re:Locking Articles (1)

adeydas (837049) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305074)

I guess its just because they can be manipulated and wrong information submitted to gain popularity for the rivals. Since these topics are very controversial and effects world affairs, they are better locked off.

Re:Locking Articles (0, Offtopic)

Chatmag (646500) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305223)

There has been an ongoing "edit war" between the pro's and con's of the article, Perverted-Justice.com [wikipedia.org] . The owner of Perverted Justice has been editing out all the "cons" regarding his site, and this is getting to be a problem with persons opposed to the vigilante site as shown in the discussion [wikipedia.org] section. The article needs to be locked in order for everyone to have their say, rather than the censoring by Eide, the owner of Perverted Justice. As an aside, Eide has in recent days put out a call to action for his supporters to email Google and get all of the sites and news stories questioning his site and their tactics delinked.

Re:Locking Articles (1)

glass_window (207262) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305249)

Why could they not keep a history of the edits so that, if you choose, you can look back over the edited content and possibly even read comments as to why it was edited (should the editor be nice enough to leave it.)

Re:Locking Articles (1)

Angostura (703910) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305387)

I suspect that you don't use Wikipedia much - this is exactly what they do do.

Re:Locking Articles (1)

glass_window (207262) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305917)

I do use it quite a bit lately, I guess I don't poke around at it as much as I should, using it more to find information in a pinch (often obscure info at that) and not sticking around to figure the system out.

Re:Locking Articles (4, Insightful)

yppiz (574466) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305513)

Locking is done as a last resort in the face of persistent vandalism. When a page is locked, ordinary users (anon and registered) cannot edit it. However, administratores can still edit the page. Additionally, the parallel discussion page for the entry is still editable.

Except for one exception - the front page of the Wikipedia - locks are never permanent, and usually last for 1 to 3 days. This small amount of time is enough for revert wars to cool off and for most vandals to lose interest in the page.

I haven't looked at these articles recently, but typically, even entries on controversial topics like Osama bin Laden [wikipedia.org] are unlocked most of the time.

I have thought about why articles are rarely locked - it's not just that the community values contribution, but also that the technology makes it so easy to undo vandalism, that many vandals lose interest. Additionally, by giving vandalism a rather short life on popular pages, which is by definition where vandalism would be the most visible, it discourages others from doing the same. The lifespan of vandalism on a popular page is measured in minutes.

The site makes it easier to undo an edit than to create it. If there weren't a version history and a revert feature, I suspect that vandalism would be a much greater problem.

--Pat / zippy@cs.brandeis.edu

Re:Locking Articles (1)

danila (69889) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305872)

The popular articles are locked because vandals are willing to constantly vandalise them. Locking is a temporary measure to either persuade the vandals to stop, to block them or to wait until they go away.

A dedicated vandal can just refresh the article every minute and if anyone reverts him, he can revert it back. With controversial topics it's slightly different - people would start changing the article, while not understanding the topic and the controversy sufficiently, then become angry when someone reverts, complains or objects.

Glowing report? More like optimism. (5, Informative)

waxmop (195319) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304694)

First, don't attribute a columnist's piece to the newspaper. Second, John Naughton praises wikipedia for what it could be more than what it is right now. He's excited about it as a proof-of-concept.

Re:Glowing report? More like optimism. (3, Informative)

Pendersempai (625351) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304887)

John Naughton praises wikipedia for what it could be more than what it is right now.

Nonsense. He says he and countless others use it all the time. He says he finds the articles useful and more timely than EB's. He cites the articles of George Bush and Sollog and Tsunami as examples of Wikipedia's enormous success. He even begins the article by comparing Wikipedia to the bumblebee: all of our theory says that it shouldn't work, but it does. This is not a man waiting for things to get better; it is a man who thinks things are great now. Perhaps you only read the last paragraph where he says that someday it will as invaluable and popular as Google. That hardly means he isn't praising its current state. RTFA next time.

Re:Glowing report? More like optimism. (1)

konekoniku (793686) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305263)

I agree. Too many people here forget that the only time an opinion can be attributed to a newspaper itself - rather than the opinion of an individual contributor - is if the opinion was an unsigned piece written by that paper's editorial board.

How else? (3, Interesting)

Random832 (694525) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304700)

'The premise of Wikipedia is that continuous improvement will lead to perfection,' sniffed EB's executive editor, Ted Pappas. 'That premise is completely unproven.'

That premise is a tautology given the assumption that "perfection" is attainable by any means.

Re:How else? (2, Insightful)

Stormy Dragon (800799) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305423)

The real problem is how they've chosen to define "perfection". Like any evolutionary system, Wikipedia will evolve into the state best fulfilling it's selection criteria.

And unfortunately, Wikipedia's selection criteria is not accuracy, but popularity. It works well in situations where there's a high degree of correlation between the two, but fails miserably in cases where there's not. Cases such as issues where there's a lot of controversy (i.e. politics) or issues where there is some fact that's commonly believed to be true even though it isn't.

locked articles (3, Funny)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304701)

including the need to lock the George Bush article in the run up to the election

And hey, look! We've locked the article again, since it's been featured on Slashdot. Lovely. :)

Heh (5, Informative)

pHatidic (163975) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304706)

If you go to Wikipedia in the press [wikipedia.org] then you can see all the articles about Wikipedia that have been in mainstream newspapers. There really isn't any reason to post every single one, especially since this is probably the fifth article on Wikipedia that has been in the observer in the last year. Granted, I love Wikipedia, but everyone on slashdot already knows what it is so linking to it every week only serves to cause problems for the people monitoring the recent changes by giving them a surge of extra work.

Re:Heh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11304758)

Two other things:

1) There is a mistake in the second paragraph, any user can edit pages and not just logged in users.

2) This is at least the third article to start off with a metaphor about how it shouldn't work but it does anyway. At least he is comparing Wikipedia to a bumblebee and not sausage this time.

Re:Heh yes, it is /.'ed (1)

StalinJoe (622511) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304762)

Now wiktionary isn't responding at all. :-(

Re:Heh yes, it is /.'ed (3, Informative)

pHatidic (163975) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304829)

No it's been like that for the last two days. They don't really know what is wrong with it as far as I knew last. If you look at the traffic chart [wikimedia.org] you will see there are just some random holes where the servers requests for a few minutes. However in the last couple days it has been much more laggy than normal.

Re:Heh yes, it is /.'ed (3, Interesting)

Jamesday (794888) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304895)

Holes today were an unruly crawler. The appropriate /25 is now firewalled at the squids. Yesterday two of the five database slaves were down for a while. Site was available but it was slower than usual on the database side.

Performance issues these days are mostly due to uneven apache load balancing. We're working on it.

Re:Heh yes, it is /.'ed (3, Interesting)

crush (19364) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305841)

Holes today were an unruly crawler. The appropriate /25 is now firewalled at the squids. Yesterday two of the five database slaves were down for a while. Site was available but it was slower than usual on the database side. Performance issues these days are mostly due to uneven apache load balancing. We're working on it.
I love it! Unintentional poetry. (And no I'm not being snarky or rude or something, I really do like the images of "unruly crawlers" being stopped by "firewalls" at the "squids" while the "database slaves" collapse and there are continuing problems with the "balancing apaches".)

Wikipedia /. (2, Interesting)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305133)

Wikipedia is above Slashdot: it already routinely gets about a thousand hits a second, another hundred from Slashdot don't make much of a difference. In particular, if Slashdot links to some articles, then the visitors will be served the pages from one of the Squid caches, which isn't quite "free" but is pretty darned cheap in terms of resource consumption. It doesn't even touch that Apache or database machines.

Now, if you want to get more interesting, Yahoo! Japan got us pretty well once or twice after linking to something from their front page, which gave more than 400 extra hits per second; we survived. :)

Alexa's page ranking [alexa.com] also puts Wikipedia well above Slashdot.

Re:Wikipedia /. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11305916)

Looks like I said wiktionary not wikipedia - it's servers are overwhelmed just from normal load; having the extra traffic from wikipedia cross links and searches for undefined terms apparently was putting it under. Sorry for the ambiguity - I should know that most people reading quickly would mistake 'wiktionary' for 'wikipedia' in this context.

Re:Heh (2, Insightful)

skybrian (8681) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305209)

But isn't having more people contributing to Wikipedia supposed to be a good thing? Why isn't this "extra work" a nice problem to have?

Digs anyone? (1)

crazyeddie740 (785275) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305538)

Maybe slashdot should go to a "digs" system - have members vote on stories they like, and the most popular stories go on the front page.

Maybe The Observer should be a wiki, too (4, Insightful)

hunterx11 (778171) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304730)

From TFA:

According to the laws of aerodynamics, the bumblebee should not be able to fly. Yet fly it manifestly does, albeit in a stately fashion. So much for the laws of aerodynamics.

Erm, whoops [sciam.com] , yes they should be able to fly. Their cliché is outdated.

If he had only consulted the Wikipedia. (4, Informative)

khasim (1285) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304856)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bumblebee [wikipedia.org]

A long-held myth of the bumblebee was that, in terms of theoretical aerodynamics, it did not have the capacity (in terms of wing size or beat per second) to achieve flight with the degree of wing loading necessary. This myth became popular after an aerodynamicist in the 1930's stated that a bumblebee was not capable of flight. The statment was based upon an assumption that the bee's wing could be treated as a static aerofoil. However, in reality the bumblebee's flight is characterized by an occilating wing that shares more characteristics with a helicopter than an aeroplane.

Re:Maybe The Observer should be a wiki, too (2, Insightful)

Random832 (694525) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304862)

The aerodynamicists revised their assumptions - the question is, can encyclopedists do the same?

The Pet Goat (4, Interesting)

idiotnot (302133) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304736)

There are editors for a reason -- throwing out a picture that's a central point of a goddamn Michael Moore hit piece shows that some of the content isn't what you'd call, "objective." In fact, it makes Fox News look like an example of journalistic integrity.

And it's not only this article. I was looking through a few things on Eastern Europe, specifically, the revolution in Romania in 1989. It's one thing to explain what happened -- it's another to assign motivations, for which you have zero evidence.

Wikipedia is useful for some things, but when it comes to contentious political issues, it's pretty lousy.

Re:The Pet Goat (1)

Solr_Flare (844465) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304852)

Well yeah. Opinions are always subjective due to personal bias. Now, nothing, not even facts, can usually be presented without some form of bias, but this is, in truth, the one advantage of edited encyclopedia's and the like. While they too, contain bias and sometimes opinions, they try to limit such as much as possible.

The bottom line is use proper judgement and use the wikipedia for what it is intended to be(a consolidation of knowledge and facts) and not a opinion sounding board. That said, the non-fact based entries are often interesting to read purely out of a sociological context, as it is a fascinating example of how personal opinion and bias can completely alter the perspective of a given situation.

As always, take anything you read tha tyou have not personally experienced with a grain of salt. The same is true for anything you read(even history books) because unless you were there or have done whatever it is you are reading about yourself, you can never get a total perspective on the subject through someone else's eyes.

Re:The Pet Goat (1)

Omestes (471991) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305610)

Actually facts are quite easy to present without bias. "The Sky is Blue", there is no bias in that statement, neither for "1+1=2". But when you get down to interpreting he facts into something meaningful, then you have bias raise its ugly head. Intentional, or non.

But then you have 'facts' like, "G.W.B. sucks", which some wanker out there will consider a fact, since people seem to have a pretty skewed vision of what a fact is these days. God bless relativism, where one mans opinion can be his version of fact too.

Re:The Pet Goat (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11305742)

Actually facts are quite easy to present without bias.

This is a popular idea, but it's also plainly false. The simple reason is that selective statement of plain facts can produce as distorted an effect as a totally biased rant.

Consider:
Millions of Americans believe that George W. Bush is an idiot. Many claim that his repeated verbal slips are indicative of a low IQ and poor discursive ability; they also point to the increase in unemployment since he came to power, and to what has been described as "a new Vietnam" in Iraq, as further evidence for his being unfit for his post. Bush himself has not publicly contested all these claims, which some take to mean he concedes the point.
Now, tell me, is there any sentence in that paragraph which is not a straightforward and accurate statement of fact? No, there isn't - some people really do say and believe those things. And yet you would be hard pressed to find a more biased description even in the most left-wing parts of the media.

Sticking to the facts is clearly not enough to ensure balanced and non-POV coverage.

Not just "political", any contentious issue. (5, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304879)

Wikipedia is useful for some things, but when it comes to contentious political issues, it's pretty lousy.
It's lousy for anything that people get upset about. It's useful for looking up historical names and dates and events.

That is all.

Well, it's also useful for playing games with pages that you don't agree with until they get locked.

Re:Not just "political", any contentious issue. (3, Insightful)

Gob Blesh It (847837) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304910)

"It's useful for looking up historical names and dates and events."

Are you sure about that? More times than I care to remember, I've seen statements like: "Keira Knightley (born March 26, 1985 ...) ... made her film debut at the age of 11 in A Village Affair (1994)."

This does not exactly inspire trust.

Re:Not just "political", any contentious issue. (1)

generic-man (33649) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305425)

You should edit the article. Change the years so that the statement makes sense.

Don't worry about being accurate. If you mess up, someone else will come in and correct you.

Re:Not just "political", any contentious issue. (1)

zerblat (785) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305965)

Are you implying that traditional encyclopedias never contain such errors?

Reasons for editing Wikipedia (1)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304945)

There are editors for a reason (..) Wikipedia is useful for some things, but when it comes to contentious political issues, it's pretty lousy.

The virtues of Wikipedia are IMO directly linked to reasons that visitors have for editing content. Like current news events: something big happens, and people flock to WP to check out how a tsunami speeds across the Pacific -> lots of edits on tsunami related articles. This makes Wikipedia look like a strange mix between encyclopedia and news site. If you would sort edit statistics by topic, and place that side by side with news events, a striking correspondence wouldn't surprise me.

Being web-based, and used mostly by folks that spend much time online, you can expect more-than-average tech interested editors, and yes, voila: a rich filled section on computer lingo and related topics.

So yes, biased in many ways, maybe not too accurate or authorative, but very useful nevertheless. Works for me...

Re:Reasons for editing Wikipedia (4, Funny)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305035)

So yes, biased in many ways, maybe not too accurate or authorative, but very useful nevertheless.

I always think of Wikipedia as being quite like the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. You'll find out a lot from reading it, if not always what you actually wanted to know...

Argh! (1)

yoshi_mon (172895) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305151)

You know I was sorely tempted to mod you down just for using the words "Fox News" and "journalistic integrity" in the same sentence.

The bumblebee argument (3, Informative)

the Dragonweaver (460267) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304746)

Once again, the apocryphal tale [tu-berlin.de] of bumblebees flying "despite the laws of aerodynamics saying they can't" makes the rounds.

In truth, the only reason such a "proof" exists is that the laws were applied incorrectly; the scientists involved used the explanations for single-foil flight (i.e. birds' wings.)

Whether they did so accidentally or as a joke remains the domain of speculation, but the truth is that the laws of aerodynamics can account for bumblebees quite nicely.

What makes Wikipedia interesting (5, Insightful)

Solr_Flare (844465) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304757)

Is that the wikipedia is designed around the original intent of the Internet in the first place. Nevermind what the internet has become in the modern era, it was originally designed to share and consolidate information from all its users. The Wikipedia is designed specifically to facilitate that. And, while in its default mode, it does leave itself open to people who want to make an arse of themselves, there are plenty of counter measures and options to such problems. All in all, it is satisfying to see the success of the project purely because it is nice to see the internet used for what it was intended for and do it well.

Re:What makes Wikipedia interesting (1)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305637)

it was originally designed to share and consolidate information from all its users. The Wikipedia is designed specifically to facilitate that.

OTOH, you can see the currency and objectivity of the corporate approach to information control with this query [britannica.com] . At least it gives you an answer quickly.

life before Wikipedia? (4, Interesting)

Jamesday (794888) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304766)

"Just as one day kids will wonder if there was life before Google". Well, I'd say it is good that Wikipedia is in the company of Google.:) And also in the top 100 English language web sites according to Alexa. I suppose it's certain that this experiment is doomed to be a flop.:)

I'm biased, since I'm one of the roots for the Wikipedia/Wikimedia servers.

I suppose I should ask: any interest in a Slashdot interview on the capacity planning and technical side of Wikipedia? That's my area... of course, that also means I'll say what we'd love to have donated (anyone got a couple of racks and 100 megabits/s spare?:)) Oh, sorry, I'm supposed to have a neutral point of view...:) Or is that I'm supposed to be serious in public? Never can get that straight...:)

Re:life before Wikipedia? (2, Funny)

Neophytus (642863) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304796)

Naughty Jamesday! Get back to fixing the servers! *whip*

-BB.

Re:life before Wikipedia? (2, Interesting)

Jamesday (794888) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304833)

Servers? We have servers? You must mean the 40 servers which donations purchased in 2004. Thanks to those who donated.:) Now, if someone could just tell me when we'll stop growing so I can work out whether I need to plan for 200 or 500 by this time next year...:)

Re:life before Wikipedia? (1)

Morgaine (4316) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304969)

Servers? We have servers?

Hehe, that gave me a chuckle. Like you though, I'd love to see a Slashdot interview on the capacity planning and technical side of Wikipedia, both to inform us and to oil the donations machinery.

Not knowing your architecture, your mention of 40 servers possibly turning into 200 or 500 got me worried. I sure hope that the huge majority of these are caching machines spread across the community, otherwise you have a severe problem. The sort of non-scalability that those 3 numbers suggest is the sort that will fold a centralized project, absolutely without fail, multi-million dollar backing from IBM etc excepted.

Huge server farms are sexy only to those who haven't had to run one (I have). There's no easy future in that direction, so I hope you're not heading there.

I hope you get that Slashdot interview some time. I'd like to learn more!

Re:life before Wikipedia? (2, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305176)

Architecture? According to our server page [wikimedia.org] , we have five database machines (one master and four slaves), six Squid caches, and 23 Apache and memcached machines (to render pages). There are also two "other" machines for things such as images and NFS storage, and three Squid caches to be installed over in France (I believe they were donated there).

I'm fairly sure Jamesday is exxagerating regarding "200 or 500" servers; there are about ten servers currently being ordered for this quarter.

Downtime major annoyance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11305574)

WP is down or s--l--o--w all the time, especially peak. They could ask high power providers for mirror space but their too self-involved

Let's get this out of the way (0, Troll)

aendeuryu (844048) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304790)

Might as well get the usual comments out of the way...

- Wikipedia is SOOOOO much more current than old smelly encyclopedias
- Wikipedia can be vandalized by ANYBODY
- Don't get your panties all twisted up, it's just a resource
- Donate your child's scholarship fund to wikipedia!!!1uno!!
- You know, if they were watching porn instead of listen to rap when they first thought up the name, it'd be a wompwompedia (rimshot)
- You know, I heard Elmer Fudd was disappointed that there's no entry on Ricardo Montalban's feet (rimshot)
- You know, I bet that if (poster is shot before finishing comment)
- And finally, the obligatory "Let's get this out of the way" post

tirsf tosp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11304792)

This comment will make you throw away valuble mod-points for modding it down :) You will most probably also be meta-moderated positively for modding this down -> adds to karma. Happy modding.

Who's the "well-known crackpot"? (3, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304912)

From the article:

Then a well-known crackpot wrote a Wikipedia page about himself, only to have it, er, rendered more objective by other contributors. This drove him wild. Again the page was locked (in what seemed to me to be an admirably detached state) to prevent further vandalism.

Does anyone know who this is referring to?

On a side note, some time ago I tried to create an article [wikipedia.org] on the infamous AI crank Mentifex [nothingisreal.com] , but Mentifex himself (who also frequents slashdot [slashdot.org] ) ended up vandalizing the article repeatedly. It got so bad and was so difficult to maintain that in the end the article was simply deleted [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Who's the "well-known crackpot"? (3, Informative)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304928)

Probably refers to Sollog [wikipedia.org] , self-proclaimed "Son of light, light of god" or something like that.

Re:Who's the "well-known crackpot"? (2, Informative)

wersh (765553) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305179)

Actually, Sollog denies that it means "Son of light, light of god" and says it's derived from "sol" and "logos", giving a meaning of "the word of the sun" (which is clearly mentioned in the Sollog [wikipedia.org] article).

The Sollog/Wikipedia incident was covered on Slashdot back on December 14, 2004 [slashdot.org] .

Re:Who's the "well-known crackpot"? (0)

britneys 9th husband (741556) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305222)

You're right, it is Sollog. Slashdot even ran an article [slashdot.org] about the incident.

Re:Who's the "well-known crackpot"? (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304938)

Actually, now that I think about it some more, the article might be referring to Gene Ray's [wikipedia.org] Time Cube [wikipedia.org] .

Why was the George Bush article locked? (1)

taxman_10m (41083) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304920)

Was it really locked because too much opinion was being injected into the article, or because the people that run Wikipedia didn't want to run afoul of McCain-Feingold (regardless of how truthful the entry may have been)?

Re:Why was the George Bush article locked? (2, Informative)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304952)

It was locked because of people blanking it, changing the content to "omgwtf Bush is Evil!", and other such malicious vandalism. The John Kerry article was also protected for similar reasons on multiple occasions.

Locking (4, Interesting)

FiReaNGeL (312636) | more than 9 years ago | (#11304929)

Even if locking articles would fix the vandalism problem, it isn't the best solution IMHO.

Why don't they implement a 'sandbox' where new additions go, getting published after a certain period of time and where previous authors can vote against the addition?

Re:Locking (1)

ozric99 (162412) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305271)

That particular method isn't used as it would effectively tend to a forum for unchallenged bullshit.

Re:Locking (2, Insightful)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305752)

Why don't they implement a 'sandbox' where new additions go, getting published after a certain period of time and where previous authors can vote against the addition?

A problem with a straight-up voting mechanism is member bias. For example, if you were to post articles on Slashdot where one said "Bush is evil", it would be modded up whereas "Bush not so bad" would be modded down because of the makeup of Slashdot users: probably 50% lefty, 25% center, and 25% righty. The mods will represent the opinion of the lefties the greatest.

My thoughts on Wikipedia (4, Insightful)

xXunderdogXx (315464) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305000)

Many people when first informed about the concept of Wikipedia scoff at the idea that you can get factual information from a medium that is open to everyone. Normally I just agre with them that it is a problem that requires some effort to combat.

Recently I've changed my whole view on reading information online, due mostly to thinking about the Wikipedia concept. Consider Wikipedia to be analogous to asking a classmate a question like "What does ecology mean?" or "Could you explain a null modem?"

Nobody would decry this as a fruitless effort to gain information, because it is quite possible that your friend knows a lot of information on the subject in question. So you take that information at face value, knowing that there is a possibility he's wrong. If the information "feels right" or "feels wrong" that's all you can tell. It then becomes a starting point for deeper investigation, not the final word on anything. In the end it raises another very important question: Who do you trust to have the final word on something?

For an example of some of the real problems (3, Interesting)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305005)

with Wikipedia, read this [wikipedia.org] . It seems there are some people who refuse to acknowledge that the other side may have some good points and they try to boil complex social problems into 1 sentence solutions. Now this is not nearly as popular an article as George W. Bush I am sure, but I would be willing to be that a 3rd grader is much more likely to do a report on homelessness than they are Bush.....

wikipedia is run by rightwingers (1, Funny)

Cryofan (194126) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305027)

I am thinking about boycotting Wikipedia until there are more leftwing wikipedia admins

Re:wikipedia is run by rightwingers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11305185)

But Wikipedia is free content, GFDL, in the worst kind of "communist, hippie, RMS" meaning of the word "free". How do you figure that has attracted right-wing administrators?

Re:wikipedia is run by rightwingers (1)

Cryofan (194126) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305359)

maybe because rightwingers are greedy hypocrites without any principles? Ever heard of publicly funded projects leading to private profits? You're soaking in it right now....

To digress, I think almost every human is a greedy hypocrite. I just think we ought to admit and build governmental and administrative infrastructure to deal with it.

Admitting it is the first part.

Irony, shitheads (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11305925)

irony, cocksmoking teabaggers(tm)

Scribes and Theocrats (2, Interesting)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305113)

One wonders what would have become of the Enlightenment had Guttenberg's press been instantly Wikified so that everything from Luther to Decarte had been subject to immediate editing, retraction and deletion by the the Roman Church, with their only recourse argument with armies of decons, friars, monks, priests, bishops and popes.

a deeper comment about society (3, Insightful)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305246)

What you are seeing in the Wiki fights is simply a microcosm of the conflicts that have permeated western societies since, well, the rise of humanism.

Who is authority? Who defines truth? Why should I believe them?

In our pseudo egalitarian society, we can no longer even really understand WHY someone would obey a king, or the concept of Divine Right, except insofar as the king-as-thug interpretation, since he's got all the military power and can threaten us. But the fact was that a great many people believed the king was the king because he DID have the divine right to be there.

What we see in Wiki is the ultimate in relativism - the 'consensus' decides what's truth, which I think we can all agree is patently absurd. But relativism has so overtaken our societies that no fact can simply be stated without dissent anymore. I that sense, Wiki is merely a symptom, not a disease of itself.

As the author states, if you use it, you vote for its validity. If you don't, you don't. Personally, I use Wiki all the time, and particularly for 'hot topics' I find it constantly plastered with bias and political correctness. (But then again, so are articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica - more subtle perhaps, but there is a probably bias inherent in any extended presentation of just about anything.)

Wiki is a useful friend who knows something about everything - you can ask him or her whatever you want and probably get a right answer. It doesn't mean Wiki should be held in the standard of a bibliographic reference tool, any more than a useful friend would be.

Re:a deeper comment about society (1)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305807)

Personally, I use Wiki all the time, and particularly for 'hot topics' I find it constantly plastered with bias and political correctness.

I find that for contentious issues, it at least presents both sides of the argument. For instance, look at the UN entry. It discusses criticism and reform of the organization and it actually mentions the Oil-For-Food corruption scandal, unlike most major news outlets which bury that story.

I am a new Wikipedia fan (0, Offtopic)

MarkWatson (189759) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305269)

I just sent them a small donation to perhaps cover my own bandwidth costs for the next year or so. When I have time, I would like trying to download the version of their database that only contains most recent edits (i.e., not all edit histories). A lot of the articles have good categories attached to them so I would like to do a machine learning run to build a categorizer (but this took me several days to do with the Reuters corpus, so I may not get to this for a while).

Wikipedia is anti-science (3, Interesting)

j_heisenberg (464756) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305286)

this doesn't have to be bad, but it's a fact. Scientific practice around the world works by peer review. If you want to publish, your work is peer reviewed. If you want to get employment/government money, you are judget by peers with better credentials.

WP lets everyone edit (nearly) every page. The only distinction is time spent online. If you spend 4 hours, you can edit twice as much as with 2 hours. Generally, the quality of WP will converge to the mean of all users, a college education (considering that people with less skills pro'lly won't edit).

So if you want to "get a clue", WP is for you. If you are a bit above the noob in a topic, look elsewhere.

No way will it converge to the mean. (1)

adb (31105) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305667)

That would only be true if each person was wandering around Wikipedia editing perfectly good articles down to their own level of ignorance. While that concept is comedy gold, it's not reality. Ordinary people encountering a Wikipedia article about something they're ignorant of will read it an learn, not edit it destructively.

Re:Wikipedia is anti-science (3, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305685)

Generally, the quality of WP will converge to the mean of all users, a college education

You presume that each edit would bring the quality level average closer to that of the person who edits it. But really, if I'm ignorant about a certain topic, I'm not going to go through the article about it and "bring it down to my level", so to speak. In the real world, at least some people can realize that the other person writing the article is more informed than they are, and will not clobber the article in the manner you seem to suggest they will.

And Wikipedia is not about "science". It notably makes several provisions against "original research". Science and research should not be conducted on Wikipedia, though the progress of science and research elsewhere may be reported as such.

You do have the right idea about how Wikipedia is good as an introduction to an area, but certainly not a comprehensive guide to a topic. It's not supposed to be. It's just an encyclopedia, for crying out loud, not the end-all and be-all of reference works. If I want to learn the intimate details of a topic, I don't run to Britannica, or Encarta, either.

Re:Wikipedia is anti-science (1)

j_heisenberg (464756) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305892)

But really, if I'm ignorant about a certain topic, I'm not going to go through the article about it and "bring it down to my level", so to speak
If you have a college education, maybe specialized in the topic, you're not "ignorant", you have basic knowledge.
Science and research should not be conducted on Wikipedia, though the progress of science and research elsewhere may be reported as such.
They are not reported. College knowledge is reported.
It's just an encyclopedia, for crying out loud, not the end-all and be-all of reference works
In works like Encyclopedia Britannica and other real encyclopedias, articles are written by notable scholars and reviewed by other specialists. They are comparable to excerpts of academic textbooks and reflect thorough knowledge of the subject. Get over the hype.

Clown College (2, Funny)

hey (83763) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305304)

Notice the Bush entry says he went to Clown College. He certinly must have paid attention there.

Guardian vs. Observer (1, Interesting)

hey (83763) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305588)

Can somebody in the UK please explain the relationship between the Guardian and Observer newspapers. Thanks.

Re:Guardian vs. Observer (2, Informative)

rjw57 (532004) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305658)

The Observer is what one might call 'The Guardian on Sunday'.

Re:Guardian vs. Observer (1)

soliptic (665417) | more than 9 years ago | (#11305820)

AIUI, it has different editorial staff but is owned by the same charitable trust.
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