Wikipedia: Quality control

On: September 21, 2009
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About Radmila Radojevic
I am a communications professional from Montreal, Canada. Much of my experience is in the cultural sector and community-driven initiatives. I worked and volunteered for various community and art groups in Montreal (CKUT, university and community radio station, Studio XX, a feminist digital arts organization, Maid in Cyberspace, an annual arts festival organized by Studio XX, Eyesteelfilm, a social documentary film company etc.) Currently doing my MA at UvA. My main interests are in data visualization and locative media.


Wiki is powerful non profit and ads-free online model for sharing information and knowledge outside of traditional information sources.  It is free, accessible to anyone, not only for search and use but also for contribution and editing. Wiki’s template is quite easy to use and it doesn’t assume much of a technical knowledge (I really don’t see how could it be more difficult or complex than, for example, WordPress?). One needs to go through the basic tutorials as with any other software out there, a process that has become a part of a routine in our daily activities (our lives revolve around technology).There are certain rules one needs to respect when writing or editing an entry – one of the most emphasized– maintaining neutral point of view. Furthermore, Wiki’s editorial requires from its participants strong facts and reliable sources to enforce objectivity. Wiki’s dynamic model of collaborative knowledge proved very gratifying and it has become “de facto global reference of dynamic knowledge number 1”. A common ‘illustration’ of  its increasing popularity has become stating the statistics results according to which Wiki ‘grounds’ Encyclopedia Britannica. Wiki symbolizes the idea of how free access to and ubiquity of information foster collective exchange of ideas and innovation (along the lines with the concept of ‘collective harnessing’).

Yet, in the recent years, Wiki has been attacked on the quality issues from many sides. Funs are suspicious, as the attacks come from more ‘traditional sources’, ‘information gatekeepers’. Some even shift importance of Wiki from a resource to a representation model by pointing that its values is more in its group voice, model of social empowerment. But even if Wiki’s ambition is not to become an ‘inviolable authority of the online sources’, the mere statistics of its popularity has raised voices about ‘reliability’ of its ‘entries’ and quality issues of our online resources in general. Mail& Guardian had published an article in 2005 (“Can you trust Wikipedia”) which showed expert rating of Wiki’s entry to be pretty mixed.  see here. Wiki’s followers argue that an entry is improving with time, as it gets more replies, edits, more ‘layers’.

Even the founders of Wiki admitted having serious quality control issues, they were forced accordingly to impose certain strategies leading some people to think that Wiki has become more of a bureaucracy. One of the major researches on Wiki that was conducted by Augmented Cognition Research Group at the Palo Alto Research Center only supported this fear. This extensive research consisted (basically) of collecting all the entries and their editing history since the beginning of Wiki. What they have discovered is a pattern of bureaucratic mechanisms making a divide between the elitist, senior editorial (whose entries almost never get reverted, in less than 1% cases) and the rest of us…’The rest of us’, apparently becoming less inclined to contribute, in comparison to the earlier years. One of the quality control strategies employed is for instance, list of topics that are ‘sacred’, non-editable. See the list here. According to Wiki’s editors – these had been subjected to too much violation and heated debates that it had become necessary to protect them (Wiki has a valuable collection of recorded debates around many social and political issues; a unique feature of  this collaborative knowledge sharing site).

Wikipedia is at the crisis point. Yet, its popularity as a reference site is still on the rise. These suggested tension between ‘quantity and quality of information’, ‘free access and emerging bureaucracy patterns ‘  in the context of online community and collaborative knowledge model makes an interesting starting point for a further investigation. While many have been seriously concerned with quality of information provided by Wiki, one College youngster claims : “Young people are not naive or stupid to believe any particular source as absolutely reliable. When I make my research I do go to Wiki, but I don’t just stop there…neither at CNN website. Even Encyclopedia Britannica had mistakes! One has to have more sources to make a research. Wiki gives me directions”.

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