Will Wikipedia fail?

Will Wikipedia fail?

Summary: Simply stated: according to cyberlaw professor Eric Goldman, Wikipedia will fail.According to Ars Technica, Goldman fancies Wikipedia, but thinks that the site contains the "seeds of its own destruction" -- and the online encyclopedia will need to choose between being "high quality" and "open" to survive.

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Simply stated: according to cyberlaw professor Eric Goldman, Wikipedia will fail.

According to Ars Technica, Goldman fancies Wikipedia, but thinks that the site contains the "seeds of its own destruction" -- and the online encyclopedia will need to choose between being "high quality" and "open" to survive.

Problem is, either choice is a risky one.

Goldman made his point at the Silicon Flatirons conference this weekend in Boulder, Colorado. There, he said that the site's popularity stands in opposition with its goal of openness. The freely-editable nature of Wikipedia "has made it a canvas upon which vandals, spammers, and pranksters can paint at will," Ars writes.

Ars, again:

Case in point: the bizarre recent news about Germany's new economic affairs minister, whose full name is Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg. As noted Wednesday on Slashdot, some Wikipedian inserted a "Wilhelm" somewhere in the dizzying list of names; the extra "Wilhelm" was picked up in reputable German publications (whose staffers are clearly not above using Wikipedia to check their facts); the Wikipedia page then linked to the articles in question as evidence that "Wilhelm" was an actual component of Freiherr zu Guttenberg's name.

There is a great deal of self-policing by dedicated volunteers on Wikipedia. That much is true. But as the site grows, Goldman says the balance between high-quality and freely editable becomes more apparent.

In other words, Wikipedia can't have both.

For example, to keep the site freely editable, Wikipedia will need to replace its dedicated editors as they turnover. But Goldman thinks this will be a problem, Ars writes, since many of these editors first started their work when Wikipedia was a quite different place. "Now, the editors themselves discourage the contributions of others through 'xenophobia' toward outsiders; Goldman believes that they see 'threats' everywhere and points out that the greater part of all edits made to the site are actually reverted by these editors."

So Wikipedia, behind-the-scenes, can be very much a political dance. Which means the editorial side will suffer, Goldman implies.

On the other hand, if Wikipedia makes it more difficult to edit articles on the site -- "protecting" or "flagging" them, for example -- it discourages new contributors to Wikipedia and encourages current editors to not bother. The message would be at odds with Wikipedia's original mission of being freely editable. (Prime example: the entry for "Israel-Gaza conflict", which is in lockdown every time headlines flare.)

What do you think? Will Wikipedia fail?

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Andrew Nusca

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Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • Funny.... I haven't seen any pranksters on Wikipedia

    And I've been going to the site pretty much since it was first made.
    Lerianis
    • pranksters?

      Check out the history on a few pages and you will see plenty of pranksters. Deleted text, nonsense entered in the middle of a paragraph, and lots of 'creative' language.
      Quebec99
    • I Have

      I was looking at the entry for the movie Madagascar maybe a year after it came out, and found a profanity-laced, totally off-topic exchange between three (probably) high school kids. I deleted it, but it had been there a few days.

      Oh, and then there's this infamous incident: http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-6100754-7.html
      MichP
  • RE: Will Wikipedia fail?

    It is bizarre that anybody would reference Wikipedia as a factual reference. I guess Wikipedia stands for collective knowledge and wisdom, which by definition would be an evolving source - with erring and rectifying as part of the game.

    If certain Wikipedia editors are particular about protecting their areas from inaccurate, irrelevant contributions, doesn't that just reflect their passion - which is what really drives Wikipedia I suppose. I am not intimately aware whether and what the conflict resolution processes at Wikipedia are - but I am guessing that there are at least checks in place to prevent hijacking of content areas.

    On a side note - any controversy may be good for Wikipedia - it may be just amplifying its basic marketing machinery - word of mouth!
    sanjay.patil
  • Pro-Israeli organized groups on Wikipedia

    A 13 March action alert signed by Gilead Ini, a "Senior Research Analyst" at CAMERA, calls for "volunteers who can work as 'editors' to ensure" that Israel-related articles on Wikipedia are "free of bias and error, and include necessary facts and context." However, subsequent communications indicate that the group not only wanted to keep the effort secret from the media, the public, and Wikipedia administrators, but that the material they intended to introduce included discredited claims that could smear Palestinians and Muslims and conceal Israel's true history.


    http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9474.shtml
    hamobu-22333136139518773481685514128812
    • Its "True" history?

      Its "True" history? As in, its history of being attacked on nearly a daily basis by random rocket fire? Or its true history of giving up land for peace and getting only even closer launching pads for those previously mentioned rockets? Or its history of being forced to choose between not protecting its citizens, whether Palistinian, Muslim or Jew (unguided rockets are equal opportunity killers) or risk killing innocent people because the cowards firing the rockets do so from school yards and housing districts? That history? Welcome to the world of the conspiracy theorist, where Israel is always in the wrong, and the Terrorist organizations who use suicide bombs, unguided rocket attacks on non-military targets, and teach their children not only to hate those who aren't like them, but to kill those people as well are considered the innocent party. Conspiracy theorists of the world unite, preferably in a remote location where they can't bother anyone.
      paulbhm@...
      • Interesting...

        Let's just break this down into bite-sized stupidity.

        The "true history" of being randomly rocket attacked. True, that has happened in the past. But tell me, which is worse: missile attacks that kill maybe a handful of people or the response which has killed "at least 548 people within the last 10 days" (according to a news source, the date being Jan 6) The unguided rocket attacks do more property damage than actual casualties... and their response to that kills civilians (another response being the slowing of aid to civilians... you know the stuff. Food and medical supplies.)

        Giving up land for peace? What are you talking about? Maybe you're talking about back in 1949 or so when Palestine existed and Israel didn't? That would be around the time that the country was told that it didn't exist anymore, that Israel did, and that there was no way for them to get it back to the way it was. I suppose that can be ignored, though, right?

        Choosing between safety and not killing innocents? Errr... no. If it chose peace, something which Hamas actually was keeping until Israel started these tactics, I'm sure that things might go slightly better. But it won't happen, Israel has been arrogant for a bit now because they have the US behind them all the way. What will happen when the US stops? The rest of the world will stop caring too, and they will have burned the diplomacy bridge.

        Conspiracy theorists should leave, but so should the people who throw around stupidity as fact. And, in that case, you'd be gone.
        Michael Alan Goff
        • The "Facts" you wanted.

          As it's been said, you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. So, let me give you the facts to which I was referring, since you seem unwilling to do your own fact finding.

          Rocket attacks..."True, this has happened in the past..." it sure has, as recently as January. Over 7500 rockets have been fired into the town of Sderot from 2001 to 2009 . So this garbage of "well, it was just a few rockets..." it the real stupidity you spoke of.

          "But tell me, which is worse: missile attacks that kill maybe a handful of people or the response which has killed "at least 548 people within the last 10 days" Ah, you seem to completely ignore the fact that the people firing the rockets do so from areas of high civilian population, in effect using them as human shields. So how about this, send me your address and I'll find the nearest park to fire rockets into your yard from. Hey, it's just property damage right? I might hit your wife, your children, friends, family, but hey, that's not really that bad. As an added bonus, you can't just fire back because you might hit an innocent bystander. I'm not saying it's somehow a great choice, I'm saying it's one that ANY country would have to make under those circumstances. By the way, would this seemingly anonymous news source you're citing be one of the same ones that stage casualties for photos which was widely reported on during the fighting. Surely papers of such high standards would never stoop to running up casualty figures.

          And finally, land for peace. Somehow, you have missed the whole idea that has been the hallmark of mid-east peace since even the Clinton years. As an example, Israel moved out of Gaza, which was taken during the 6 day war after Egypt blockaded their export route in the Tiran Straits and Syria built up troops at the Golan Heights. In its new Palestinian Paradise, it descended into chaos and its people elected Hamas to lead, an avowed terrorist organization. Hamas' own charter states the following:

          "Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."

          and

          "There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."

          Yeah, they're just begging for peace.

          Even history books teach that Palestine itself was not a state before the creation of the state of Israel. It had been controlled by the Ottoman Empire until it collapsed after WWI and was controlled by the British until the The Balfour Declaration of 1917 came to fruition as the state of Israel after WWII in 1948. Before it came into being as a country, the population of the region was a fluid mix of Arabs, Jews, and a small number of other ethnicities. The name Palestine is simply a modern derivation of the name Palastina which was put in place by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. So this tripe about "Palestinians" being told that they can't be a state anymore is pure fantasy, read a history book.

          So I'll ignore your "your just throwing around stupidity as fact" comment and just consider it a result of your own ignorance of historical facts. However, the arrogance you spoke of seems to be more of a problem for you than for Israel.
          paulbhm@...
          • Wow... you've got some book smartz...

            Alright, allow me to point out the flaws in your argument. 7500 Rocket attacks... over the entire conflict I'm guessing. Now, allow me to look up the death toll from those 7500 rockets. Around 711 deaths according to latest figures. I'm even willing to give around fifty for error, saying 761. That's 761 deaths in eight years, I'm sure that you can understand why I think that 548 deaths in ten days means something given that statistic. Even you should be able to appreciate the numbers. 7500 rockets and less than a thousand deaths.

            As for your next point, the idea that things can't be done without taking out civilians, I would say that is bullshit. High grade bullshit. Most of the rockets would have had to hit nothing important, as even a single death per rocket would have multiplied that death toll ten times over. As for my sources, I like to call it a "newspaper". You see, those things give facts more than some armchair expert. But if you want to see the stistics for Israeli deaths on a website?

            http://www.theisraelproject.org/site/c.hsJPK0PIJpH/b.4717711/k.4A0D/Total_Israeli_Deaths_from_Palestinian_Terrorism_20002008.htm

            http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/14/gaza-city-fighiting-israel-un

            Now, let's move on to the idea that Palestine was the one who started this latest round of attacks.

            http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=45550

            Palestine caused the attacks! Their existence was a threat to Israel. Think about it: why do you think the UN is trying to do something about Israel and the US is the only one standing up for them? Because the rest of the world knows Israel is wrong. The fragile peace wasn't broken by the "war mongering Palestinians"

            As for the geography dispute. The name of it might have changed several times, but the idea has always been the same. Palestine was ruled by the Romans, Ottomans, etc, but they were still Palestinians. The entire idea that Israel has any claim is to say that a group of people can be migrated to a different place, take the land away from the owners, and that it's supposed to be alright. Also, their land being GIVEN to form Israel? That's a sign that it was told it didn't have permission to exist. Even without that, the fact that the Palestinian gov't wasn't regonised by any non arab country from a while? Please continue to be spouting crap, though.

            Also, History to the rest of the world isn't the same as you paint it. But, remember, the world is against you and Israel. They want something as silly as facts to get in the way of your dogmatic idiocy. DAMN THEM.
            Michael Alan Goff
          • Don't let real facts get in the way

            So, basically you're saying that the historical facts that I pointed out don't matter, how ironic that you call me dogmatic. I would agree that"book smartz" as you so sarcastically put it are not everything, but you were the one that insisted on facts, I gave them. Not only do you seem to just ignore those facts, but you apparently like straw-man arguments. Throughout you have put words in my mouth to paint me as "dogmatic". To name just a few, I never, repeat NEVER, said that things can't be done without taking out civilians. I did point out however, that when you're dealing with an enemy that seems to give no thought as to who they endanger by where they fire those rockets knowing that eventually those they are firing on will retaliate narrows down extremely the options of the nation being fired upon. Secondly, I never said that Palistinian's were "warmongers", you came up with that one on your own, however in regards to Hamas, if the shoe fits. To say that the people group, namely jews, have no claim to the area is to pretend that they did not settle and live in that area for several hundred years, build many of the cities, namely Jerusalem, and were conquered and removed by force at different points in history, but don't let those facts get in the way. Also, there was no Palestinian govt to be recognized, they had no organized govt during even the Ottoman Empire. I will not say that Israel is always some innocent lamb, but I will not pretend that they are always the aggressor. As to the "world being against me and Israel", I think you may be assuming a bit more authority than you are entitled by speaking for the world. I do not "paint" history, I like you, can only read it and hope to understand it. You have not brought any "facts" to light (other than those to make your point that one has caused more deaths than the other, I'm sure those that have died on both sides certainly care about the statistics). I would like to point out that I have tried to at least be civil, you seem to be more interested in name calling. Disagreement in opinion, or even facts, doesn't have inevitability lead to that. So I think I would simply like to ask, if you were in charge of a country in Israels position, what would you do?
            paulbhm@...
          • What would I do?

            Probably something diplomatic that doesn't involve bombing civilians. You have to think of this from a perspective of a small person. If you want Israel to "win" in this, you have to do just that. Israel is a small country surrounded by people with bigger sticks. That's a fact that they need to start thinking about too. You see, they should be looking to the outside, the UN, and not making their case seem to be as weak as... their case actually is. You see, the UN would probably help them if they weren't bombing civilians and denying innocents the basics that everyone needs. Instead? That's exactly what they're doing, making themselves the bad guy in this.
            Michael Alan Goff
          • Wouldn't bother to argue with Israeli shills and trolls

            they would know the truth if it hit them in the face - these trolls have there heads stuck up where the sun dont shine (oh, I forgot they are god's chosen and can do as they please - including lie, cheat, steal. kill. murder and what ever else they choose - and get away with it)
            goldenpirate@...
  • Won't fail, but...

    ...it will (and should) be seen as a quick-and-dirty resource for locating information on non-controversial topics (especially obscure ones). The more controversial the topic (ie. the more axes there are to grind), the less trustworthy Wikipedia will be because it is vulnerable to manipulation.
    John L. Ries
  • Is 93% accuracy good enough?

    A recent study of the 100 articles about the U.S. senators revealed that they are woven with deliberately incorrect information 6.8% of the time, and the average vandalistic edit takes 24 hours to revert.

    http://www.mywikibiz.com/Wikipedia_Vandalism_Study
    thekohser
    • 93% is still not good enough.

      Believe it or not, but 93% is still not good enough.
      Gradius2
      • Not good enough for what?

        Not good enough for lazy people to use it as one of many references? Primary sources are what should be used in any research. Wikipedia gives a number of resources with any article, and primaries should be traced with or without the help of Wikipedia. Books, anyone? Real books or information online, with proper attribution and references as to how the facts within were derived?

        If you want to go after really bad levels of factual accuracy, try looking in K-12 scholastic books on American history. They are full of complete garbage, and directly affect impressionable minds. such facts are drilled in by teachers and memorized for tests. For anyone who is worried about factual accuracy, start looking there.
        seanferd
  • Can't they have "approved articles" or "approved versions" of an article?

    If it's approved then some reputable source has confirmed the validity of the content. With an "approved" version you could have a button that users click to display the last approved version of an article. This way you can have accuracy without killing openness.
    T1Oracle
  • I trust Wikipedia more than news media

    Face it. Large corporations get their 'spin' out on large media outlets (TV, newspapers including print and online, radio, etc). For example, when CNN runs a news story about some miracle pill that cures some form of cancer, I first wonder if some drug company paid them to run an infomercial disguised as news -- a known and common scam by all these news channels.
    Telexer
    • Be apprehensive of ALL news/information

      I certainly agree that the major news media is not the best source of unbiased information, but neither are user generated sites like Wikipedia. Instead of just blindly accepting "information" as "fact", people should determine for themselves what is true and what is not, and understand that the source of the information they receive can be, and often is, distorted in one way or another. This is true whether that information is coming from a major outlet or a lone Wikipedia editor.

      The only difference in distortion between the two is the reason why it happens in the first place. Major outlets usually want to sway public opinion in one way or another in such a way that will help their corporate ambitions (i.e. greed).

      On the smaller scale, individuals may simply get a kick out of spreading false rumors (just look at all the chain emails that circulate), or maybe they just have a personal bias for whatever reason and feel they are right and everyone else is wrong.

      Either way, everyone has something to gain by misleading the public from time to time.
      TasteeWheat
      • Wikipedia will succeed

        Wikipedia will succeed because it's openness makes it accountable. It's not perfect. Even Britannica can't claim perfection. But it's a pretty good resource, accurate enough for quick info, and a good starting point even for controversial topics. It doesn't take long to figure out the nature of the controversy. Certainly a determined attacker can undermine its integrity for a time, but, really, how important is it that "Wilhelm" got stuck into a list of names? The more valuable an inaccuracy is, the more likely it is to be corrected quickly. Wikipedia has succeeded and will continue to do so. It contains the seeds of its own success.
        cburkitt2