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Wikipedia - Spam, Lies, Revert Wars and Some Really Decent Articles
Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia created using a wiki. A wiki is a website where potentially anyone can edit a page, and anyone can create a new page. With Wikipedia, there are a few restrictions, but not many. Anonymous users cannot create new articles, but they can update existing ones.
The advantages of this approach to document creation are amazing. There are millions of people online, who are genuinely knowledgeable on many topics. Most are ready to share, but aren't motivated to actually create a webpage documenting their knowledge for others in a useful format. Wikipedia and other wikis provide an outlet for this knowledge.
Wikipedia currently has over 800,000 articles in English of varying qualities. Some of them are incomplete. Some are of marginal quality, and may have inaccuracies.
Amazingly, most Wikipedia articles I've seen are of very high quality. While not perfect, Wikipedia works.
While anyone can post a change, anyone can revert or modify that change. This results in a form of peer review. Bad changes get removed, while positive, factual ones remain in the document.
Wiki's can also provide quick and easy documentation for projects in the workplace.
Still, a few problems can occur.
Vandalism occurs when someone damages or deletes the content of a page for any number of given motivations.
Pages can be subject to, "spam." This refers to spamming of content, as opposed to email spam. Sometimes the spam is blatant, and may replace the entire page with an advertisement for a website. More often, it is in the form of a link related to the article, but to a commercial site for the purpose of its promotion. Wikipedia does employ some spam blocking technology by monitoring IP addresses that perform large numbers of updates across multiple articles.
"Revert wars," occur when a controversial article has content which is constantly changed back and forth between two different points of view.
Obscure articles are rarely reviewed for accuracy. This gives someone an opportunity to arbitrarily post a non-factual article and stay under the radar.
A recent example of the last item has caused Wikipedia much publicity. Many pundits are demanding restrictions on how Wikipedia updates of articles. While Wikipedia may benefit from some policy changes, I get a bit concerned when I hear calls from the press for restrictions on other forms of media.
If a fact seems controversial, there may be good reason to question it, especially if it's just posted on, "the internet."
But this is true of any source of information. How would you go about getting a reliable information on a topic like global warming, or if gun control reduces crime? Can you be positive that a conventional encyclopedia would have truly objective articles on these topics?
However, if you're looking up the population size of Yugoslavia or the atomic weight of tungsten, Wikipedia is pretty safe bet.
Even apparently reputable sources of information can turn out to be dead wrong. Just ask Colin Powell.
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