If you open that great encyclopedia and find either no entry for what you’re looking for or an entry that seems deficient, there’s little you can do but shake your fist or write a letter to the editor (expecting no response). With Wikipedia, however, you fix it or create it yourself. This kind of shift from passive resentment to active participation makes the big difference. To remix the old joke about the weather, everybody complains about the encyclopedia, but now you can do something about it.
(Chris Anderson, The Long Tail)
Around 78 million visitors use Wikipedia monthly. Over 110 million people use Internet in Africa. What are the chances that Africans would have access to any encyclopedia and use it more often even if they did not trust Wikipedia? We have to think globally before we black and white Wikipedia, because nothing of this kind is more globally accessible than Wikipedia today.
As I write this entry, I am reading about the United States Senate elections, 2010 on Wikipedia. I have no idea how long is it going to take for me to read the same information, let’s say on Britannica. Definitely not before the next Britannica is published.
When I was reading The Long Tail, I noticed the description of the Wikipedia entry about John Seigenthaler Sr. and his op-ed in USA Today, which had started disputes about Wikipedia’s reliability. Of course, we all realize that Wiki is far from being perfect; however, is there indeed anything perfect? A study of Nature notes that averages out to 2.92 mistakes per article for Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia. “…Britannica has disputed this finding, saying that the errors in Wikipedia were more serious than the Britannica errors, and that the source documents for the study included the junior version of the encyclopedia as well as the Britannica yearbooks. Unfortunately for Britannica, its complaints really miss the point—errors cited on Wikipedia have long since been fixed, while the Britannica errors remain. In the same way that open source programmers swarm together to identify and fix bugs, Wikipedians can easily catch errors and set the record straight. According to an MIT study, an obscenity randomly inserted on Wikipedia is removed in an average of 1.7 minutes…” (from Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.)
While existence of the incorrect information or vandalism cannot be completely avoided in a peer production as Wikipedia is, editing process of Wikipedia impresses. According to a study by Magnus about early response to false claims Wiki, depending on how exactly the data are interpreted, either one third or one half of the inaccuracies were corrected within 48 hours.
At this point, I want to address Mr. Graff’s question about the Wikileaks‘ controversy. On the last week, I started reading the book titled The Gulag Archipelago by the Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Solzhenitsyn. At some point, the author mentions that when Soviet troops came to Germany, they raped and then killed German women. Wow, that absolutely contradicts the image of the Soviet soldier, created by the Soviets, I thought. Solzhenitsin’s book, which is filled with such memories on the war crimes actually lead to his being exiled from the Soviet Union; however, he had his right to share his truth. This is kind of citizens journalism. Citizens journalism which is the core of blogs and many other social media sources such as Flickr. What Wikileaks has been doing so far by opening war crimes, bloody governments and other violations is also kind of citizens journalism and current Iraq War Logs is not an exception. However, the origin and factuality of these documents are not verified and cannot be trustworthy. And in case the documents are trustworthy, leak of such a classified information should raise serious concerns of their sources at first place.