Comics, Geek

Over the last couple of years, I’ve become addicted to Wikipedia. Not just consulting it for answers about everything under the sun, but writing and editing articles as well. Yes, I am a Wikipedia editor. (And you can be one too.)

It’s not really a big deal. Anyone can do it; you don’t even need to create a user account (though it’s much more fun to do so). That’s the beauty — and the danger — of the whole system: Wikipedia is literally open to anybody, which means it’s uniquely vulnerable to vandalism and deliberate misinformation. And of course we’ve all heard horror stories about how "inaccurate" it is, or infamous examples of slander (particularly in biographical entries). Or how Wikipedia is not considered a legitimate source for academic research. (There is also a study, however, that compared a range of science-related Wikipedia articles with those from Encyclopedia Brittanica and found the two sources virtually identical in terms of accuracy.) Actually, what makes Wikipedia such a formidable force is how little vandalism there actually is. And the fact is that most articles of any significance are constantly vetted, and any malevolent contributions are speedily removed. Wikipedia actually has an incredibly stringent set of guidelines for writing articles, and you will find the best entries are widely sourced and footnoted, overseen by editors with a great deal of professional knowledge.

In any case, just try doing a Google search, and most often the top result is a Wikipedia entry. With Wikipedia and Google (even unintentionally) combining forces, Wikipedia is increasingly becoming the dominant Internet research tool.

Personally, I’m charmed and fascinated by the "crowdsourcing" ethos at the heart of Wikipedia. I love the idea that collective wisdom is more reliable and "objective" than the old encyclopedia model of a selected few "experts" deeming what’s relevant and factual. Which brings me to my own particular journey down the rabbit hole.