Wikipedia, Nature, and the Web 2.0

One of the more contentious issues surrounding the Web2.0 has been the accuracy (or lack of it) found in entries at Wikipedia. The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit has been a favorite target of Nicholas Carr, who has become the unofficial naysayer of everything Web 2.0. In an often cited posting, The amorality of Web 2.0, Carr rips into Wikipedia and the Web 2.0 as the "Cult of the Amateur."

In a more recent post, Carr looks at the widely reported article in Nature that suggests that Wikipedia was "roughly equivalent" in terms of accuracy with Britannica. Carr works hard to show that the 162 errors found in Wikipedia were much more egregious than the 123 found in Britannica. (There were about four inaccuracies per science entry in Wikipedia vs. three per entry in Britannica.) Additionally, he makes the argument that the survey "probably exaggerated Wikipedia's overall quality considerably."

While I certainly found the article interesting and can agree with Carr on many of the smaller points he makes, I think the larger point is lost. When I go to Wikipedia, I see an "edit" button on each entry I come across. That's the beauty of Wikipedia, it is also a liability. I know because of that edit button that I need be careful of information that I find there. What was illuminating about the article in Nature was not that Wikipedia contains inaccuracies but rather that Encyclopedia Britannica contains so many. Perhaps we need to take a closer look at the "Cult of the Professional."

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