Wikipedia – Not Worth the Donation

Wikipedia LogoThe last few weeks when I’ve happened upon Wikipedia, there’s been a huge picture and beg for dollars at the top of the page.  Sort of like a PBS pledge drive but without the extra special performance by the Moody Blues.

I am not a fan of Wikipedia, and never have been.  The years of working in a library, and in educational institutions, pretty much has made me diametrically opposed to the use of Wikipedia as any kind of legitimate resource.  At best, it’s a jumping off point, where it might tip you off to other resources you should be checking.  I have yet to find accurate information in Wikipedia.  I remind students all the time that they should not be using Wikipedia as a resource when writing papers or completely projects.

The problem is that anyone can write anything they want on Wikipedia.  Yes, there are checks and balances, sort of, and someone else can come along later and change what you wrote and replace it with what they wrote.  I could do a search on Wikipedia for a specific topic, and get what looks like an article that is well-researched and complete.  I could do that search two days later and find a completely different set of “facts” that have been added or changed as someone went in and updated the information.

Realistically, this means that no subject is ever “complete,” and certainly is never quite accurate.  Close, but no cigar, as we like to say.

And while I understand the principle of sharing information, of letting the experts speak and clarify and fill in information, an incomplete product is worse than no product at all.  This is especially true when the incomplete version of the product appears at the top of the search chain, lending credibility to that flawed version.  I can appreciate what Wikipedia is all about, and what it’s trying to accomplish, but there is just too much room for error.  I never see information on who actually provided the text of any given article, and at the bottom of each one, you can freely “rate” the article and state that you are an “expert” on the subject, when in fact, no one has vetted anything.

So, explain why I should give money to this organization.  The financial appeal mentions “supporting free knowledge around the world.”  I’d feel more comfortable donating if I thought my money was going to be spent hiring people to actually vet what ends up on Wikipedia, someone to check sources and provide what is missing (which is a whole lot).  But I’m not willing to donate to an organization that doesn’t seem to care about providing accurate “free knowledge to the world.”

Wikipedia could be a whole lot better.  I know the intention was to be THE place for information on any topic.  But after more than a decade of existence, it’s still not there.  I expect better.  Which is why I use other sources for my research.  Resources that to me are free AND accurate.  You know, that brick building in the middle of town called a public library?  That has actual research materials and trained research librarians who can help you find what you need?  It’s my wiki.