Wikipedia has been one of the fastest, most widely used and cited sources of information on the entire web for years . Millions of users around the world compose this encyclopedia, which is updated every minute with new information or corrections to existing articles. His collaborative and open nature provides him with a high degree of truthfulness and thoroughness, but also draws him numerous criticisms. To what extent can we trust Wikipedia? We are going to study its advantages and disadvantages to try to determine it.
Whoever has not turned to Wikipedia when doing work for their studies, raise your hand. Nobody, right? In fact, a 2010 investigation in seven universities in the United States concluded that Wikipedia is the sixth preferred source of consultation by students , and the second source at the non-academic level. The study put Wikipedia ahead of government websites, book collections, and even the prestigious Encyclopedia Britannica.
However, many hands would be raised if we ask how many have suffered the rejection of a teacher for using the Wiki. It may not have been a reliable source years ago, but it has improved so much that the pros have outnumbered the cons. For a reason it is one of the ten most popular websites in the world.
The first advantages of Wikipedia are obvious. It is free, the collaboration is public and it is directed to everyone . It is the responsibility of the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization that is funded by donations. Its content is open, that is, users are free to copy and distribute the information. In this way, it is very easy to replicate such a vast source of knowledge.
Wikipedia is based on two concepts: “wikiwiki”, a Hawaiian word that means “fast”, and “encyclopedia”, an English word that does not need translation. The texts or wiki pages constitute shared content, whose users can modify directly from the browser. You do not need to be a computer expert, nor do you need any specific tool to work on the Wiki. Anyone can join the Wikipedia community , add information, verify, document with sources, and so on.
One of the most powerful benefits comes from the collaborative philosophy. Thanks to it, Wikipedia offers a rich vision on the subject we are looking for . Of the more than 400 million registered users, approximately one and a half million hold site administration positions. Depending on their role, administrators can be:
- Edit suppressors , which can modify or remove edits.
- Librarians , who are in charge of verifying the contents. They can delete articles with wrong or unnecessary information, and block other users' edits.
- Bureaucrats , who grant admin permissions, review user relationships, and control auto-edit bots.
- User reviewers or “checkusers” , who verify identities by IP tracking to avoid duplication or user fraud.
In addition, there is a whole battery of measures to control the changes that occur in Wikipedia. Forums, specific chat channels or programs created to detect errors ... This organization chart reveals the strict scrutiny to which Wikipedia is subjected at all times, and gives an idea of the completeness of its contents.
Currently, Wikipedia contains more than 37 million articles in 287 different languages . The Spanish version is around 1,330,000 different entries. In addition, each article includes a list of the sources that have been used to make it. If we want to delve into the subject, we can consult these sources. In other words, Wikipedia may not be enough for in-depth research, but it offers enough tools to get started.
The open system work Wikipedia is its greatest strength, but is also the main target of criticism . Wikipedia pages do not have a clear hierarchy, although in reality this is the least of it. Anyone can edit the content of the Wiki, which makes it vulnerable to digital vandalism . On the other hand, the exhaustiveness of the articles is highly variable . We can find authentic academic research alongside concepts or themes defined with a simple sentence. Users may have good intentions, but not everyone can be an expert. In this way, bulk errors alternate with hasty updates and modifications made for fun.
The setbacks that this disadvantage can cause are usually corrected almost instantly . However, this has not prevented many public figures from having had the curious honor of "passing away" before their time. Singer Jon Bon Jovi had to post a video of himself on his website to prove that he was alive, contrary to what his Wikipedia entry indicated. On another occasion, "parkour" was defined as "the practice of sucking nuts." And someone modified the Batman entry so that only the tune of the 60's series appeared, as it sounds when humming it.
Fortunately, the community ensures the integrity of Wikipedia, and any errors are corrected in just a few minutes. Even so, it is a defect that has its own entry: a list of false articles or "hoax".
Wikipedia content is produced on a voluntary basis by a small percentage of all users. The Spanish edition has more than 4,500,000 registered users, but only 0.4% are active users. That is, they have made at least one contribution in the last 30 days. As only a few speak for many, there is a risk that the content may be biased or biased . The problem becomes particularly sensitive in the articles of a political nature . For example, the text that explained the war between Russia and Ukraine for the territory of Crimea underwent up to 500 modifications, in which the history of the disputed peninsula was changed. Again, we have to rely on the good work of the administrators.
This results in another not inconsiderable drawback. What if an author believes that only his point of view is the authentic one , and censures any modification? In this case, the relevant content would not be reflected on Wikipedia, but on the discussion pages of the articles. These talk pages are the communication channel between users and publishers. In them we can warn of any incident, provide new information or discuss which source is more reliable. As we have seen, Wikipedia has numerous tools to avoid partial censorship. However, something can always be overlooked.
Finally, Wikipedia's main advantage has ended up creating a major problem. Its free and open nature has made the web grow far beyond any forecast. Therefore, the donation system for its maintenance is sometimes insufficient. Those responsible for Wikipedia maintain their philosophy, but the survival of the encyclopedia ends up in our hands. And on the Internet, gratuity is a double-edged sword. Anyone like a good and free service, but it makes us forget that everything has a cost.
Do the pros outweigh the cons?
From our point of view, the advantages do outweigh the disadvantages . Over time, the Wikipedia community has matured considerably, greatly improving its rigor and its mechanisms for detecting poor articles or malicious changes. Every day it is more complete and covers more topics with satisfying depth. However, prejudices are difficult to erase. Many people are still left with the disadvantages of the early years, and still think that the Wikipedia information is inaccurate or downright false.
As always, you have the last word. Leave your opinion in the comments.