Sunday, December 03, 2006

 

Wikipedia and notability

Typically in any online discussion of Wikipedia, I've seen the following two complaints come up:

In response to the first point, I doubt you'll find any Wikipedian who would argue that there are no mistakes in Wikipedia. All non-fiction works have mistakes, but the more credible the author, the more promptly she or he will concede this fact. (I guess that's why experts rate Wikipedia articles higher in accuracy than nonexperts.) That being said, I've found a surprising correlation between the volume of the person claiming that "Wikipedia is inaccurate" and the likelihood that this person attempted to add suspect information. I'll leave it at that.

In response to the second point, too many people think that Wikipedia is an indescriminate dumping-ground of all information, a point raised by this
Washington Post article"
. (And my thanks to Tim Stahmer, who links to this article in his blog mentioned below.) This view is due partially to a tendentious interpretation of something Jimbo Wales once said, with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm, that the goal of Wikipedia was to contain "the sum of all human knowledge". Accordingly, they repeat this whenever someone points out that their contribution does not meet Wikipedia's foreeeable needs, nevermind any objections.

(A free bit of advice: if you find your contribution on the chopping block and can come up with any other argument to defend your contribution, use it and don't mention this quotation. This utterance has been quoted so many times by people with no other justification for their contributions that alluding to this quotation proves there is no good reason to keep the material.)

Quite simply, some material is not notable. That is to say, there is no conceivable reason that anyone would want to read an article on that subject, except for a small group who have other reasons to find it there (i.e., vanity). This does not mean that a topic that is not important is not notable. For example, the command "ls" is not the most important command available in the UNIX toolbox; yet it has an interesting history, which predates the creation of UNIX, and it is conceivable that someone -- for example, a new computer user -- may need to read part of all of an article on this command.

In his post "The Myth and Reality of Wikipedia", Stahmer notes another good reason for this requirement: "this minimal level of quality control offers more confidence when discussing the use of Wikipedia with teachers and librarians." He concludes, "Basic standards for inclusion, combined with the ability of the general community to review and correct the information, makes Wikipedia an even more valuable learning tool."

Maybe it's not sublime wisdom, but Stahmer shows more common sense per 100 words in his post than in the Slashdot discussion about the Post article.

Geoff

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