After last class, I got a little more respect for Wikipedia. While modern encyclopedias carry an innovative approach and an attractive freshness in terms of content, traditional encyclopedias – made with greater diligence – carry an aura of ultimate knowledge, but can no longer compete with the diversity, interaction, real-time updates, and popularity of the wikis.
Wikipedia’s anyone-can-edit philosophy is not as chaotic as I thought and also not as democratic as I imagined. The concept of “encyclopedia” has changed over the years due to changes in the way content is produced and delivered. Now, anyone can publish information about current events as soon as they happen, and this makes modern encyclopedias, such as Wikipedia, very much like media outlets’ breaking news.
For instance, as we saw in class, the entry 7 July 2005 London bombings was created soon after the detonation of bombs occurred, and people immediately started to add information to it – which is a never-ending process (most recent update was done today, November 10!). Wikipedia is an encyclopedia being written at the same time History happens, and due to its nature it’s understandable that the quality of Wikipedia’s entries varies a lot and depends on 1) the entry being a recent event, or not (recent events are more likely to be incomplete or poor, but they have potential to be improved); and on 2) having experts who would share their knowledge and kindly add information to the entries.
As soon as an event happen, journalists may know as little as Wikipedia contributors, but, as the story develops, media outlets are more effective because journalists are very well connected to credible sources of information, and they have credentials (for example, being a NYTimes reporter), or a solid professional reputation, which helps them to access and provide accurate information.
I like the idea of giving “voice” to people share information on Wikipedia. The problem is that Wikipedia works best exactly as a community of people who share knowledge (without going into the merit of the accuracy of knowledge) than as an encyclopedia, or accurate source of information. Wikipedia is more focused on the means (creating and sharing content) than on the outcomes (providing accurate information). And accuracy is essential when it comes to information; inaccurate information has no value.
Thus, the disadvantage of an open source of information is that it tends to be shallow: quantity (number of entries) and growing horizontally prevails over quality and growing vertically. This relates to the fact that today we have the opportunity – and the demand – to create and distribute content faster than the available time to inquiry and verify information. It’s true that this also affects media outlets, but they usually have more effective techniques to verify information within a short period of time than Wikipedia’s contributors do.
Quick note: On July 7, 2009, the Brazilian Supreme Court waived the requirement that someone must have a college degree in Journalism in order to be allowed to work as a journalist (by the way, poor me). Literally, in Brazil anyone can be a journalist.