Wounding Wikipedia (continued)

It seems like every parent of school age kids I talk to has had the same conversation with their school about Wikipedia and it goes like this, "kids shouldn’t use Wikipedia to do their research because you can’t trust the information there".

It really frosts me that the schools are taking this tack with Wikipedia, which to my mind is one of the all-time great innovations in the world of information, research, and fact finding. I totally buy into the idea that the aggregated knowledge of the entire world has to be better than the knowledge of a few "experts" who put together encyclopedias, which apparently the schools believe are trustworthy.

Now we all know that at any particular time, there can be some inaccurate stuff in Wikipedia and that’s certainly a problem, as I posted about in my prior wounding wikipedia post.

So I found the column by Randall Stross in today’s New York Times an interesting read. Randall suggests that Wikipedia needs to take one more page out of the open source playbook and give each page in Wikipedia an authoritative figure who has the power to decide what edits to allow and which to disallow.

Jeff Bates of the Open Source Technology Group (slashdot, sourcefourge, etc) is quoted in Randall’s column as saying:

In every open-source project, he said, there is "a benevolent dictator"
who ultimately takes responsibility, even though the code is
contributed by many. Good stuff results only if "someone puts their
name on it."

I agree with the notion that people who are willing to put their name on something are more reliable.  It sounds like a good idea to me.  Hopefully Jimmy Wales will consider something like that to insure that Wikipedia remains the incredible source that it is.

As for the schools, I suggest they stop trashing Wikipedia and embrace it, warts and all.  At a minimum, they should be recommending it as an important source that needs to be fact checked against other sources.  Kids shouldn’t have just one source for information anyway.  We certainly make more than one due diligence call when we check out companies.  Kids should do the same with Wikipedia. But they shouldn’t avoid it.

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