The vast majority of Wikipedia articles are low-to-mid
quality, with most being also quite short; but this is simply
because there are so very many of them. Despite the wiki
technology, most of these articles only have one or two
primary authors, as well. Most of this "long tail" of short
articles are not comparable to Britannica or other
encyclopedias, simply because Britannica does not include
topics such as every episode of popular TV shows as
I agree. That's why when we talk about the quality of WP versus traditional sources,
it's important to focus on content that is covered by both types of resources.
The fact that Wikipedia covers content that is not covered by Brittanica should not be
held against the approach. It should be considered a strength, not a weakness!
You also, of course, have to come up with a
good definition of "quality" -- obviously, Wikipedia meets
some definitions, but completely fails others (like written
by experts in the field).
"Written by experts in the field" is a process-oriented definition of quality.
Such definitions are always highly suspicious. They're often promoted by tool and
process vendors who want to equate quality with their particular brand of tool or
It's much better to define quality of a product in terms of attributes of the end
product than in terms of the process by which it was achieved.
Rereading the Nature article, I noticed that they talk about two dimensions of quality:
- Accuracy of the information
- Clarity of presentation
While WP seems to do very well on accuracy, it seems many of the expert reviewers in the
study complained about Clarity. So maybe the claim should be that:
"Experience shows that wikis *can* lead to *comprehensive and accurate*
In part because of this, and because of other factors,
English Wikipedia is not, perhaps, the best wiki to look at
when trying to make a statement about wiki technology in
general. EN:WP has a highly developed ruleset, culture,
practices and visibility that can't necessary be carried over
to talking about other wikis, such as those with a smaller or
restricted community. For communities, are you talking about
wikis that foster communities that already exist (such as
within a company) or wikis that *create* community by
existing (like Wikipedia?) The latter seems true enough by
example; I'm not sure about the former.
I'm making the claim in the context of this article:
Which talks about creating a world-wide community of translators.
By the way, the 1.0 project that Brian pointed to was rating
by topic (trying to find good articles, not poor ones) and
trying to find core articles that could be included in a CD
version of WP. They worked with the WikiProjects and on their
own to come up with lists within subjects. They've also been
working on a "core topics" list:
(and a variation)
Considering that the Nature study actually relied on a very
similar methodology -- asking experts to subjectively rate
articles -- it seems like a pretty valid comparison. The
reviewers working on 1.0 are academics and experienced
Wikipedians; the people working in the WikiProjects
presumably have some subject knowledge.
OK, thx for the precisions. One way that this differs from the Nature study is that it
does not compare WP's quality on those articles to the quality level on Brittanica.
What is your impression on that? Would the low quality articles on that list fail the test
of being comparable to Brittanica in terms of accuracy?
(I think Brian and I are proving the point here that
want detailed criticism of Wikipedia, ask some long-time
contributors :) )
Such self-criticism is a sure sign of a healthy community!
Alain Désilets, National Research Council of Canada
Chair, WikiSym 2007
2007 International Symposium on Wikis
Wikis at Work in the World:
Open, Organic, Participatory Media for the 21st Century