As technology continues to rapidly evolve over a wide range of technical and social fields, a number of unique services have risen to fame by the way they impact our daily lives. These services have taken many forms, from social platforms to knowledge databases and beyond. Websites such as Google and Facebook stand tall as tremendous examples to the significance that such services have had on our social, economic and professional interactions. Among these numerous services, one clearly stands out for its wealth of knowledge and its unique way of collecting this knowledge. This is the service known as Wikipedia, and it has become the subject of a number of debates and controversies.
Wikipedia – the free online encyclopedia
Wikipedia, as described on its own website, is a free online encyclopedia providing a wide array of information on many social, technical, and historical topics. It formats itself in a way similar to other encyclopedias, typically offering a historical, practical and cultural explanation to a given topic while providing forms of visual media when capable. The uniqueness of Wikipedia, however, is in the way it acquires this information. Wikipedia prides itself on being an essentially open source site, allowing visitors to add or edit pieces of information on individual topics as necessary. All of the information you find on Wikipedia has been researched, entered, formatted and cited by a community of users both within the Wikipedia community and within the Internet community.
This method of community collaboration has become quite popular, with many communities taking the Wiki format and implementing it for their own needs, but it has also become the topic of heated debate amongst some groups of people. Given Wikipedia’s popularity as an encyclopedia, it is used by many people in researching topics for both general learning and specific educational requirements. This popularity has prompted some educational and research facilities to implement strict rules regarding the use of Wikipedia to discover and back information in professional reports and educational assignments. Despite years of debate from both people for and against the use of Wikipedia, one question remains looming over the service in general: Is Wikipedia safe and reliable enough to be considered the go to Encyclopedia of the future?
So, what is the answer to the Wikipedia debate?
In answering this question, one must first take a look at the arguments that have created the debate in the first place. One of the major culprits in creating this attitude of weariness for Wikipedia stems from one of the features that have made it so popular in the first place, the ability for anyone to edit its content. A number of concerns regarding the reliability of Wikipedia’s material originate from its contributor’s questionable objectivity. Before Wikipedia, such information was acquired from experts within the fields the topic involved. Documents and reports were commonly cited in discussing topics and these sources could clearly be identified for their integrity. Wikipedia allows anyone to edit under either the anonymity of the Internet or a simple account. As a result of this, situations can easily exist where a person can modify the article with incorrect information and faulty references. This can cause a huge impact on the value of the article, as it encourages the spreading of misinformation by people who unknowingly use the false information.
Furthermore, this issue can be escalated further by the creation of a conflict of interest. Wikipedia covers a number of companies and products within its database, all of which are researched under the same standards of community collaboration. These entries can easily devolve into thinly veiled attempts at advertising and misinterpretations of general information about the company at hand. Examples of this behavior have been noted before, with some employees seeking to downplay the criticisms or increase the strengths of their companies. This abuse of the system undermines the validity of Wikipedia as an encyclopedia and can easily make a case against using the website if it is left unchecked on a wider scale.
Despite these justified concerns over the integrity of Wikipedia, there are a number of things that support Wikipedia in combating these issues and justify the use of this website for educational and research needs. For starters, Wikipedia employs a technical system on the website that is used to prevent the spread of false information. When an entry on Wikipedia is “vandalized” by one person, others are capable of stepping in and returning the entry to its previous format through analyzing copies of the webpage that have been saved. Specific users who are noted in the community for their objectivity and dedication are given moderator controls, allowing them to reprimand users looking to spread misinformation and protect entries on Wikipedia in a variety of ways. One such way is through the ability to manage the means by which people are allowed to change an entry, allowing additional changes to be screened before accepted. The moderators and community in general are typically capable of preventing major pieces of misinformation from being allowed onto the site.
Alongside these mechanics, critics of Wikipedia also tend to understate the dedication of its community. Wikipedia strongly encourages beneficial collaboration on the entries in its database. This means that information is constantly being checked, reformatted and recited for accuracy. This refines contributions to the website by helping convert it to an objective, verified source of knowledge. For example, quotes and content that are posted without citations will often be edited to include a source that has been found to support the information or the content will be replaced with something that can be verified with a source. This helps halt the spread of misinformation and allows the site to remain reliable on a level similar to other encyclopedias.
Ultimately, Wikipedia cannot and should not be written off as an unreliable source of information. In many ways it has blossomed into a nexus of helpful information on an unbelievable scale. The depth and spread of Wikipedia and its entries can be arguably considered the largest of any encyclopedia existing today, providing text, audio, video and visual media as a means to educate and as a means to provide a jumping point for serious research. At the very least, Wikipedia is an empowering tool that provides a fantastic starting point for anyone needing to learn about a specific topic. While it may not be encouraged to take everything on the website for face value, it remains an incredible database that is continuously backed by a community that is dedicated to achieving the goal of reliable, global information. For these reasons, Wikipedia can easily be considered the only encyclopedia you will ever need.