Weekly Blog # 8 Wikipedia: Can we trust it when it comes to..

It is not a secret  for  anyone that Twitter has surpassed mainstream media as the place for discovering breaking news. But I was surprised when I heard during one of my classes in Social Media that Wikipedia, just like Twitter, has also been used by many as a primary source of breaking news.

For example, I looked at the article about the 2005 London bombings. It was pretty impressive that it had taken minutes after the event for a volunteer to start a page on the events. Many others followed suit shortly afterwords. For the next 24 hours, more than 70 people have reported on the event and it had the most comprehensive user-generated coverage available out there, one that a traditional media outlet could not possibly prepare for the same amount of time.

There are only so many places a reporter can be and so many people he can talk to. This example makes me realize the real power of crowdsourcing and collaborative action. As I expresses in my last post, to me the process of creating a page on Wikipedia resembles a  group of people playing with a puzzle, and putting together pieces of information from various locations in one place. Same thing with breaking news on Wikipedia. It’s also impressive that when somebody puts a piece of the puzzle on the wrong place, it is immediately corrected by another group member.   Intentionally or not, mistakes are made in any given entry, but they are immediately caught and repaired by others. This is especially true when it comes to events unfolding in real time when there are so many eyes on that particular entry.

The entries on so many other breaking news events prove this point, the last one being the bombings on the Moscow Metro a few days ago. On the day of the attacks more the page has been edited more than 250 times.

The speed with which articles on breaking news are created and developed is absolutely astonishing. I was also surprised to hear that there is a group of people, devoted so much to creating Wikipedia content, that probably at the moment big news breaks, they stop whatever they’re doing to start a project and maintain its quality, by that I mostly mean cases of vandalism and filtering of all the opinion out.

Traditional media also gets things wrong sometimes, but somehow it is more accepted when they do that than a Wikipedia page. We are more inclined to trust traditional media and blogs, rather than a carefully tailored Wikipedia article. This post, gives more reasons why we should trust Wikipedia.

Google’s vice president Marissa Mayer in her testimony to Congress in May, 2009 on the future of  journalism, argues that:

Today, in online news, publishers frequently publish several articles on the same topic, sometimes with identical or closely related content, each at their own URL. The result is parallel Web pages that compete against each other in terms of authority, and in terms of placement in links and search results.

Consider instead how the authoritativeness of news articles might grow if an evolving story were published under a permanent, single URL as a living, changing, updating entity. We see this practice today in Wikipedia’s entries and in the topic pages at NYTimes.com. The result is a single authoritative page with a consistent reference point that gains clout and a following of users over time.”

Having all the above in consideration, my previous position that Wikipedia can be a trusted source of information, has only been reaffirmed. Of course, one always has to leave a place for some doubt whatever he the source is, but I can just say that I will also head to Wikipedia next time when important news breaks.

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