When was the last time you went to the nearest library to find information? Can’t remember…. When was the last time you searched for information online?
A few minutes ago?
All of us search for information everyday for different needs: students for their curricular subjects, housewives for recipes, market researchers for industry reports, journalists for background information. If we are searching for a definition or background information on a particular subject, most probably Google results will show Wikipedia entries on the top of the page and we all end up reading that entry.
I first read a Wikipedia page way back in 2002 during my first job as a newspaper correspondent. Since then, I have been totally in awe of this amazing model of user-contributed collaborative method of information collection and dissemination. I wondered how people, who otherwise do not share information among friends, can help build such a vast database!
Today, Wikipedia is ranked among the top ten global websites (Alexa) and has an estimated 365 million readers worldwide. Despite such popularity and regular usage by millions of people, I have constantly heard my friends complain about the reliability of user-collaborative information. However, none of these friends ever told me that they have stopped checking Wikipedia for information. Their standard refrain is there is no alternative!
Actually there are alternatives. Encyclopædia Britannica is a trustworthy source of information which was regularly used during our school days. Earlier, its website had a restricted access and all articles were updated once a year by a team of experts. Now after facing serious threat from Wikipedia, it is freely available and allows user submitted content as well. In fact, after 244 years of publication, the Encyclopaedia Britannica has stopped its print edition since 2012!
There are other sources of info: just search for “history of India”, and you will get a choice of links such as Indianchild.com, mapsofindia.com, About.com, and even BBC and CIA! However, you will find that there is no sign of Encyclopaedia Britannica in that Google search. Why? Simple, Google search engine ranks any website based on the content quality and visitor appeal. So the more visitors a website gets, the higher its ranking. So despite all the hue & cry about expert written and peer reviewed content, nobody seem to bother about Encyclopedia Britannica.
Despite all its usefulness and accuracy in information, Wikipedia has not gained respect among people. I wonder why? People rarely make an effort to check the ‘Talk’ page behind every Wiki page to see if there has been too many edits or any vandalism (now, where to find the ‘Talk’ page!). None of us ever make an effort to verify Wiki’s information with other websites and see if there is a bias or variation. None of us make an effort to create a Wiki page on a subject just to verify if anyone messes up the content.
Way back in 2005, Nature, a reputed scientific journal, compare Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica to find that the information accuracy and error levels are similar. So where does this distrust originate… Is it because we never trust anything created by a group of amateurs… Do we have the notion that only experts in a field should have a say in anything… Or is it because we feel if something is open to debate, it means it is debatable.
It strikes me that this distrust originates from somewhere deeper. Being open for debate is the fundamental difference between religion and science. Just because Isaac Newton gave the scientific law for motion and the ‘theory of mechanics’, it does not become the absolute universal truth. Another scientist like Einstein can disprove it by propounding another ‘theory of relativity’. However, in religion everything is constant and unquestionable!
Anyway, let me not digress into another debatable topic. Here is my appeal to readers – please do not question the veracity of Wikipedia in general. If you have doubts about a particular fact, please go to the ‘Discussion’ page and post a comment about it. Please make a contribution of at least Rs.1000 once in a year, since Wikipedia does not have any advertising revenue. By the way, I have never seen anyone complain about the absence of ads on Wikipedia! Please check Encyclopedia Britannica for a change!
Box item – Controversy about cash rich Wikipedia
At the end of every year, Wikipedia begins its fund raising campaign among its regular readers. In 2012, the website’s owner, Wikimedia Foundation raised $20 million from its 1 million donors. This year, it is all set to surpass that record, already receiving $25 million from 1.2 million donors! Evidently, Western media is abuzz with articles questioning why does a cash rich Wikipedia need more donations?!
Every voluntary organisation has the right to ask as much donations as it needs and every donor has the right to donate as much as he/she likes. In fact, the biggest donors for Wikipedia are large corporate foundations such as Ford Foundation and Google Foundation, who donated $3 million and $2 million respectively. If an enthusiastic fan like me wants to donate to Wikipedia, how can anyone question that?
Yes, I completely agree that Wikimedia Foundation does not spend much for Wikipedia’s administrative costs these days. It has found better use for its funds; check the list of recent initiatives below –
- January 2013: Wikimedia Foundation launches Wikivoyage, a free, worldwide travel guide that anyone can edit
- December 2012: Winners for the world’s largest photo contest, ‘Wiki Loves Monuments’ announced
The international jury selected the top 15 photos from more than 350,000 photos worldwide, including the grand prize winner from New Delhi, India.
- Wikimedia Foundation launches WikiWomen’s Collaborative programto bridge the gender gap among contributors and editors