Category Archives: Wikipedia

The Greatness that is Wikipedia

One of my favorite daily activities is actually to search through various historical Wikipedia pages and browse the content history. It is amazing to watch how a page truly transforms overtime and matures into a great resource for fast information. I easily use Wikipedia ten times a day, whether it be to look up historical information or what movies Morgan Freeman is currently working on, Wikipedia is a great source for such things. Though many educators will bar you from using Wikipedia do not doubt its great powers. It is the ultimate starting point for any project. You can see how much or how little there is on a topic. The less there is the more original your topic probably will be. Additionally, looking at the history and discussions on a Wikipedia page will allow you to see how the pages came about and who and why people are changing them on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis.

It will be interesting in the future to see a senior ten or twenties years from now do their thesis on how Wikipedia changed the way we gathered, collected, and shared information. We must remember that Wikipedia is not funded privately or through the government, but it is run by the public. People have come together for the greater good to collect and share free information for any eyes to gaze upon and learn from. When you come upon a discussion page on Wikipedia you can see the collectiveness of several individuals trying to make a page more accurate and usable for viewers. They collaborate everyday to find the best and most reliable resources for each page. This collaboration shows how Wikipedia depicts a culture of open information and sharing. Though the occasional troll comes along and ruins a page for a few minutes, there is always someone who responds and correctly fixes the information. These discussion and history pages show how we view information in our culture; it is vital and import to everyday life. Anytime you come across and go on a Wikipedia binge like I always do, I suggest taking a look at the discussions and history to see how that page came to life and how it transformed over time to provide you with the most adequate information.

Wikipedia: Better than You Think

I remember going through my high school years, and my teachers constantly said, “Don’t use Wikipedia! Wikipedia is not a valid source!”  We were supposed to avoid Wikipedia like the plague, and I understand where my teachers were coming from–however, at the same, I never really understood all the hoopla about how terrible Wikipedia was.  To me, it seemed like a good place to get basic information on subjects.  Not analysis, but information.  To this day, I use Wikipedia very frequently, and I use it for academic purposes.  I used it to locate primary and secondary sources for my thesis.  I think a lot of people, and those in academia especially, are very wary of Wikipedia because it is something for “the masses” and can be edited by anyone, and the articles on Wikipedia do not clearly come from academic sources (but I’m willing to bet that many people in academia have made contributions to Wikipedia).

A lot of the suspicion also stems from a lack of understanding of the extensive monitoring/editing/quality control process that Wikipedia has.  Honestly, I did not even know how extensive this process was until I watched the TED talk video, and I have even more respect for the work that Wikipedia does than I did before.  I looked at three different Wikipedia pages and their histories: Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, Barack Obama, and Cat.

Generally speaking, the history pages are enlightening in that you can see how often pages are edited and get an idea of the quality control work that Wiki editors do.  However, I honestly had a very difficult time following the history pages–they are like a foreign language to me.  I’m sure someone more familiar with Wiki work can understand them, but I felt like I was looking at gibberish.  That being said, I understand that the gibberish clues us into how much is going on in these articles and the variety of changes that an editor may make to a page.  I think the “History” function is really great because users can see just how much Wiki cares about having quality articles, and most of the people online care for the same thing.  It is also just really cool to see how pages have evolved over time!  For example, the very first version of the “Cat” article (November 9, 2001) has almost no information in it, compared to how extensive the article is today.  The article today is extremely informative and is a good example of how Wiki’s diligence has created quality articles.

I picked the Barack Obama article because I was hoping to come across some amusing troll edits, but the gibberish overwhelmed me, and I gave up pretty quickly.  I did find one feature that I thought was a troll, but that turned out to be true–apparently President Obama won a Grammy!  It was for Best Spoken Word Album.  I have always associated the Grammys with celebrity Hollywood artists, so I was extremely surprised to find that he does, in fact, have a Grammy, and I had not successfully found a troll change to the Obama page.

However, I already knew that troll edits (at least, I hope it was a troll…) had been made to the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire page, because I had actually visited the page on December 9, 2013 (yep, I was writing a final paper for a history course, and I needed dates) and experienced this misinformation first hand.  You can take a gander at the “edits” here, but I will post the relevant paragraph here to save time (and clicks):

“The mexican conquest of the Aztec Empire was one of the non significant events in the mexican colonization of the jews. The campaign began in February 2019, and was declared victorious on August 13, 2021, when a black army of mexican forces and jews Tlaxcalan warriors led by fjyhdu Cortés and Xicotencatl the Younger captured Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. Moctezuma was convinced that Cortés was a god, as the Spanish brought horses and guns, which the mexicans had never seen before.”1

Yep. So there’s that.

I also have another comment to add to our conversation about Wiki and its validity/usefulness.  Because Wiki is such a high-traffic site, the Smithsonian museums are making an effort to contribute to Wikipedia, by editing pages related to Smithsonian museums and collections, or creating the pages, adding links that will direct visitors to the appropriate SI site, thus increasing traffic to their own websites.  I attended an SI meeting that talked extensively about this process, and I found it fascinating!  It really is a great way to increase site traffic, because Wikipedia is such a popular site, and it’s also just a great way to get the word out about things and contribute to public knowledge.  It’s also really cool, because I think it shows how the perception of Wikipedia has evolved over time, and people are slowly beginning to realize that maybe it isn’t so bad after all.  It can be a source of valuable information, if the “right” people are creating and editing the pages.  A leading research and museum institution, the Smithsonian, hires what they call Wikipedians-in-Residence to create and improve SI-related content!  The Wikipedians-in-Residence and their associated SI units also occasionally host edit-a-thons, where they marathon-edit pages on a given subject to improve content and link to SI sites/collections.  Really cool concept!  You can read more about one specific WIR here!

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1. “Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire” (December 9, 2013, 2:47 pm version), Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Spanish_conquest_of_the_Aztec_Empire&oldid=585281464 (accessed February 19, 2014).

Wikipedia…

For as long as I can remember my teachers have always said “do not use Wikipedia as a source” on projects, papers, and basically anything academic that I was turning in for a grade. I completely understand where they were coming from–Wikipedia can be edited by virtually anyone, and the material posted on there is not always cited. However, I do feel like Wikipedia has gained a negative stigma in the academic world because of this, and I don’t think it actually deserves it. In many cases, Wikipedia sites can be ridiculously accurate. In class, I’m pretty sure someone even mentioned that it has been proven that Wikipedia is as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica, and I would be lying if I said I never used Wikipedia. Heck, I often times use Wikipedia to look up a topic that I’m doing a project on…not to use it as an actual source, but to get an understanding of what the topic is, and to look at the sources cited on the Wikipedia page to help me start off my research.

This week, I decided to take a look at the Wikipedia pages for Miley Cyrus and Jimmy Fallon because I figured they are two of the more popular subjects in pop culture at the moment–Jimmy Fallon because of his new hosting gig on The Tonight Show and Miley Cyrus because, well, she’s Miley… Not to my surprise, each of these pages have been edited numerous times within the last month. In fact, when I clicked on the “Edit History” tab for each of them and scrolled down, I could not make it out of February 2014. Some of the changes were literally within seconds of one another, and both pages had multiple edits made for today. In some ways, I think that this is bad–who knows if the information being posted is truly accurate…one change someone made about Jimmy Fallon was that Red Sox fans hated him because he ran on the field during the movie Fever Pitch, which I have a really hard time believing is true. Miley’s page has a lot of trolling issues and lists a lot of “semi-protected edits,” which I’m sure has been put in place because of all of the controversy surrounding numerous aspects of her life at the moment. However, what I think is positive about Wikipedia is it allows people to go in and provide (if it’s accurate) the most up-to-date news on the topic page that they are editing. If either Jimmy Fallon’s or Miley Cyrus’s pages had not been updated recently, I would be concerned because, obviously, they would be outdated since so much has happened to them recently.

Overall, I think Wikipedia is a great tool. It provides free access to an encyclopedia for people all over the world to access, and, for the most part, it manages to provide accurate information.

But I thought scholars were opposed to Wikipedia?

I know we haven’t yet discussed the segment on Wikipedia and I’ll probably have to write another post regarding what we talk about in class tomorrow, but I wanted to get down my initial thoughts on the exploration of the “free encyclopedia” that Jimmy Wales created.  First things first, I thought the Ted talk with Wales was extremely informative in understanding the process for editing/publishing on Wikipedia – even though anyone can create or change an article on the site, there are volunteers who review these articles to ensure that they are valid.  I was also surprised that even though viewers can anonymously edit Wikipedia articles, only 18% of the edits are made by these anonymous users, indicating that a majority of those who contribute to the encyclopedia are part of a tight-knit community.  After listening to Wales, I feel much more comfortable using Wikipedia; I know that we are not supposed to use it as a source, but I’ve had professors suggest Wikipedia as a starting point and using the bibliographies on the pages as references.

As for exploring the history and discussion tabs on several history pages of Wikipedia, I am most amazed at how often and how recently the pages are edited and updated.  Two of the pages I looked at, for President’s Day (Washington’s Birthday) and for the Saint Valentines Day Massacre, were updated excessively since both events/commemorations have just recently passed or are upcoming.  This makes sense since more people will likely view these articles because of the time of the year; however, I was surprised to find that when I searched the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which took place on August 23, that there were edits made as recently as February 8.  Because there is unlikely to be such a high influx of traffic on this page since the anniversary is not upcoming, the fact that the page was recently updated made me feel like Wikipedia is a more reliable source than people give it credit for me.  Again, I know that Wikipedia shouldn’t be used as a source, but it does offer a starting place for research and scholars can use the pages in order to obtain references.  Wikipedia is also successful in providing the public with a free encyclopedia, and by doing so is encouraging learning and the growth of knowledge through the exploration of the internet.