Friday, May 4, 2012

The Future of Wikipedia: Will It Ever Be A Reliable, Citable Source?

Yesterday, as I was working on a research paper about Ethics, I turned to my office mate and said emphatically,"I wish Wikipedia was a reliable source!"

"Actually," he said, "I have a hope that one day Wikipedia is the requirement for all internet reliable sources: in order to be a reliable source, you must have in some way contributed to the repository of all knowledge. If you are an expert on something and you don't care if the information that non-experts are reading is reliable, then you don't deserve to be called an expert." 

An interesting idea. I think to myself in my head. So what then? Everyone who is an expert on something must have written an article in Wikipedia? No, that doesn't make sense. Many different people are experts on the same thing. And the point is not necessarily to add more articles to Wikipedia, but to expand those which are already there. In addition, how do we prevent people from claiming to be experts, when they are not?

How could this work? We can't ask people to contribute to the "repository of all knowledge" without some sort accountability or association.

It could work like this:
1. Wikipedia creates a logo or a little moving image or something you can't just screenshot and take.
2. When an expert wants to validate their expertise, they contact Wikipedia and provide their credentials.
3. They offer to read, edit, or provide information on X # of articles on X topics.
4. When they have completed the work, they receive a "registration logo" which expires after a certain period of time. If I click on that logo on said expert's website, it takes me directly the page/pages that he/she is associated with.
5. Upon expiration, they must complete the process again (potentially with the same articles and information) unless they have evidence that they have continued to monitor their associated articles over that period of time.

On the other hand, this method has its drawbacks. For example: what about experts whose expertise is restricted for legal or confidential reasons? What about people who have restricted access to the internet? Or who don't have academic credentials? Academia doesn't own the truth. In addition, the individuals would need to be able to cite sources other than their own experience, which might make it difficult to motivate them to join the group. What about press releases? Those often contain a large amount of useful and reliable information, but no one who writes a press release is going to want to be forced to contribute to Wikipedia, just so that their press release can be considered a reliable source. 

It seems that there are a few possibilities, but the internet is changing and morphing rapidly everyday. Here are Wikipedia's five pillars. How do the ideas above relate or disagree with Wikipedia's values?

What do you think? What is the future for Wikipedia as a source of information?

1 comment:

  1. I like your idea. Maybe a modification to it would be that people can keep their "insignia" but it will be monochrome for the year they participated or maybe for the type or category of article they contributed to...?

    Also, some "experts" are only expert in what they know from experience - as you pointed out - and most scientific articles should be written by individuals that have used the scientific method and come across their respective expertise. But that's not to say that a "clattering noise from under the hood" isn't, in most cases, an issue with the carburetor.

    I have the tendency to login to Wikipedia and edit the grammar and phrasing people will use for certain articles to make them a bit more concise and easier to understand; I'm not an academic - I have no degree in English - but feel that I've read enough various articles, books and the like to accurately scrutinize and "correct" something another person has written.

    Err... something like that ;o)