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It Takes a Village...to Keep Wikipedia On Track
Wikipedia is potentially one of the greatest and most powerful tech developments of the last couple of decades. Really - I rank it up there with the proliferation of mobile phones, the amazing advances in medical technology and the latest version of Angry Birds. (o.k., maybe not that last one)
Seriously, though, Wikipedia holds the promise of being the greatest accumulation of human knowledge in the world and it is entirely free, available from any device that has an Internet connection and a browser (as long as your government isn't censoring it) and available in an awful lot of languages (278 languages, as of this writing, have at least one article available).
What makes it so powerful is that ANYBODY can create or edit an article, in any language. If you speak Uzbek and want to create an article in your native language all about the history of Penicillin you can! For free. If you're passionate about the Australian Wood Duck you can share your knowledge and enthusiasm by editing or contributing to the Wikipedia page about that particular critter. You may even be able to add value to related pages - about their habitat, preferred foods, related species...
Wikipedia's greatest strength is also it's greatest weakness however. Any fool can edit Wikipedia...and a lot of fools do. Not only the pranksters and hoaxes but the just plain wrong. While there are people who post incorrect information to Wikipedia because they have an agenda, there are also people who post incorrect information to Wikipedia because they just don't know any better.
So what's the answer to that? Like any crowd-sourced project the solution is the strength of numbers. The way to make sure that only accurate information is posted about the Australian Wood Duck is for there to be a vibrant community of knowlegable people on the subject who monitor, update and police the relevent articles about their favorite fowl and make sure that if and when incorrect information gets posted...that they step in and quickly fix it.
That's great for popular articles. The articles on Twilight, Starbucks or Justin Bieber are probably rigorously reviewed. For articles that are more esoteric or technically complex it gets a bit more difficult. While most people can quickly identify that Jay Leno is not an African-American woman, it's not quite as obvious to a layman that the atomic weight of Hassium is 270 (or is it 265?).
Wikipedia, like most things, requires constant vigilience and attention to keep it accurate and on track. And it requires knowledgable and diligent people to do that work. When they stop doing that work, the vandals, the miscreants and the fools will gradually begin to take over. And that will be the end of Wikipedia.
Got a subject you're passionate about? Check out Wikipedia's article(s) on that subject and see if there's anything you can contribute. It's free and your knowledge can benefit a lot of people, world-wide. If you speak a language other than English, maybe you could consider helping to translate some of the English content (more than 3.5 million articles at present) into that other language for the benefit of those who speak that language.
Ben Schorr occasionally contributes to articles about the USS Missouri (BB-63), Columbo and a wide variety of articles about technology. You can reach him for more info at (808) 782-6306 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org