Category Archives: Wiki

Citing Wikipedia

The Rutgers Library has released a video trying to discourage students from using Wikipedia in their work (via Digital Inspiration).


I think their bottom line is correct – there is a great wealth of resources for college students and they should explore those.  I also hope the fact that they based the entire video on citations from Wikipedia was intended as a humorist twist or as an attempt to show that even Wikipedia is supportive of their criticism of the source.

However, I have a couple of thoughts that I think are many times lost in the discussion of Wikipedia in academic setting.  First, I still feel uncomfortable with the complete dismissal of Wikipedia instead of teaching the student to consume it in a critical fashion.  From my TA experience, especially with introductory classes, students refer to the Wikipedia no matter what.  Perhaps because it is there and it is “digestible”.  Smarter students use it as a starting point for their explorations, others paraphrase, and the laziest simply copy-paste.  I think the video above is aimed primarily to this last category, who I think in a minority these days (perhaps thank to videos like that I must say).  Even though I am not sure that I am a big fan of using encyclopedias as a resource in academic settings, I do think that there is a growing acknowledgment that Wikipedia is there to stay and students are going to use it.  And I see more lecturers encouraging students to use Wikipedia critically, emphasizing that it can never be the sole source.  So that is good.

My second thought is probably less common and it is aimed more at the academic community itself.  The main complain of the community (as it is also reflected in the video) is the quality of the content and the lack of peer review – both of which are legitimate concerns.  I wonder though, why, instead of fighting the phenomenon, the community would not get more involved with it and develop mechanisms of crediting participation on one hand and signaling quality on the other?  Instead of fighting students using the Wikipedia, why not trying and make the relevant resources there of a quality that would meet the necessary standards?

I think that signaling quality is an easier part of this question.  Already today, the Wikipedia is using various tags and signals to indicate quality of the articles.  Moreover there is at least one attempt among the blogging scientists to create a system to tag the content.  Combined with ideas about time-stamping information, I think there are technical solutions to those concerns.  The later point, about crediting scientists for their contribution to open sources, such as Wikipedia, is much trickier.  That requires challenging some of the very well established patterns of thought.

What do you think?

“Deletionists” vs. “Inclusionists”

I followed Eszter’s post about a rather heated debate on Wikipedia on whether or not “Joe The Plumber” deserves an entry in the online encyclopedia.  It led me to a page with a long list of opinions ranging from “speedy delete” to “speedy keep”.  I, however, found the heading of this page particularly interesting:

Joe the Plumber debate on Wikipedia

What do you think?

P.S. For those of you who are not familiar with the case, Joe became “famous” thanks to the last night presidential debate.  Here is the moment:


And here is the actual encounter they refer to:


P.P.S. On an unrelated note, while searching for the YouTube videos I noticed a new, personalized, layout of the YouTube homepage.  Ironically it introduced me with a bunch of videos about Wal-Mart.  That probably happaned because i searched for videos about Wal-Mart for a presentation last week, but at the same time it disregarded my entire history with YouTube, which is weird…

WikiCandiate update

I wrote before about the WikiCandidate project.  This is just a little update about us getting some media coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Cornell Daily Sun, and p2pnet (which I have never heard of before).

The homepage now states that we had over 31K views of it by now (yesterday it was 1K less) and in fact the substantive part of the website is growing.  I am particularly fascinated by the bio section, which had over 100 edits since we first launched the project.  It will be really interesting to see how it evovled to take its current shape.  Also, the list of issues listed on the website is rather progressive, even though the takes on various issues vary in their left-right orientation.  It is going to be interesting…


Well, sometimes it is really nice being right :)

Erik shared with me the following news item about Britannica launching a wiki-based version of their website. I actually blogged about very similar idea about a year and a half ago. Now we will have to wait and see whether or not they will do it well.

WikiCandidate reloaded

Thanks to the dedication of our developers, we finally launched an updated version of WikiCandidate website. That’s exciting!

WikiCandidateI wrote about this project earlier, so i will not repeat much here. With the update, the basic priniciples remain the same, practically everything on the website is editable. What different now is a slicker look and that your participation is now more visible (for example, now all the stories have by-lines).

If you haven’t done it yet, please register and take part in editing the website. The content you currently see on the website was generated by users and it is easy to create new one or to edit the existing. Please feel free to send feedback with your thoughts (especially if you had an experience with the old design too). Thanks!

The plan for further development of the site includes adding further features that would highlight the users’ contributions. We also have the survey (aka “donate”) module ready and as soon as we have the question pool ready and approved by the IRB, you will be able to “contribute” to WikiCandidate’s campaign. Also, you will be able to link your blogs to WikiCandidate’s blogroll and create WikiCandidate Gear.

While all this is being developed, our primary goal now is publicizing the platform. So, if you don’t mind, please give a hand and spread the word around. Thanks!

WikiCandidate 08

Finally, after quite a long period of development, we are launching today the WikiCandidate website. It is part of Josh’s and my experiment that we are conducting together with Tarleton.

WikiCandidate08The website tries simulating campaign website of the presidential candidates racing in the current US election (so I hope that the timing, a day before “Super Tuesday”, is good.). The cool part is that practically all the parts of the website are editable. Any registered user can change any biographical detail of the candidate including, but not limited to, their gender, race, religion, political affiliation, martial status, sexual orientation, education, working experience – anything! It is free text, so the sky is the limit.

But not only the bio is editable. The users/participants can decide on the political agenda of WikiCandidate. They can decide what are the issues that the candidate is carrying about and what are their stand on those issues. The users have the ability to create news items about how WikiCandidate reacts to the daily developments and to the activities of the opponents (aka the real candidates).

There are even more features to play with and to take to various extremes if desired. The only limitation is that any change you, as a user do, can be immediately reverted by other users. Yes, the website is based on a wiki engine, so the content is created collectively. At the end of the day the WikiCandidate can be created probably either through consensus or through tyranny. In any case, i think that the process can be fascinating for people who are interested in technology, politics, and the combination of the two. The candidate may be fictitious, but the issues it is going to address will be most likely real and created/discussed/shaped by real people.

OK, check the website out and let me know what you think. Better yet, use the website to express your thoughts. I will continue updating about the project and whatever is comming out of it. If you are willing to help, the best thing to do now is spread the word about WikiCandidate, so more people would try to participate.


Living with Wikipedia

Thanks to Eszter for posting a link to this article.

The article is about schools officials’ antagonism towards Wikipedia. According to it, the teachers are so dissatisfied with students using Wikipedia, that they simply forbid it, or more so, block it on school computers. They argue against inaccuracies in the online encyclopedia and against students’ blind reliance on this source.

This is not a new claim, however it hits the nerve again and again. Of course Wikipedia is not perfect and there are probably cases of inaccuracy even in the major articles. But it is there, it is not that bad, and it is easily accessible. So, the question is what would be the best way to deal with it? Is shutting off Wikipedia the best solution?

Living the accuracy argument for a different post, I would like to focus on the use. One of the arguments cited in the article is that students use Wikipedia because it is easy to do so. This claim is portrayed in a negative light, drawing a short direct line between “easy” and “low quality”, or just “not good enough”. However, it seems to me that shutting Wikipedia off the schools follows the same trajectory – it is easy and it is not good enough. At the end of the day it’s not Wikipedia’s fault that students unquestionably rely on it and demonstrate zero criticism to materials they retrieve online. It is actually the responsibility of the educators to equip those students with tools for critical thinking and to teach them appropriate use of Wikipedia or any other online (and actually also offline) resource.

Banning Wikipedia or blaming it for students’ inadequate performance is like blaming the car for car accidents. It’s only means, only technological tool, and we are those putting meaning into it through the ways we use it. People are getting injured and even killed in car accidents, but nobody offers to ban cars from the society. Instead, we invest a lot of money in educating people for the correct use of the car and the correct behavior on street. Why is the attitude towards new media in education so radically different?

It seems to me that media literacy skills are very important factor here. On the one hand we see educators revolting against technology, as this article illustrates. On the other hand we see some “interesting” requests from fresh college students, who seem to move to another extreme of denying anything the traditional education system has to offer. Isn’t it possible that the “golden pass lays somewhere in between? Isn’t it possible that with adequate media literacy training (first of the teachers and then the students) we would be able (1) incorporate the strength of traditional education in new media environment and (2) foster more critical (and as a result more personally and socially beneficial) use of new media by the younger generation?

In any case, it seems that the responsibility to take the lead is on the educator and I wonder if that is a generation gap and if the younger teachers will be more media-responsible and technology-open?

What do you think?

A proof that wikiality exists!

Wikiality exists! Apparently Stephen Cobert was right and Wikipedia does construct reality!

Take a look at this quote from today’s Washington Post:


“Authorities said Thursday they are trying to determine who altered the entry on the collaborative reference site [Wikipedia] 14 hours before authorities discovered the bodies of the couple and their son.”

Click here for the complete article and i apologize if this post appears too sarcastic.